Saturday, March 05, 2011


"Gentleman, start your engines," or in our case, "Students, start your brains." This week Connecticut's version of high-stakes testing begins its annual takeover of public education. Testing is important, don't get me wrong; I'm just not sure what we learn from them that we don't already know.
Philosophically, I don't believe in "teaching to the test" in the way that many envision it. I don't spend every class session practicing the CAPT, but I do embed the skills needed to succeed throughout the first half of the school year. Then, just prior to the exams, I provide my students with the knowledge of the test itself in an effort to show them what they must do to be successful.
For instance, when teaching the Response to Literature section, a short story and four essay questions, we examined the questions, the explanations of a strong response, the scoring rubric, and four different released essays scored across the rubric spectrum.
My students, even my fundamental level students who most wouldn't predict to pass, compared these released items and searched for defining factors. They noted that all of the passing essays included at least one quotation from the text, if not two. They recognized that all of the passing scores had essays which exceeded 150 words. They were aware of the essays which used the language of literature like theme, mood, imagery, syntax, and diction.
Then we did one more practice.
My fundamental level students worked hard. They attempted to include quotations, and the language of literature. Their responses were A level work for them. Their effort was A level as well.
But most still won't meet standard. The fact that the test is timed means that many of my below grade level readers will not finish the story with enough time to write enough in their essays. Or, they will not get into the story and grow bored by yet another high falutin story geared towards suburban students.
I am especially proud of these students who have been allowed to get so far behind that, by the time they've reached me, are three or more grade levels behind. So many in our community look down on these kids, and their attitudes reflect this lack of belief.
From the first day of school, I told them that I could get them ready for this test, that if they would buy into me, and buy into themselves, then together we would prove a whole bunch of naysayers wrong.
Unfortunately, I may have overstated my ability.


At 6:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I applaud your effort, and hope it pays off. It sounds like you are doing what is effective to help them perform well on the test. What do you think needs to be done at the grade levels beneath you to assure that students can read at the expected level when they get to you? Are the grade schools effective in reading instruction, or are there flaws in their approach?

At 4:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Braemar says-
I used to think that people below me were off the mark in their instruction level and efforts.
Then i moved down to lower grades.
i never realized that when these students arrive they are at age 2.5 level (average) in language ability.

So all though the grades people are playing catch-up, trying to put in what is missing at the less opportune growth periods.

For everything there is a season, and the mismatch of student to material is nearly impossible to overcome.

Pre-birth to 3, pre-school, the hours at home are the loss in growing the vocabulary and problem solving mimicry needed for success.

Only a few can overcome most of the deficit and find equal success with peers in other situations.

At 7:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose you are correct, but it's depressing. Where does all this lead except to certain doom. People keep looking for the effective pill, and it seems to always lead right back to the obvious place - the home (which has become so dysfunctional in many cases that disaster seems to loom for us as a country).

At 1:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We used to be able to tolerate the thought that children vary in their ability to take advantage of school (whether because of lack of early stimulation, innate ability, health issues, or whatever). We wanted to move each child along as quickly as possible, but we didn't expect all kids to graduate with identical test scores and grades. And we provided voc ed for those who were clearly disengaged from academics, for whatever reason. What we do now, in the name of equity, is to lie to kids and to deny them chances to pursue interests where they could be successful.

At 2:53 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Braemar says:
Yes, everyone is now above average.
I saw a few years ago that the IQ needed to graduate high school (at that time) was about 105.
Now let's add more science and higher math requirements as well as high stakes testing.
So if it is a greater ability needed now, why are we surprised or disappointed to learn that not ALL students come up to that bar.

Must be the teachers' or the system's fault.
Never occurs to these non-education professional legislators that there is a broad based ability spread, that not all humans are above average. (Is that even possible? LOL)
Just because we have better presentations and materials, the human brain has not evolved to greater ability in the last 50 years.

Jamming info at lower grade levels and pushing more knowledge, multi-tasking and gearing all education for complicated jobs that require graduate school, do not change the range of human ability.

We have and will continue to have students who are below average and need to be prepared to make a living in different ways, at lower levels of function that most courses are set for.

At 6:55 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would agree with the Voc Ed comments, except isn't there a built in presumption to this argument that plumbers, electricians, and carpenters don't need to be smart? I have quite a few blue collar types in my own family, and they are all pretty switched on intellectually even if they don't have bachelor's degrees. Also, manual labor jobs just don't exist in great quantities in this country any longer. Yesterday a student of mine was cutting some paper, and he joked that he enjoyed it so much he wanted a career in paper chopping (lol). I became over-serious and took it as an opportunity to explain to him that most of those jobs are done by technology now. This is just a random musing, but the gothic cathedrals were constructed by illiterates with a solid grasp of geometry fundamentals. I'd like to know why we can't construct things of beauty like that any longer if we're so much smarter (just a rhetorical question).


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home