Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can I Get an Amen?

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is served up each Tuesday by the team 
at Two Writing Teachers. Join in the daily challenge--writing fun--for the month of March.

By order of Florida's Governor, Rick Scott, eleventh graders will not be subject to our state's high-stakes standardized test. You can read the executive order here. My favorite paragraph, pictured below, bestows authority on our Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart to suspend the testing schedule.

Can I get an amen? 

At year's start teachers were told that the eleventh grade tests would determine the students diploma. If students "passed" said tests they could receive an honor's designation on their diploma. The Governor's order does not detail how or even if different diplomas were be granted at graduation, but as a teacher of eleventh graders, I am grateful my students in A.P. Language and Composition get a pass on the state-wide test. 

This year we have spent five days practicing for the writing test and two days practicing for the reading. We've also used a day to practice on the computer and get to know the testing environment. I would have to count the hours spent training teachers to proctor or teach to the tests to give you a clearer picture of how testing has undermined instructional practice, but I stopped counting. Years ago I tracked days. I kept a list tucked under my desk calendar and each planning period or each class period that my instructional time was taken to complete a mandate--be it test practice or reviewing graduation requirements--I wrote it down. When the number of days lost climbed over twenty (an instructional month), I had to stop tracking them. I was so angry and felt so powerless that it was difficult to focus on the good.  Fortunately, Kelly Gallagher refocuses on the good and the meangful in his new book. He discusses lost time and expertly traces the history of the mandates behind the testing craze too.  Preview the book, In the Best Interests of Students in Stenhouse. After the first chapter you'll want to read and discuss it with teacher friends-- I know I do. 

Most of the testing practice teachers did with students this year at my school was done to fulfill progress monitoring requirements. The practice tests were district created and are untested or calibrated. The Florida Standards Assessment test is new. Teachers on the ground have gotten mixed-messages about the tests' content (some believe we purchased and will use Utah's test as the seen in the online samples) . Many of us are also unclear on the level of difficulty (Will it match curricular materials or be sourced from appendix documents in CC?). Are we setting students up for failure or a choreographed slide in achievement scores? We don't know.

The Governor's order is a move in the right direction. The call to reduce testing in the state promises even more. See "We Must Reduce Testing in Florida Schools"  here

As an educator and a parent, I am grateful for the "immediate relief" this order provides. Thank you, Commissioner Stewart  and thank you, Governor Scott for recognizing how over-testing is harming the children of Florida. 

Thank you for giving me more days to do what I love, teach. 

Testing, as we all know, is not teaching.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Celebrate Art

I'm taking time to celebrate this week thanks, to Ruth Ayres.
Notice the good  and  celebrate it.  Join in, link up at Ruth Ayres Writes

“It's never too late, it's never too bad, and you are never too old or 
too sick to start from scratch once again.” – Bikram Choudhury

I saw this on a coffee shop bulletin board in New Smyrna Beach this week. It reminded me of having a growth mindset, of being open to beginnings, of starting, once again, along different avenues in my life (teaching, writing, art making) and to get going on my exercise plan. It feels good to move, to stretch, to lift weights--got back to the gym this week. 

The family gathered to celebrate my father's eightieth birthday. The quiet moments drawing, painting and talking, gathered around a long slab-top table in the hotel lobby, were the best moments this week. My brother lives far away in the snow-covered north, so any time we get together is cause for celebration.  

Even the kids got in on the drawing fun together. 

Art this week inspired me. There was an Art Fiesta at the beach and this week--lots of great glass, art and craftsmanship.

And my students shared their first altered book entries for an Art of Analysis project we've just begun. 

A lot to celebrate this week.