NYS Standardized Tests Helping or Hindering Student Literacy?

May 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 4 Comments

Posted by Chavon Phelps

Scholastic Inc and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation surveyed 40,000 teachers about education reform.  They developed five strategies to increase student performance in middle school, high school, and post- secondary education. These suggestions included:

  1. Establish Clear Standards, Common Across States
  2. Use Multiple Measures to Evaluate Student Performance
  3. Innovate to Reach Today’s Students
  4. Accurately Measure Teacher Performance and Provide Non-Monetary Rewards
  5. Bridge School & Home to Raise Student Achievement

Another suggestion I would add is to stop “teaching the test.” The focus in education today is based too much on “passing the test,” and not mastery of knowledge. I feel this is doing our students a disservice and causing them to develop a disconnect from the educational process. While there needs to be a system in place to monitor the progress of our students, high stakes testing should not be the end.

I think our students really want to learn, but they cannot connect with the way schools are structured today. Schools measure success based on how well students look on paper, and not on the actual student learning. I think if we can develop a curriculum that has a greater focus on brain based learning, then we will see some of our current challenges start to be addressed.

In Subjects Matter they show a classroom experience where students are active participants in their own learning. By engaging the students and working with them to develop the direction of their curriculum the students were able to make deeper connections with the material. By restructuring the scope of our classrooms to focus on the learning and not the testing, we can provide our students with rich experiences where they can construct their own knowledge. If we can change the scope of our classrooms, than the rest will follow.

I have my own goals for incorporating active learning in my classroom, but I worry about the opposition that I may encounter. I can argue the research all day, but I am nervous about classroom implementation. How do I make a case for inquiry in my classroom and not alienate myself from my peers and administrators? How do I advocate for a process that even I myself am new to and have little practice in? I am not sure of the answer to these questions, but I know that the current system needs improvement.

Source: http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/node/306



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  1. I share your concern about implementing inquiry activities within a setting that is of a passive learning environment. I think that the best advice that I have received concerning this matter was from a GMST professor, Mr. Currier. His recommendation was to start small but just start.
    All of our lessons do not have to be inquiry based. It is important to start with small organized changes. I found the book The Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson to be helpful. She suggests that it is important to grow slowly –but grow. She encourages teachers to set reasonable goals that are moderately challenging. Tomlinson further warns that if we wait until conditions are ideal or until you are confident then it will “yield lethargy, not growth.” She also cautions that doing too many things that are not well planned will only result in frustration and failure. The take home message is to introduce inquiry based learning to your students and use reflection and feedback to shape your unit. Small changes will allow you to tailor the design of the unit.
    Tomlinson also noted that it is important to view the administration as partners in education. She advocates that teachers educate the administrators that seem to be not supportive or suspicious. An example in her book was to let the administrator know when group work was going to be taking place and encouraging them to “stop by and take a look.” As you and the students get more aquatinted with inquiry, your invitation could evolve into “I hope that you come in and watch awhile.” You never know your administrator may become your biggest advocate.
    Tomlinson, C.A. (1999) The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA., ASCD.

  2. I share your concern with regard to promoting a student centered, inquiry based classroom. We talked a lot problems we might encounter in GMST 502 (Inquiry) and GMST 517 (Teaching Math and Science) again in theory it sounds great. In reality, few teachers are on board and most if not all feel compelled to teach to the test. I believe that we need to find other like minded teachers that are sucessfully teaching a good solid curriculum using inquiry based learning. I know that one of the goals of the MST program is to get enough Fisher grads out there teaching Math and Science so that new teachers can observe and student teach with Fisher Alumni.

    Until then, as Heidi indicated, we will have to start slowly and invite other teachers and administrators to stop by and take a look.

  3. “Teaching to the test” is the focus of daily discussions in many districts. The NYS Board of Regents has developed a curriculum that they think best exemplifies what students need to know in a given subject area. How students perform on standardized tests that are based on these curricula can have profound impacts on how state funding is allocated. Higher test scores mean a better reputation for the school and possibly more state funding. But in a time when that state funding is being cut, it appears that test scores will do little to save some schools and teachers. Because this has been the culture for many years, as new teachers it is difficult to break the mold and teach in a completely different way. A way that incorporates the standards rather than questions found on the test. My suggestion would be simply to be confident. If you have faith in what you are teaching and know it to be the best way, peers and administrators will see this confidence and hopefully support your methods. I know that it has worked for me and that many teachers in my department are following suit by incorporating more inquiry-based lessons. Students should be educated as a whole, not in small pieces that are unrelated to one another. The state standards for any content area, science and math included, are general enough to allow for a shift in pedagogy to occur. So in short, my advice is to focus on building that confidence so that your inquiry lessons are viewed as best practice, rather than something you are just “trying out.”

  4. I also agree with everyone that an inquiry approach to education is nice way to mitigate effects of standardized testing and the culture of “teaching to the test.” Inquiry provides an opportunity for teachers to cover material at a higher order of thinking as well as offer the flexibility to investigate topics that are not part of that state curriculum and incorporate students’ interests in the classroom. One resource I frequently refer to is the Teacher Professional Development and Teacher Resource by Annenberg Media. This is a resource we used in “Teaching Math & Science” and I recently stumbled upon it again. The website documents multiple ways of incorporating inquiry teaching in the classroom.

    While I agree with all of the points that have been made so far, I particularly agree with Chris’s comment. If a teachers wishes to implement inquiry education in the classroom, they need to make it the cornerstone of their educational model and commit to it. In other words, go big or go home. Educators are often intimidated by inquiry in their classroom because they are worried that “students won’t be able to handle it.” Students in a classroom need consistency. If a teacher only implements an inquiry-based lesson once in a while, their lesson will be less effective than the teacher who uses inquiry on regular basis. In short, teachers who wish to make inquiry part of their classroom need to set the tone at the beginning of the year and make inquiry a cornerstone of their classroom culture.

    One thing I have been looking for is a blog or web journal of a teacher who implementing inquiry in their classroom for the first time. Does anyone know of anything like this? Perhaps someone may want to start one…

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