Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mr. McNamar's Mail Time

If I lacked confidence, my first attempt at a mailbag might cause me to never blog again. It's a sad tale. I went from being a 2006 Best Blog of the Year Finalist to having only one person ask me a question. Don't worry Sport's Guy, I'm not much competition for you.
Now to the mailbag:
What's your idea for the perfect use of the results of standardized tests?
--Joe

I feel that standardized tests are much like instant replay in baseball. People fear that they will ruin the integrity of the classroom; but the fact that schools keep getting it wrong by graduating unprepared students creates the need to implement them. Here's how I would implement them:
1. Move the test to the first month of school.
2. Use tests that allow for quick use of gathered information.
3. Inform instruction based on the skill sets of the class.

If a braineater landed on Margaret Spellings' head, what would happen?
--Joe

Re-sist temp--ta-tion...Re-sist temp--ta-tion... Seriously though, she's got to have something going on up there. And by the way, I did a youtube search for her appearance on Jeopardy--came up empty. I don't know why, but I couldn't find her clips.
And anyone able to get that position has to be smart enough to at least know the right people!

If we want to keep our jobs, what books should we recommend to high school students who ask us for suggestions?
--Joe

Suppose we didn't have to give them all the same books, that students actually had interest in reading outside of the classroom; the first book I'd recommend is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is the one book I would choose to keep in every student's curriculum.
In general though, I would respond first with a question of my own: "What are you interested in?"
For students who have never valued reading, or, haven't been taught by parents to value reading, it is important to allow them to read books that don't have the literary merit of the classics. If they don't engage in reading what they are interested in, then I don't believe we can engage them in the more complex classics.
On a different note, I would recommend that every student read a book like StrengthsFInder 2.0 by Tom Rath, or How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath. This non-fiction genre provides students with the skill of self-reflection, which is essential if we ever want to influence them.

Okay, thanks Joe for using the mailbag. I enjoyed my first opportunity, and I hope in the future it works out even better.

3 Comments:

At 2:25 PM , Anonymous Joe said...

Thanks for your replies. they were fun. I would like to point out a coup of things. First, that To Kill a Mockingbird is among the top 50 most challenged books on a list by the American Library Association. So in recommending it to students, you are placing your career in jeopardy. Just like the teacher in Texas who recommended a Pulitzer prize winning book and was suspended because of it.

Second, schools respond to pressures exerted by their local communities. They pass students who have not learned because the community demands it--this is true of all communities regardless of economic level. Placing standardized tests at the beginning of the school year would cause such an uproar that whoever made that decision would never be allowed to see the inside of a school again.

 
At 4:49 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Joe, could you clarify your second point. I'm not following why an uproar over moving standardized tests to the start of the year would ensue.

 
At 6:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was trying to be brief for once (not my strong point) and I can see I didn’t support the statement.
I believe that in making your suggestion you are thinking like an educator, wanting standardized tests to provide information that will help direct the curriculum and allow us to focus more precisely on the actual needs of the particular students in front of us. I don’t disagree with your proposal and since I asked for your idea of the “best use,” your answer was absolutely fine. However, the primary use of standardized tests over the last 8 years, has little to do with the needs of educators or students. The primary use, in the eyes of the general public and the politicians who direct public policy has been to evaluate—to evaluate teachers, schools, schools systems and students.
Your proposal would cause extreme discomfort to upper and middle class parents who would worry that their children, coming off of vacation, would perform poorly and would have their options for special classes, special schools, desirable programs, preferable colleges compromised by being tested without proper preparation. Poor parents would be enraged because they know that middle class and rich parents will buy tutors and summer preparation programs to give their children an advantage, and so lower working class and poor parents will protest the fact that this kind of testing will increase the achievement gap. Real Estate Agencies, fearful that poor testing results will lead to lower housing prices in their areas, (in Westchester County NY, home prices in the highest scoring district go for tens of thousands more than the district in second place) would bring a great deal of pressure to bear on local politicians to reverse the policy. School districts who would much rather prepare students for testing well (which can be done through programmed learning and teaching to test) than paying far more for small classes; excellent, experienced teachers; teacher development that is effective rather than showy; and sports, shop, music, art, writing, drama, dance, and other high interest activities which support a variety of talents and keep kids interested in school, would absolutely refuse to institute such policy. There’s more, but you get the idea.
In NYC, by the way, they have begun requiring that all public schools give a series of five “Acuity Tests” over the course of the year in English and math, (and soon, all subject areas) to allow teachers to measure the progress of the students. Schools can buy standardized tests or develop their own, which must be approved. Originally, the results were to stay in-school for teacher use, but that was a pipe dream. Of course, state exams continue to be given at the normal times, so that a student with 6 major classes may have as many as 36 standardized exams a year—insanity!!!!!

 

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