Apr 29, 2009

CAHSEE Schmahsee.

I'm dating myself, but I was actually part of the first graduating class that the Big Guy and his constituents decided would use as Exhibit A for the California High School Exit Exam. That's the Class of 2006.

I remember leaving the test site as a 15-year-old sophomore thinking, "that's all that the state wants me to know in order to graduate?" My teachers did little to prepare us for the test because none of us really knew what to expect. Turns out, all we needed to know was 8th-grade math and reading/writing.

Fast forward five years: I'm in high school yet again, this time preparing a 10th grade algebra student, S, for her upcoming CAHSEE. By the end the class period, I remained in my seat, my head in my hands, dazed and exhausted.

I'll get back to this in a bit, but first I want to write about a talk that I attended this afternoon. It was held at UC Berkeley by a Professor Emerita of Education, Lily Wong Fillmore.

"The CAHSEE is easy," she began. "The CAHSEE is supposed to set the bottom line in order to graduate... it is comprised of two sections: language arts and math."

Easy? I spent this entire semester learning about shortcomings and unfairness of standardized testing, tutoring (and failed at tutoring) kids on standardized testing, and here, a professor stood before me saying that the CAHSEE is too easy?

She then handed out released test questions from both the CAHSEE and the state test issued to high school students in New York. Apparently, the New York Regents require that their students pass exams which tests knowledge in five subjects: math, science, U.S. history, world history, and comprehensive English.

We compared sample questions from California and New York. For comprehensive reading, we found that California tests used narratives while New York tests used expository texts. See here for NY's sample test questions (CA's was not as easy to track down, but here's one sample).

Basically, it boils down to this -- New York exam: Difficult. Appropriate for high school. California exam: Not so Difficult. Appropriate for middle school.

Regardless of where a student’s home state sets the bar, S was not able to complete or comprehend a single problem from the bank of practice questions. She was frustrated because she felt that she didn't know anything. I was frustrated because the questions were complex and multi-step, meaning although she knew enough math to get her through the first half of the problem, she did not know enough math to get her a right answer. In other cases, the math problems were too wordy; she couldn’t understand what the test was asking of her.

I felt bad for S. What was she going to do? I was pretty confident that she was going to get a big, fat zero on the test that was coming up in a few days. There wasn’t enough time to cover everything that she would need to know for the test. After she takes the test, she will forget about it and go on with schooling for the next year until it’s time to retake the very same test. Who is going to teach her eight grade math and language arts by then?

The kicker: after I took the CAHSEE back in 2004, I received a letter in the mail informing me that I did not pass the test and that I would not graduate high school until I retook and passed the exam. It turns out there was some kind of administrative mistake in the mail room, and they accidently sent that letter to me and all of my classmates.

Juking the Stats

Last year, I was OTF poster boy, working tirelessly to close the achievement gap. And results were good. As a school, we showed notable gains on CST geometry scores. I was happy.

I'm less confident this year. I don't feel my kids are prepared. In fact, overall, I feel less of a teacher as I was last year. Word on the street is that 2nd year is miles easier than the first, yet the lows I experienced this year were lower and longer than last. I find myself looking to year 3 more and more. What improvements can I make? How can I be better prepared? How can I fix things? I find myself merely waiting on these next 5 weeks to pass as opposed to getting a job done.

I'm beginning to question my purpose here. I feel like summer institute bred me to close the achievement gap, which is something I believe in. Wholeheartedly. But "closing the achievement gap" manifests itself in the form of "improving test scores" and I'm sick of it. Rarely do I attend a faculty meeting or enter an edu-debate w/ a colleague w/out the mention of test scores and I tire. Rarely do I hear news of education and work towards "progress" without it being linked to standardized tests.

API, AYP, funding, merit-based pay, student placement - so much of it hinges on how our kids do on these tests. Tests that don't matter to students (I've talked about this in the past), tests that matter too much to teachers. If we want to fundamentally change the education system for the better, we need to fundamentally change how that happens and how it's measured.

Granted, I have NO answers. I do want my kids to do well on these tests b/c I want them to feel successful, I want them to prove they've learned something this year, but I don't want my teaching to be driven solely by reaching higher test scores. The purpose of my existence as a teacher is shifting - I want to go beyond the curriculum and beyod these tests. I begin the transition from year 2 and year 3 with this in mind.

Apr 26, 2009

you never forget your first...

This semester I have a class at the American Museum of Natural History. At AMNH science teachers learn how to use the museum and other resources as a tool to supplement their curriculum as well as spark student interest in science. This class requires each teacher to bring students to the museum. Last Friday I conducted my very first field trip.

I took 21 of my science elective students to learn from the Climate Change exhibit. We walked to the subway from school and trained it down to 81st Street. We spent about two and a half hours satisfying our curiosities about the climate change and investigating our interests in other parts of the museum. Thankfully I had two other amazing chaperones who helped calm my nerves and keep track of my students.

Though I was on super vigilant teacher mode, I was able to enjoy myself on the field trip. It was so fulfilling to see my students excited about science! They asked so many questions and loved learning science through the visual and kinesthetic models at the museum. They all behaved beautiully, even those students who have trouble controlling themselves in class. I am so proud of my students!

I had a great experience planning this trip and seeing it come to fruition. I learned alot from this assignment and feel confident coordinating another excursion. This field trip really showed me the importance in teaching students to learn outside of the classroom.

"Miss A you're lucky we wear uniforms. If we didn't the people at the museum wouldn't believe you're the teacher."

Apr 9, 2009

"read these poems please"

[We had a really successful poetry slam on the last day before Spring Break in NYC (Wednesday). It was AMAZING...one of the best teaching days I've had. I was very surprised and taken aback by my student's willingness to put themselves and their words out there. Even more, I was stunned at the level of depth and maturity that their poetry possessed. Coming home from a night out on the town, I checked my email just now to find a pleasant surprise. One of my 6th graders sent me an email about 2 hours ago. Here's his message plus two of the five poems he attached that he wrote himself. Cuteness overload. Please enjoy the work of a self-proclaimed future doctor :]

dear ms. s,

read these poems please
from jordy these are my homework


By: Jordy

No more

No more judging

No more separation

We are one

We are all the same

Maybe not outside

But in the inside we are

We are one

We are all one family

No more

No more judging

No more racism

No more nothing


[here's another one he wrote that I really like]


By: Jordy

You feel trap in a closet

You feel all alone

Like no one loves you

You feel like there is no one around you

You feel like no one just care

You just feel alone

You feel that closet getting bigger and no one around

You feel your braking point


You feel like your family is never there

You feel ALONE

Until finally you are out of that dark closet

You finally don’t feel ALONE

Apr 7, 2009

Never Have an Argument w/ a Student Ever Again

I never have arguments with students. It just doesn't happen. I'm not saying I have great relationships with all my kids; a few of them hate my guts, I'm sure. But I definitely AM saying I never have arguments. Ever. What's the secret?

"I understand."

The end-all phrase. The argument killer. I can almost guarantee it's effectiveness.

Take, for example, Case #1:

"Jordan, please put your headphones away."

"Aww, Mr. G. It's not even on that loud."

"I understand. But, I need you to put your headphones away."

"But you can't even see them!"

"I understand. But, I need you to put your headphones away."


Consider the even more extreme example, Case #2:

"Brianna, I need you to stop talking."

"What? What'd I say? I didn't even say anything!"

"I understand. But, I need you to stop talking."

"You always pick on me. I hate this class!"

"I understand. But, I need you to stop talking."

It may seem like the teacher's become a broken record, but the phrase works. Most arguments stem from a student's need to claim victor, especially in front of an audience. If the teacher concedes outright, the student has already won - the need to win is eliminated. The teacher acknowledges the student's frustrations/anger, but is still able to communicate the intended message. Both parties win.

Rarely do students catch on. I can think of only 2 or 3 instances all year where students have pointed out "you always be sayin' that!" Likewise for instances where the response becomes "no you DON'T understand!" And even during those, my response is still: "I understand."

Argument still evaded. Directive still sent. Disruption eventually resolved.

Try it. But beware, the phrase can easily leak outside the classroom realm...

"...blah, blah, blah, blah... the night was awful! And plus, it was a bad hair day!.... blah, blah, blah"

"I understand. But I need to go to bed now."

[Credit where credit's due]

Apr 6, 2009

Youtube CAN be educational

So the rundown on this - I'm applying for an internship with OpenSourceLearner, a not-for profit org that looks to increase college access via social media. Basically, they get college students to capture interviews of their peers and link high school (and younger) students first-hand info about college. This was part of my application process (there goes my anonymity). Just trying to spit truth and (good) knowledge.

Find more videos like this on opensourcelearner

Free Write #1 Sample Student Work

[This is a sample of one of 6th grader's first freewrites evah! Mistakes, cuteness and all :) Follow along as a first year teacher analyzes this shizz and comes up with some sort of plan to address his problems, and help make him a better writer in the last 2 months left of escuela!]

Prompt: My perfect spring break would...
My perfect spring bring would...Be in Hawaii. I would invite a bunch of friends like Carla, Iirwin, Ismeal, Gladyss etc. the weather would be nice every day no rain. I would have beach party every nite. It would be all expense paid. Oh did I mention that I would rent hawaii for a week you can stay in any hotel you want there will be skateboading surf boading. I will have free food there will scuba diving sky diving and more. I am telling you. it will be fun. There would drag racing exotic cars.
Ms. S' thoughts

the +
He's creative. He has a decent sense of capitalization, sentence structure, and punctuation. There is voice in his writing (e.g. "I am telling you. it will be fun."). He is successful in his attempts to use more complex vocabulary such as "expense" and "exotic."

the -
His sentence structure is inconsistent. Some verbs and prepositions are missing (e.g. "There would drag racing exotic cars," and, "I would have beach party every night.") Some thoughts are incomplete. Problems with misspelling some simple words (nite and skateboading - though I think "nite" is just a slang issue) and capitalizing proper nouns (hawaii).

Things I will try to address these issues:
-do mini-lesson on prepositions! show the whole class School House Rock clips online!
-do mini-lessons on spelling patterns (like -igh, their/there/they're, etc.).

Time for Goal Completion: I'm going to implement these tactics by the week of April 20-25, 2009 when we return from Spring Break (which starts on Wed. for us :).

Any one have some more tips or notice anything else that I should address in his writing?