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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Go Away for a Week and the Beat Goes On

So I come back from Tucson (I know, don't cry for me Argentina) and here we are hashing over the same old things. Still no real public engagement or even notice about changing bell times. And still wondering why we are churning in place over many of the same issues. Sigh.

(Guess what was on the news in Tucson? Yup, not enough money for their district(s), cutting arts funding, they need to close schools and their technology is terrible. At least technology in our schools isn't stuck in the '80s.)

And yet I also find a puff piece in the Times about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson (she's one tough cookie although one commenter on the piece said that she certainly changed her mind enough on school closures which is true) AND that the Gates Foundation is going to give money to the district. I think I'll have to look into that one and see what the tea leaves show. I wasn't surprised at the Broad Foundation money; she's part of that group. But what did Gates see that we may be missing? I always wonder why these groups never go to, say, the Seattle Council PTA and ask what parents think needs shoring up? I see that the Gates money is going towards many of the items that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is pushing i.e. more AP. But I see this as well (from the Times article announcing the grants):

"Plans for a districtwide testing system are also in the works. At Mercer Middle School, educators already have begun piloting a series of tests to track students' academic performance throughout the school year. The testing allows more immediate feedback on academic performance and can help pinpoint areas where a student is struggling, said Mercer Principal Andhra Lutz."

This is good except for a couple of things. One, the WASL was supposed to be one piece of this puzzle and yet, as we have found, WASL results come too late for teachers to use in a meaningful way.

Two, I find myself confused on the phrase "immediate feedback". Is that for teachers? Students? Parents? I ask because teachers used to just do this as part of their jobs. To me any teacher worth his or her salt can probably tell you how a student is doing and likely where they are struggling. But okay, great, if it helps a teacher focus teaching, great, but can teachers really individualize their teaching that much? If it's for students, also great. A recent parent survey at Roosevelt (as well as student focus groups) showed both groups worry about getting enough feedback from teachers soon enough for students to know where they need to work harder. But it's unclear to me.

6 comments:

hschinske said...

Mercer is one of the nine schools piloting the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress). As I've posted before,


Nine schools are participating in the pilot of Measures of Academic Progress
(MAP) in 2008-09

2 elementary schools K-5 (BF Day & North Beach)

4 middle schools 6-8 (Mercer, Madison, Denny, Hamilton)

3 high schools 9-10 plus some 11-12 grade students in lower-level classes
(Cleveland, Chief Sealth, Rainier Beach)

Students are taking the computer-based MAP test in reading and math three
times this year (fall, winter, spring)

Fall testing was completed on October 24.

62 staff (40 school staff, 22 central office) trained on how to administer MAP –
more trained on how to use MAP data to inform instruction

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

I, too, pondered the question about "immediate feedback".

The promise of the MAP effort is that teachers will get data that will inform their instruction. So the class takes the assessment and it reports that Johnny doesn't really understand multiplying fractions, that Sally doesn't really understand how to convert fractions to decimal, and that Steve is working two grades level above.

This raises the first question: Didn't the teacher already know this? Surely the teacher tested the students on their knowledge of multiplying fractions and converting them to decimals and already knows where Johnny and Sally need additional support. Why does the teacher need the MAP process to get this information? The answer is that the teacher doesn't. But with every teacher doing their own assessments and recording the data in their own way, the principal has to come and ask them for this sort of information and it would be impossible for the District to gather this sort of data. So the data is gathered and kept in a uniform way so that is accessible and usable by the principal and the district.

The data from the MAP is supposed to inform instruction. So with these results the teacher provides Johnny and Sally with the targeted support they need in those specific content areas and provides Steve with greater challenge.

This raises the second question: How is the teacher supposed to do that? Is the teacher supposed to prepare some sort of individualized learning plan for every student? Or will this result in students getting issued specific worksheets to address their individual needs? What's supposed to happen as a result and, again, why doesn't it already happen? Again, the benefit of the uniform assessment isn't so much directly to the teacher and the student so much as it is for the principal and the District.

The Strategic Plan calls for common District-wide assessments to inform instructional practice, provide an additional measure of student achievement, track student growth and inform District-level decision-making.

That raises the third question: What will the principal and the District do with this data? What decisions that they make will be driven by it? Will it influence their professional development decisions? How will this data not become part of the teacher accountability and performance measurement?

hschinske said...

I can see your point about what the teacher should already have assessed, but part of the point of the MAP testing is that it can adapt to the level of the student, and therefore point out that Johnny and Sally are missing skills that were assessed last year or the year before, and Steve has mastered skills that the teacher wouldn't otherwise have thought to assess him in.

I also have my doubts about how much information about students' strengths and weaknesses gets formally recorded. I get the impression that teachers keep a lot of those thoughts in their heads, perhaps occasionally writing them down in narrative notes. Certainly not every homework assignment or test gets analyzed.

Helen Schinske

dan dempsey said...

Big question for k-5...

In math are the WA Standards being tested? The SPS has chosen to follow the Everyday Math pacing plan and ingnore the Math Grade level expectations.

So if the child is unable to do long division in grade 5 with a two digit divisor as the State Standards require. Does the teacher actually do anything to remedy this?

What would they do?
A great deal of the k-5 math standards are not taught in the SPS elementary schools.

How will more frequent testing fix that?

Charlie Mas said...

Now that it is clear to me that the MAP assessment project is about management and not about education, it makes me understand why the Gates Foundation is supporting it.

hschinske said...

Charlie, what do you mean when you say the MAP is about management? I still think it looks like a very promising assessment tool indeed.

Helen Schinske