Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Open Letter to the Connecticut State Department of Education

Dear Suits:

This week begins our annual discovery of student progress throughout this great state. We'll be disrupting school days in order to glean important information which we will not be able to use to place students for the fall semester.
Some in our state would like to see standardized tests disappear because they don't want to be held accountable. I am not one of those people. I believe in the importance of monitoring student progress, much in the way it is important to spend 140 million dollars to monitor volcano activity. That 140 million will be used to update equipment so that when a dangerous volcano begins to act up, people can respond.
Unfortunately the CAPT does not respond in the same manner. For example, if the test were designed as a formative assessment, with quick turnaround, we would be able to address dangerous gaps before we scheduled students for the fall. Why should we make students endure this lengthy test if we are not going to give them immediate or timely feedback--something that the popular education thinkers like Marzano teach us. In fact, CALI and other state run initiatives which are powerfully influential in low-performing schools demand that those schools learn about all of those important education thoughts. Shouldn't the state hold itself to the same standard? After all, Connecticut does have the highest achievement gap in the country and therefore is as much a failing system as the districts it has labeled as such.
And then there is the issue of standards. According to our five year action plan, Connecticut schools should "develop and implement rigorous, standards-based curriculums." My low status as a classroom teacher might not be worth much to all of the high paid suits who wrote that plan, but a standards-based curriculum demands that we discover whether our students meet the standard.
If that is the case, why do we limit our students to a rather narrow time frame for each test? For example, the Response to Literature test, if I recall correctly, allows for 70 minutes to read a short (6-8 page) story and answer four critical analysis questions with one solid page of written response. Now, 70 minutes might seem like a long time to those of you wearing a suit and trotting from one meeting to the next, but for many of our at risk students, 70 minutes for a seemingly endless test, doesn't amount to much. So they rush. They skim the story and write feverishly trying to fill up the page. Or, they read carefully but don't have the time to write a thoughtful response.
You see, the test shouldn't be timed. If what matters most to us is discovering to what extent our students are succeeding, we ought to give them as much as time as they need. Then we might discover that a few more of our students are capable. That seems like a good idea to me.
The data is important, but we need to be sure the data is correct and then we need to get that data back to the people who matter most in the process--students and teachers.

Mr. McNamar
The Daily Grind


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