Archives for the month of: April, 2012

Here is another fabulous guest post. I’m wondering if I’ll ever need to write another blog post myself.

Names are changed because public exposure of government idiocy and our collective apathy-based ignorant judgement of public schools can have repercussions.

//informed commentary

… Standardized tests should be a snapshot only – one way of many ways of measuring a child’s progress over the course of a school year. Not to mention the fact that the politicians/public do not do longitudinal studies. That is to say that they look at the performance of my students each year and evaluate me on how this year’s students compare to last year’s students. They should, instead, be measuring the scores of the students I teach this year compared to the scores they were given last year to see if there has been growth.

Additionally, there is little room for recognizing growth in a student with special needs because they are required to take the same grade level test as students without special needs, even if they began the year three or four grade levels behind. Every year I have students who have made tremendous growth, but their entire year comes down to one score, and often they ‘fail’ in the eyes of whomever is reading the scores. I have had children every year whose scores have increased by 30 or more points from the previous year to the current year, yet because the score is below the magic number, it is reported as a failure for both of us.

Even worse, though, is that if you are in a small, high performing district, which I am, funding becomes ever more tricky as you increase your overall performance. If I have 5 students with special needs one year and one ‘fails’ then my passing rate is 80%. If I have 4 students the next year and one fails, my passing rate is 75%. This year I have 2 students with special needs – you can see where this is going. Add to that if I have 98% ‘passing’ rate one year and I don’t increase it the next year, I have not met the adequate yearly progress numbers. If there are 112 students in the grade this year, and only 98 students next year, I may not meet AYP because, looking only at percentages, 1 child out of 112 is a smaller percentage than 1 child out of 98. I agree that students’ learning, understanding, and performance need to be measured. I agree that the test as a measure is a good tool, but it should NOT be the ONLY tool!

Every time this subject comes up, there are those who, without knowing me, my experience, my work ethic, are quick to call me lazy and ineffective. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even worth it to try to explain why I hate standardized tests and politicians getting involved in making educational policy. My record as far as test scores go is exemplary – I have had my students perform at a 95% passing rate or better every year since these tests have been given, and have had 6 or 7 years with 100% passing rates. I could walk around pounding my chest and demanding merit pay, but I do not, and it’s not because I am a martyr. It is because my proudest moments have nothing to do with high test scores.

I started to write a comment, but I couldn’t get it all in…

I agree with everything Ingrid has said. Standardized tests should be a snapshot only – one way of many ways of measuring a child’s progress over the course of a school year. Not to mention the fact that the politicians/public do not do longitudinal studies. That is to say that they look at the performance of my students each year and evaluate me on how this year’s students compare to last year’s students. They should, instead, be measuring the scores of the students I teach this year compared to the scores they were given last year to see if there has been growth.

Additionally, there is little room for recognizing growth in a student with special needs because they are required to take the same grade level test as students without special needs, even if they began the year three or four grade levels behind. Every year I have students who have made tremendous growth, but their entire year comes down to one score, and often they ‘fail’ in the eyes of whomever is reading the scores. I have had children every year whose scores have increased by 30 or more points from the previous year to the current year, yet because the score is below the magic number, it is reported as a failure for both of us.

Even worse, though, is that if you are in a small, high performing district, which I am, funding becomes ever more tricky as you increase your overall performance. If I have 5 students with special needs one year and one ‘fails’ then my passing rate is 80%. If I have 4 students the next year and one fails, my passing rate is 75%. This year I have 2 students with special needs – you can see where this is going. Add to that if I have 98% ‘passing’ rate one year and I don’t increase it the next year, I have not met the adequate yearly progress numbers. If there are 112 students in the grade this year, and only 98 students next year, I may not meet AYP because, looking only at percentages, 1 child out of 112 is a smaller percentage than 1 child out of 98. I agree that students’ learning, understanding, and performance need to be measured. I agree that the test as a measure is a good tool, but it should NOT be the ONLY tool!

Every time this subject comes up, there are those who, without knowing me, my experience, my work ethic, are quick to call me lazy and ineffective. It’s gotten to the point where it’s not even worth it to try to explain why I hate standardized tests and politicians getting involved in making educational policy. My record as far as test scores go is exemplary – I have had my students perform at a 95% passing rate or better every year since these tests have been given, and have had 6 or 7 years with 100% passing rates. I could walk around pounding my chest and demanding merit pay, but I do not, and it’s not because I am a martyr. It is because my proudest moments have nothing to do with high test scores.

That’s my soapbox speech for the day…thanks for letting me vent

This was a great conversation I had on Facebook with an old friend. I really appreciate her perspective and I think you will too.

//start informed commentary

Now, for my professional experience. My job for many years was to evaluate students for special services. A good evaluation (comprehensive) as a school psychologist would include IQ testing (standardized), review of records and informatio…n, anectdotal information from teachers, parents, and the student, assessments of social/emotional functioning (standardized, and informal), amongst other things.

Theoretically, we, as a team of professionals, would review all of the testing and data contributed from all of us, the standardized data within that context, to determine if a student met state-mandated criteria for special services. Often times, when bogged down with way too many evaluations of struggling students, it often came down to the numbers. So in this case, standardized definitely has its place, but it MUST be viewed within a context.

Unfortunately, in today’s data driven accountability mentality, government is placing all of its eggs in the data basket. Learning, and effective teaching for that matter, simply cannot be adequately described with a single set of numbers. Anyone who has ever been exposed to psychological or education research will tell you that the challenge in measuring these things is that there are so many variables that can affect those numbers.

The result is that true, effective learning and teaching is negated because of the focus on these tests- some of which contain irrelevance and ridiculousness, as in the pineapple story.

(she came back with more and I stress some points)

Standardized testing does have a place and a value in education, but it needs to be viewed responsibly, or the results can be devastating for both students and teachers.

When laws like NCLB are put in place by people so completely disconnected from implementation and resulting ramifications, we reach a sort of critical mass.

No one is benefiting anymore. Unfortunately, in New Jersey, politicians have done a good job of maligning educational professionals and finding fault in a system which historically has ranked top in the nation. People, voters, are buying into it for reasons that have NOTHING to do with sound educational practices.

And just like the new Anti-bullying laws, politicians stand firm on their “feel good ” legislation and refuse to change the laws for the betterment of those its supposed to serve because doing so would be political suicide. The bottom line is, high level politics have no place in the micro-level of education (the classroom) simply because they have no idea what the hell they are doing.

Now imagine if you are a 12 year old with no ability or incentive to grasp the significance of the results, multiply that by 30 and try and teach them.

****Her Closing Argument****

Exactly Terry. Teachers have the ability, as trained and taught, to use multiple creative strategies to reach all different types of learners. Testing stifles that to the point of failing so many students.

//End informed opinion

I am constantly impressed by the brilliance of my friends. (and the patience of my wife, but that goes without saying)

I read a great article about the secret privatization of schools tonight, but I have to admit that what made me click the link on Twitter was a reference to talking fruit, NOT the secret privatization of public schools.

Not this talking fruit:

One of these:

First, here’s the great article on the NYT by Gail Collins Don’t worry. It’s short and charming; it won’t tax your brain.

Ms. Collins brings up some very salient points about how standardized testing, among other factors, has become a huge profit center, effectively privatizing that aspect of public education. She also brings up the recent embarrassing test question about a talking pineapple on a New York State standardized test provided by Pearson, the giant for-profit education industry service provider. Read it, seriously.

Reading that brought to mind two recent conversations I’ve had concerning standardized testing. Both were with education professionals, and both were, to varying degrees, alarming.

First, I spoke with a guidance counselor I’ve known since he was a middle schooler. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “So, what do you think of those standardized tests”
Him: “(fill this space with a combination of the crap Ralphie’s dad says while he’s fighting the furnace and R. Lee Ermey’s lines from Full Metal Jacket.)”
Me: “You don’t say! So you don’t like them?”
Him: /sarcasm on “I have a dream that one day all children, regardless of the color of their skin, will take the same standardized test.”/sarcasm off

Amen brother. That wasn’t really a very eloquent assault on these tests, but a good indication of the frustration they cause educators.

The second conversation was a bit more insightful. It was with a perpetually cheerful special educator. Seriously, this woman has an amazing soul. Even though it was clear the tests frustrate her, she kept her tone light and never seemed pessimistic.

Me: “So, what do you think of those standardized tests?”
Her: “They are a BIT frustrating. Last year our entire school missed a benchmark because of three students who tanked the tests. It wasn’t anyone’s fault; these kids are just running at max speed. The problem is that they need one-on-one care, but since they scored marginally above the lowest acceptable score in one area of the testing, they disqualified themselves from getting the help they really need.”
Me: (stunned silence) (yes, that’s possible. rare, but it happens)
Her:”I might have a chance of helping one of them surruptitiously next year, as he’ll share a class with some of my students. (she goes on to unselfconsciously illustrate why she is a saint walking among us, giving of herself without thought)
Me: “Isn’t there a provision in No Child Left Behind where we can pull these kids out of the pool of testees for the purposes of school-wide judgement?”
Her:”Yes, it’s called passing them up a grade regardless of their performance. And when they get to high school they drop out. NCLB actually requires that schools continually improve until the operate at 100% and then stay there. That’s the law. So if we hold these children back, all we are doing is frontloading our negatives for the next year, which can be devastating if its a testing year.”
Me:”Wow.”

I mean, my feelings about the state of public education are so mixed. My kids are doing things grades ahead of where I was when I was a kid, and I was in most of the advanced classes in school. I am consistently impressed by both their efforts and the outcomes achieved in our public schools, but then our county has good schools. Apparently Mary thought of that before we bought our home. I was more like Ray from Ghostbusters. I love our house.

But obviously, schools overall are suffering, and our students are not being prepared to compete in the workplace. It seems that “way better than when I was a kid” is “not good enough.”

I am at a loss. I even recognize that in many cases, standardized tests can be helpful, and while our system would benefit from losing them, other school systems that are just trying to keep their head above water can use them as a focal point for their limited resources.

That’s fine, I guess, as long as all a graduate needs to be able to do is tread water.

*Note: I try to invest humor into everything I write. That doesn’t mean I think less of the subject.*

I wish I had a direct line like this.

Every week at mass I am moved in some way or another. This Sunday was no exception.

I face-planted on my crutches going up the curb from the parking lot, so in addition to bringing my crutches with me, I brought grass stains, a bloody knee and helpful advice from my eldest (“Next time use the ramp, Dad”) into church with me. So you could say I was moved to humility before I even walked in the door.

Luckily, there was an open pew near the side door for us, and we managed to get seated without the thunking of my crutches amusing the entire port-side transept of our church. You could say this moved me to gratitude.

Next, the usher came and told me he would have the Eucharistic Minister bring me the host. I agreed without thinking. This moved me to shame. If Jesus could carry his cross to Golgotha, I could carry my lame butt up to get communion.

Then, the readings. First was Acts 3:13-19 and then 1 John 2:1-5a. These are uplifting. Even though we are sinners; even though every day we fail in some small way to live up to our legacy, we have an incredible legal team armed with a sure-fire defense. I was moved to rejoicing.

I had been trying to flag down the usher ever since I had agreed to take the Host in my pew. Before the Gospel reading, one of his compatriots walked by and I had him deliver the message that I wanted to go up for communion. I felt relief.

Next the Gospel. It was Luke 24:35-48, Christ reunited with the Apostles. This is it. This is where we, as Christians, all shout Bingo. The moment. Well at least as far as I’m concerned. I have innate Catholic guilt, amplified by my own close personal relationship with my failings, so I was moved to relief heavily tinged with guilt.

The Homily. The priest, not an eloquent speaker, led off with a layered question which really put me in a good mood.  I will paraphrase.

“What would you say if by listening to my homily you would learn all the cheat codes for your video games?”

Nice! That was the rhetorical high point, as he really has trouble with public speaking (I respect him all the more for getting up there every Sunday!) but it was a good message nonetheless. He reiterated that this week’s reading DEFINED our salvation. Until the last sentence of the sermon, I felt an underlying sense of comfort. Then he ended with this (again I paraphrase):

“On your way out of mass, please sign the Knights of Columbus’ petition to encourage laws to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.”

I felt sadness, anger and disappointment. The pivotal message of our faith. The climax of the event that defines our salvation. Ruined by a call for political action. Whatever happened to render unto Caesar. What do we care about the laws of man in church? If they make our faith illegal, it would be a boon!

I don’t remember anything else until I went up for communion. I wasn’t feeling one with Christ and the church. As I crutched up there, I could only think of that last line of the homily. (I fundamentally disagree with my Church on the issue of secular marriage of gays and lesbians). I thought I had better skip on communion. Then I looked up at the crucifix. If you are a protestant (or other religion) you may just think of a blank cross. We catholics don’t. On our cross is an embodiment of Christ at the height of human suffering. We usually include the spear wound, too, although this is out of place, as Jesus’ human form was past suffering when the legionary stabbed him.

Any pride in limping up to take communion evaporated. As did any feelings of anger, sadness or disappointment. My rules for my religion are simple. I try to live by Rule #1, and when someone, particularly a co-religionist, does something that makes me want to break Rule #1, or does something that seems to be at odds with that Rule, I move onto Rule #2 (essentially “If something contradicts Rule #1, See Rule#1).

So I only felt awe at this point. I was in communion with Christ.

As we left church, I limped past the table the K of C had set up to collect signatures. It was being manned by an usher I knew pretty well. He is a truly kind person, and exceedingly friendly to me, personally. I said hi and smiled. He gave me a genuine smile and waved as I passed.

I felt at peace.

I am reaffirmed in my faith that most people only want to do what they feel is best. Best for whatever reason, but mostly, best in that it will have the best, most moral outcome for everyone involved. This issue of gay marriage is killing me. I won’t always have the direct, physical example of supreme suffering to help me get my heart in the right place, either.

So, like my muse on religion, Tertullian, let me advise the bishops. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Treat the issue of gay marriage like you do that of re-married divorcees who work in your non-church institutions. Give them benefits and respect their civil rights as granted by our secular Constitution and the laws of the land. If entering the secular world to aid your fellow man means having to play by the rules, weigh that and do so. If the law of the land becomes too onerus, either break the law and rejoice in the consequences or retreat from those things that are irreconcilable.

This Marine’s advice to the bishops? Focus on your primary mission of proclaiming the salvation of Christ. That which meddles with Caesar’s laws only serves to obscure the message.

I once used Geometry to sell provolone cheese,. This guy takes that idea and moves it all the way up to Gruyere.

High school algebra marks a key transition point in one’s early mathematical education, and is a common point at which students feel that mathematics becomes really difficult. One of the reasons for this is that the problem solving process for a high school algebra question is significantly more free-form than the mechanical algorithms one is taught for elementary arithmetic, and a certain amount of planning and strategy now comes into play. For instance, if one wants to, say, write $latex {\frac{1,572,342}{4,124}}&fg=000000$ as a mixed fraction, there is a clear (albeit lengthy) algorithm to do this: one simply sets up the long division problem, extracts the quotient and remainder, and organises these numbers into the desired mixed fraction. After a suitable amount of drill, this is a task that can be accomplished by a large fraction of students at the middle school level. But if, for instance, one has to solve…

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I enjoy this discussion. It seems, and is, dismissive of religion, but it does discuss some interestion cultural foundations.

Replying in part to me Daniel writes

It seems to me that secular ethics distinguishes itself by recognizing the fundamental pluralism of society, and that while these community-level constructions of the world are useful for getting along in the world, in a community – they don’t quite reach a standard of justification they claim for themselves. So we need a broader, more pluralist ethics and Douthat is right – that often consists of dismissing the justificationist, foundationalist project itself. Why? Because an ethics that you can get by writing a poetic book and waiting a couple centuries for it to gain mystical significance does not seem like a very laudable ethical code. You’ll get some gems from that approach, of course. We humans learn how to get along with each other, and that is going to be distilled in these various books. But it’s not a very strong justification. What…

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I want you to read my friend’s story. It’s quite creepy, and vivid and wordy to the point of actually generating UV light.

I write for fun with some people online. We critique each other’s writing, and have a contest once a month or so. I know that I write because I like to; It gives me pleasure to string words together to create powerful stories. I usually try to communicate as much story as possible with as few words as I can, which is good advice for anyone trying to write (From King’s On Writing)

My friend Alistair is the opposite. He specializes in Flash Fiction (stories generally under 600 words) and he is more about setting a scene than moving along a plot. As far as I can tell, he tries to communicate as little story as possible with as many words as he can. That might be counter productive if you are trying to write a novel, but in flash fiction, it is devastating.

For those of you who don’t get what I’m saying, his writing style is the drag racing funny car while novel writing is almost any kind of distance racing. He’s only got a quarter mile to impress you, so get ready for a show.

Seriously, it will only take you about a minute to read it, and it is quite evocative. (It made me think of Krokodil. If you don’t know what that is, please don’t google it. Some things can’t be unseen.  )

Click the picture below.

No my picture, belongs to Edward Smith, who let Alistair use it for his story.

Click the picture to read the story

This morning Tom woke up and said he had a dream in which he and Bubbie found buried treasure. Tom has related his dreams to us for more than a decade, and they are usually awesome, involving him kicking @ and taking names, but this one turned out to be prescient.

Check out my flickr set describing the events as they unfolded.

What a wonderful son and a lucky daughter.

You should all get out to see her. And drink wine. It will be a wonderful time.

Tomorrow the Frederick Arts Council has a booth at the Toast To Frederick Wine Festival and I’m displaying some of my stuff there! 🙂  A month or so back I was invited to show at a table with other Arts Council artists, and I of course jumped at the opportunity.

Terry and the kids and I spent a Saturday morning driving around Frederick county, taking pictures of the beautiful wineries in the area. Here are two examples.

The first is the Linganore Winecellars, makers of my good friend Carmen’s favorite red.  This is a beautiful facility located in a gorgeous valley.  They have weddings on site, and after one visit you can see why.

The next is Elk Run.  I have loved these wines ever since moving to the area, but even though this winery is less than 10 miles away, this was our fist visit.   I was intrigued by so many of…

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I am SO looking forward to VEEP, coming up this Sunday. First, it stars Elaine.

Elaine got elected

I know her name is Julia-Louise Dreyfus, but when I talk to my friends and family, I say Elaine. Just like Wallace Shawn is Vezinni and Ray Romano is Ray. And if you’re reading this, you’re my friend, because I like everybody.

Click on her picture for the USA Today review.

I recommend it as therapy because we are about to enter an extremely vicious election cycle. To paraphrase Winston Zeddemore, you will see \$#!+ that will turn you white. I feel it is my duty as a civic-minded American to protect the political process from a complete collapse into illegitimacy.

To that end, I recommend you watch VEEP as a form of inoculation. It is not partisan, that I can tell; it’s more about farce and exposing the underlying humanity (read vulnerability) of those in Washington.

My hope is that this farce will carry you through the week, and instead of wanting to punch the television when a report or an ad comes on, you will laugh, because you know the main characters in Washington and beyond don’t really know what the hell they’re doing anyway, and they are insecure, and they think their butt is fat, or whatever.

Here’s a really thoughtful review by Dave Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, which speaks to the credentials of the director, which is one of the main reasons why I’m watching. You should check it out here.

And if you, like my friend Dan O’Connor, don’t have TV and haven’t figured out how to use someone else”s HBOGO.COM yet, check out Dan’s web comic at www.AceKilroy.com or his cool artwork at his blog at Studio Gulag. It has nothing to do with VEEP, but I feel sorry for Dan, because he can’t watch it, so I’ll drive a few clicks in his direction.

Semper Fi.