Sunday, April 06, 2008

No Confidence

With President George W. Bush's tenure in office coming to a close, I wonder if more teacher unions will retaliate against state superintendents. In Washington state, Snohomish County teacher unions are weighing "no confidence" votes against Terry Bergeson, the current state superintendent.
The article focuses on the local unions' disagreement over the WASL, the state's stadardized test. Bergeson has continued to support the WASL despite so many teachers who want it gone, and despite major changes being made by Governor Christine Gregoire.
The article states, "Some teachers don't want the WASL to be a graduation requirement. They believe the test devours too many resources and puts too much pressure on students and teachers." Because I taught in Washington for four years, I know that the WASL does consume a signficant amount of teaching time.
I taught English at a large high school. The WASL forced me to teach basic reading skills like summarizing, identifying the main idea, drawing conclusions, and responding to literature. Additionally, the WASL made me teach my students how to write an expository and persuasive essay. It is difficult to imagine that such a test exists. The pressure consumed my life.
The President of the Mukilteo Teacher's Union claims, "It doesn't really inform your teaching. When you get the WASL results back, the students have already gone on."
She is only partially correct, which is usually the case in most debates about standardized tests. The WASL did give us information about our students. Where I taught, we created WASL like baseline assessments and other common informative assessments to track our students' progress in relationship to the skills and ultimately the WASL. But in terms of the data from the test, it is true about many state tests that the results come too late. If the results from a state exam are meant to determine our success at teaching skills, and then inform us about how to teach, then we need those scores before we start placing students in classes for the following year.
As with anything in life, a balance must be found. But getting rid of such exams simply because teachers want to be free from the pressures (which means they don't want to be held accountable), is not a good reason.


At 8:46 AM , Blogger The Science Goddess said...

I wrote a bit about this, too. As I see it, what The Union doesn't seem to understand is that by removing Bergeson, they're shooting the messenger (so to speak). The fact that we have testing, including which grades and subjects are tested, is a federal requirement. And while I'm quite sure the sun doesn't rise and set on Terry Bergeson, I also see someone who is trying to take the mandates she is required to work with and be professional about supporting them. Getting a new state supe is not going to change anything in the realm of testing. If the WEA really wants changes to testing, you'd think they would put their weight into leaning on legislators. Otherwise, this just walks, talks, and quacks a lot like a witch hunt.

At 1:26 PM , Blogger DesertSurfer said...

You know I am one of those rare teachers who really do not have a problem with high stakes testing in order to get your high school diploma.

I teach in Arizona and here our students must pass their AIMS exam where students must prove that they have the basic 10th grade skills in reading, writing and math. Now if they do not pass any part of the test they can retake that portion 6 more times and they can get FREE tutoring to help them along the way.

I am sorry but if a student is not able to prove they have the basic understanding of 10th grade curriculum, they really do not deserve a diploma. If we just hand them out for showing up to school, then what kind of value do we place on having a diploma in the first place?

And everybody is so quick to blame NCLB and the Federal government for these mandated tests. But all NCLB states is that each state has to have some way of holding their students accountable by whatever measure their state deems appropriate. So if somebody does not like their state's test or procedures, they only have their own state legislature and superintendant to blame.

As usual, awesome post which is why I always love reading your stuff....

At 3:52 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

thanks, "the teacher"--which makes me feel like just any other teacher!
It does seem funny that we can't expect our students to perform at a basic competency level.
If we are so against such a system, it should change the way we approach public education. For instance, maybe we should go to learning communities that focus on certain job skills. Then, those focused schools could do away with certain curriculum.

At 6:59 PM , Blogger the dogs' mother said...

My problem with the WASL, and NCLB, is the overwhelming amount of time
and money and energy given over to it. There are easier, quicker and less expense tests out there.
I like Rich Semler's approach.

At 8:56 PM , Blogger Dr Pezz said...

I just wish an exam could be used which impacted the school day much less (since I am in WA State). Also, I like the options of using multiple measures to judge a student's achievement/mastery (like allowing the SAT or ACT scores to count for test sections--good idea).

However, if a student fails at 10th grade and then passes an alternative during 11th grade, the score from the previous year still counts against the school. There is no credit given to the school for a student passing but needing extra time. It's a completely punitive system.

Science Goddess is right that leaning on legislators is critical.

At 6:15 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Dr. Pezz,
your assessment of the assessment holds true throughout the country. Having proctored the WASL and now the CAPT exams, neither does much to alleviate the misuse of time.
But I'll hold to the notion that the information is valuable. Had teachers, in the general sense, been teaching to standards and not a hodge-podge of material we were interested in, we wouldn't need these exams. Even today, too many teachers rant against the exam because they pine for the days of solitude in the classroom.

At 8:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here’s what’s good about what you’ve said here—teachers and students and schools do need to be held accountable for creating educated Americans; standardized tests can create areas of focus for teaching and they can give some information about how well students have internalized knowledge about those areas; results of standardized tests rarely arrive at a time when they will help teachers assess student strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s what’s wrong with what you say here—you accept at face value what the article states is the reason for the loss of faith in Terry Bergeson, newspapers should not be relied upon to draw accurate conclusions in complicated cases, they have limited sources and when choosing to print what the sources tell them they pick and choose that which will support their angle and provoke readers; you say that those protesting these exams do not want to be held accountable when in actuality it is just the opposite, nearly without exception the loudest voices against overreliance on these exams as measures of accountability are those who care most deeply and most personally about the students, the teachers who don’t want to be held accountable are the ones who know how to play the game and read the newspaper during their prep periods, such people can’t be bothered to protest, they simply grouse in the teacher’s room and go home.

President Bush and his friends didn’t create the use of standardized exams as assessment tools—I was taking them when I was in school through the 50s and 60s. What they did was turn the exams away from their proper small role (as indicators of what is expected by the community) into a tool for justifying the pulling of vast amounts of money away from “liberal” public education programs they despise and pouring it instead into the pockets of the private, profit-making publishers and for-profit schooling companies which please their ideologies and support their campaigns. And what the teachers in Washington are upset about is the fact that they (the people like you who walk into classrooms every day and know, with far more accuracy than any standardized exam can reveal, the weaknesses of their students) must give up precious time that could be used to attack those problems, to teach to the WASL, which, frankly, is not that great as exams go.


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