Why I am opting out – a guide for parents

I am a public school teacher in California and I am opting my 5th grader out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Tests this year.

Here is a link to the Opt Out form for San Francisco Unified.

Here is why:

The tests will not help my child’s teacher know my child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Test scores will not be out until the summer. My child’s current teacher will not be able to use the information to improve instruction in any way for my child this year.

My child will lose many hours of instruction in order to prepare for and take the SBAC tests. This time could be used for more meaningful instruction, such as doing an interesting reading project, a social studies, math, art, music or science research project or doing an end of the school year play.

The computerized test interface is clumsy and frustrating for students, and not based on cognitive development. It’s not likely that younger students can type as fast as they can handwrite; the multiple tabs and windows are difficult to navigate, and students at different schools will be taking the tests on a multitude of interfaces, thus rendering invalid the test results. Taking the test on a desktop with a large screen, on a small laptop and on an iPad are different experiences. Here is my blog post about taking the SBAC practice test. Here is one from a fourth grader’s dad. And here is one from a parent in Seattle. While computer skills are important, the skills needed for taking this test do not match how professionals use computers in their work lives, nor how students learn and best demonstrate learning. Children learn to read more quickly, generate more ideas and retain information better when they learn to write by hand.  And college students also learn better when they write notes by hand instead of on a computer. 

Standardized tests do not help poor, minority, English language learner and special ed students. These groups of students historically score low on standardized tests, in addition to particularly bright students who will often “overthink” answers. Low scores on standardized tests have created schools serving large numbers of these students into reward and punishment test prep centers, with fewer opportunities for enrichment and engaging lessons that higher socio-economically advantaged students have access to. More and more African American and other educators are defending the Opt Out Movement as an antidote to the systematic racism in our society in which poor and minority children receive fewer educational dollars and resources, and are viewed as “deficient”. Check out these powerful articles: this article or this article or this article or my own blog post on the issue.

Barack and Michelle Obama, along with many other well-educated and wealthy parents, have opted their children out of the national standardized tests by sending their children to private schools. Private schools offer smaller class size, enriching project-based curriculum, individual learning plans and a well-rounded education that includes humanities, arts, sciences, maths, world languages, physical education, extensive field trips, and community projects. Teachers and parents in these schools are not requesting that students take more standardized tests such as the SBAC, and they do not publish the scores of the tests that they do take. Public school students should have access to the same educational models that our most advantaged citizens have. Here is the beautiful Sidwell Friends school that the Obama children attend.

My child’s teachers may be rated on the outcome of how their students perform, regardless of school demographics and regardless of how much I believe my child has learned (or hasn’t). Although my child’s teachers will never see my child’s test to learn from it, they will need to take time from other essential instruction to teach students to perform on this test. Educational researchers have stated that the tests should for diagnostic purposes only, and should not be used to rank and sort teachers. Race to the Top (RTTT) mandated under the Obama administration coerced states into accepting a teacher evaluation system based in part on how their students do on the state assessments. This and other merit based plans do not improve student learning as borne out by research, but do lead to higher incidences of systematic cheating, questionable teaching practices and a narrowing of the curriculum.

There is no evidence to support that high stakes tests improve student learning. The accountability system set up by No Child Left Behind did not boost achievement, according to the National Research Council and many other peer-reviewed educational research. Yong Zhao, an education professor at the University of Oregon, has written books on the misuse of standardized testing in China and in the United States. He predicts that the U.S will lose its creative entrepreneurial edge by subscribing to the merit of standardized tests. He states, “we will see a further narrowing of the curriculum and educational experiences. Whatever innovative teaching that has not been completely lost in the schools may finally be gone.”

The cut scores are arbitrary and set with a political vision rather than an educational one. Last year, 70% of NY State students scored below proficient on the PARCC Common Core tests. This was a political decision aimed at making more families question whether public schools were doing their job. It backfired, NY changed the cut scores, and many New Yorkers are opting their students out of this year’s tests.

The SBAC are an experimental attempt to assess student proficiency on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). However, the CCSS themselves are still experimental and controversial in many regards. Very few teachers were involved in creating them, and many of us are quite skeptical of their claim that they can do what they propose: “to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career and life, regardless of where they live.” The standards were never tested on cohorts of students before their exceedingly quick implementation. Here is a detailed explanation of the 24 “work group” committee members who developed the standards. Here is a nice sheet about their how they were developed and the money behind them. 

Opting Out is a great democratic tool to fight the corporate takeover of public education. Many articles and books have been written about the loss of public school management, curriculum, and the overuse of testing due to well funded corporate interests.  Steve Nelson, head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, said it this way, “This growing struggle over the future of American education may be proxy for the future of our democratic republic.”

Love the Common Core standards or hate the standards, when new standards are forcibly implemented by top-down federal initiatives without proper time to develop them, you end up with shoddy teaching, shoddy materials and shoddy tests. This article is about Jason Zimba, one of the authors of the CCSS math standards, who despises how his daughter is learning math with the new standards in place. He spends his weekends reteaching her so that she will love math as he does.

Opting out of the SBAC tests can help politicians understand that parents want well-funded schools, well-prepared teachers, small class sizes and respect for children. It may feel like an act of disrespect toward your child’s school or teacher; on the other hand, it is likely that your teacher will applaud your decision to support a better public education system with better funding, better teacher support, and fewer distracting standardized tests that eat up instructional time.

Ask your child’s teacher about opting out and providing an alternative project during testing time. My child will be reading books with younger children, writing stories, and working as a Junior Coach. Talk to other parents about your decision to opt out. There is a huge movement that is growing from all sectors of society. Get familiar with alternative educational resources for standardized testing:

United Opt Out

National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Authentic Assessment – Fair Test

Alternative Assessments – Washington Post

Linda Darling-Hammond on standardized testing in the implementation of the Common Core

Diane Ravitch’s blog – a resource on public educational issues

Retired Oakland teacher Anthony Cody’s educational blog

Thank you for reading,

Maestra Malinche

“High-stakes testing is America’s Faustian bargain.” Yong Zhao

Tell Congress to roll back standardized testing

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This post is long overdue and it is a call to action.

Tell Congress to roll back standardized testing

In 2002 when I became a teacher, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became the new name of public education in the United States. This law had a huge effect on how teachers and students would teach and learn together, and how the federal government would recognize, reward and punish individual states, school districts, individual schools, teachers and students for achieving and failing to achieve state assessment standards.

NCLB was a powerful reauthorization of an older federal educational act called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, signed into law under Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. The underlying goal of both ESEA and NCLB was to ensure a quality education for all children regardless of zip code and demographics.

Unfortunately, after 2002, it soon became clear to most teachers working in the public school system, particularly to those who worked with poor kids in poor neighborhoods that NCLB was set up to fail all children rather than to set them up for success. In accordance with NCLB, all students in grades 3 through 8 would now take yearly standardized tests in English and Math, their scores would be noted alongside their demographic information, their schools would be ranked, and their teachers and schools would be held “accountable”. The accountability provision had a serious goal: all students were to be proficient in English and Math by 2014.

Last year, 2014, 100% proficient. All students. Everywhere.

Let that sink in.

When students, teachers, schools, school districts and states did not meet their target, there would be repercussions.

And no school would be able to meet that target. And eventually all schools would be marked failures. School shutdowns, transfers of students to privatized charter schools, fired teachers and administrators, school takeovers, loss of federal funding, etc., etc., etc. The failures of reaching English and Math standardized test targets began first in poor areas and spread to richer suburban schools.

Knowing that we would eventually never reach that target of 100% proficiency, special ed teachers continued teaching their students, teachers in wealthy school districts continued teaching, teachers in poor rural districts continued teaching, teachers in urban districts continued teaching, many of us continued teaching while some of us exited the profession early.

In some places, the school district would be held accountable, in some places, the school administration and the teachers would be ranked according to the test scores of their students, and in more than a few places, the teachers would be held accountable for how students that they never taught did on tests. In Florida, a student on his deathbed, along with his teachers and parents, was held accountable for his failing to take his standardized tests.

In short, students were held the most accountable of all and they lost. Teaching students to the test became paramount to education – first in poor schools, then circling out to wealthier schools. Recesses eliminated, lunches shortened, social studies and science in elementary school scaled back, art, music and P.E. eliminated, and brought to life only in districts or schools with wealthier parent populations. Play, the means by which young people learn, became a luxury allowed only in wealthier schools in which the children would inevitably do well on standardized tests anyway.

Because we know that standardized tests are really good at predicting one thing – family demographics.

And this new abuse, misuse and overuse of testing that ranked and sorted students was called equity. This was called opportunity. This was sanctioned from the top. The message became that disadvantaged kids suffer from one thing in life – low test scores on standardized tests due to bad teachers.

My entrance into the nightmarish repercussions of this top down system happened when my child was about to enter kindergarten. I merely had to google a potential public school, and there I could see the demographics and the standardized test scores disaggregated for each subgroup of students: White kid test scores, Asian kid test scores, Latino kid test scores, African American kid test scores, American Indian test scores, Filipino kid test scores, Free and Reduced Lunch kid test scores. It was all there for me and every other computer savvy educated parent to see: the worth of a school depended on the test scores and strata of their students.

In the old days we called it “white flight”; in the new days we call it, um, hmm, still, well, “white flight”. Instead of white people saying, “I don’t want my kid to go to a school with black/brown/colored kids”, educated and upwardly mobile parents could now say without fear of being called a racist, “I don’t want my kid to go to a school full of kids with low test scores”. Pretty slick.

Thank you, yearly testing, for all your marketing, ranking and sorting. You have squeezed the joy out of learning and teaching; you have squeezed out art, P.E., social studies, science, music, recess and maybe even lunch; thank you for teaching my first grader how to bubble with a number two wide grip pencil; thank you for making students think that they are behind on the first day of elementary school, thank you for increasing the profits for the makers of Ritalin and diagnosing a whole generation of kids with Attention Deficit Disorder; thank you for making fieldtrips obsolete, thank you for diminishing each and every kid’s individual worth outside of the bubble.

And as a teacher, I can thank yearly testing for completely upending lesson planning, student projects, research papers, and instructional time so that my entire school can devote itself to the task of chaperoning students as they take tests full of computer glitches, poorly written questions, and write essays that are graded by temporary workers at $11 an hour.

Twelve years ago I became a public school teacher in California and ten years ago I became a parent to a public school student in California.

Enough already.

Write to your Congressperson now.

Here are some crucial links:

Tell Congress to roll back standardized testing

Revising NCLB: Let your voice be heard

Tell Congress to vote no on HR #5 Student Success Act NCLB Reauthorization

Message to Congress: Don’t forget about standardized testing

Joyless kindergarten?

There comes a time when rules must be broken . . .that time is now

Why the NY Times is wrong about annual testing

Georgia school chief to feds: Stop the ”measure, pressure, and punish” approach

Is that all that matters to grown-ups?

Principal to Congress: I was wrong when I supported NCLB Here’s how to fix it

US Schools aren’t being outpaced by international competition

And a very intriguing article for all you parents and teachers who love math and wonder about the Common Core:

The man behind Common Core math

A Call for Congressional Hearings on the Misuse of Standardized Testing

This is a great article on the excesses and misuses of Standardized Testing in the United States. Please read and pass it along!
Maestra Malinche
Partial text of article:

“Are tests harmful to students with disabilities? Over the past few years, there have been numerous instances in which children with significant health situations, even undergoing life-saving procedures, were pressured to complete required tests – even from their hospital beds. Children with severe brain disorders have been compelled to take a state test. Recently in Florida, an eleven-your-old boy who was dying in hospice was expected to take a test. Such behavior defies common sense and common decency.

How has the frequency and quantity of testing increased? Testing is taking significant time away from instructional learning time. In Chicago, elementary school students take the REACH, the TRC, the MAP, the EXPLORE, the ISAT, and DIBELS every year. In North Carolina, third-grade students are tested in reading 36 times throughout the year – in addition to other standardized tests. Middle schools students in Pennsylvania may take over 20 standardized tests in a single school year. High school students in Florida can have their instruction disrupted 65 times out of 180 school days by testing. In New York, the time taken by state exams has increased by 128%. When so much time is devoted to testing instead of teaching, students have less time to learn.

Does testing harm teaching? Now that test scores are linked to principal and teacher evaluations in many states, teachers engage in more test prep because they are pressured and afraid, not because they think the assessments are educationally sound. Principals are nervous about their school’s scores. Many educators have admitted they are fearful of taking students on field trips, engaging them in independent projects, or spending time on untested subjects like science or history, art or music because it might take time away from test prep. As a result, the curriculum has narrowed and students have lost their opportunity for a well-rounded education.

How much money does it cost? It is difficult to calculate the entire costs of standardized testing – including the many classroom hours spent on test prep. But it is well known that nearly every state is spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to develop more high-stakes tests for students, and requiring local districts to spend hundreds of millions more to get their students ready to take them. In addition to the cost of the tests and the interim tests, there are added costs of new curriculum, textbooks, hardware, software, and bandwidth that new tests require. There are also opportunity costs when money allocated for testing supersedes other education expenditures, such as libraries, art and music programs, social workers and guidance counselors, and extra-curricular activities.”

March Fourth

It’s March Fourth.

March Forth for Education. Four years ago I participated in a March Fourth Walk with children and parents from Max’s public school to the Civic Center in San Francisco, where students, parents and teachers gathered to demand (ask?) the state to give money back to the public schools. It felt brilliant to be part of such a large group of public school participants and advocates making noise to stop the cuts to public education. We brought signs, noisemakers, water bottles and strollers. We got off work early, we yelled, walked, and chanted. We took pictures and we marched.

Every year that I have been a public school parent in California, I have worked my butt off raising money, trying to figure out what my son’s school needs, what the teachers need, what books need to be purchased, and figuring out how we parents can best put in our time, skills and resources to help schools.

2014 marks the first year that Governor Brown’s education budget will penetrate the poorer districts and start the process of mending the many years of cuts and neglect. However, it is very little, and it is very late, and now we have new computers to buy. And this is the catch. Schools must now outfit every child with a computer for the purpose of testing during the testing period. Every district must make sure that there is sufficient broadband for hundreds of students to be tested at the same time on multiple computers. Every district and school in California and in the 46 states that adopted the Common Core must now direct their funds and energy to hire computer technicians, buy computers and higher bandwidth, update software, arrange testing schedules, train teachers, etc., etc., etc. Most districts have been given a grace period of a year or two in order to transition to the computerized test. In the meantime, some schools will test students using scantrons and test booklets and some schools will test students using the Smarter Balanced computerized test.

The high school in which I work got chosen to do the computerized test. This means that our two computer labs, our library and our computer carts will be monopolized for the purpose of testing for several weeks. During this time, students and teachers will not be able to use the computers for projects, presentations, research, or writing papers. Our school has one of the highest numbers of low income kids in the district. Our school is the one in which students have the least access to computers in the home. And perhaps, these same parents of our low income kids will be the least likely to complain if their kids don’t have to do a research paper now. Perhaps because they don’t know that this used to be part of high school. Perhaps because they are working two or more jobs. Perhaps because they don’t know that they have a right to ask for more than the low standardized test score that their kid will bring home instead.

Our educational money is instead going to pay for upgrading computers, not for the purposes of computerized instruction and research, not for the purpose of teaching technological skills, not in order to give access for students with no computers in the home, but rather, for the purpose of a very questionable test that will give me very little specific information about my students, or, put another way, a questionable test that will tell me exactly how much wealth and education the student’s family possesses, because the one thing that is known from standardized testing is the information that is conveyed about the family of the child that is tested – family income, highest level of education attained in family, and number of books in the home. Thank you, standardized test! I see that Victoria and Samuel are English language learners! I see that Rodrick has a learning disability! I see that Mounish and Haley have parents who read a lot!

Standardized tests = demographics.

Why aren’t the teachers complaining?!?!?! Am I the only one who sees the irony? the hypocrisy? the waste of time and resources? There is so much good that can happen with computers! But, not another standardized test, this time complete with bugs and a bad user interface and a lack of teacher input!

Okay, I am not the only one who wrote a list of everything wrong with the Smarter Balanced Test (see my last post). I found this article out of a town in New England, whose teachers are also concerned about this test and noticed the same inadequacies as I did:

“The FMS staff collectively believe that the Smarter Balance Test is inappropriate for our students at this time and that the results from this test will not measure the academic achievement of our students; but will be a test of computer skills and students’ abilities to endure through a cumbersome task.”  (emphasis mine)

Why are we teachers, parents and administrators in California not affronted by this? Why are we not asking the hard questions about the usefulness of this test? My good friend who has worked as an ELD teacher for more than 20 years gave me the answer.

We have undergone over ten years of No Child Left Behind which mandated standardized testing every year in every grade from 3rd through 12th in every public school in the nation. (And 2014 marks the year that all students should now be proficient – every single one – but just to let you know, this has not happened, not by a long shot, but teachers and schools are still getting punished for it.)

Teachers and parents don’t remember that there was a time that yearly standardized testing didn’t eat up a month of instructional time. People in poorer urban districs don’t remember that students used to get art, P.E., social studies, music and library time (and even field trips) instead of standardized test preparation. We just don’t remember. And we are demoralized, deflated and flattened. We have come to believe that this is education. That the purpose of education is how our kids do on a standardized test. We are the ones who have “endured through a cumbersome task.” And we have given up the fight.

It’s March Forth.

Maestra Malinche

“Schooling, instead of encouraging the asking of questions, too often discourages it.”- Madeleine L’Engle

Happy New Year and Smarter Balanced Assessments in California coming to your child in 2014 or 2015!

Happy New Year to all –

I am finally over this wretched cold, and sort of ready to go back to work tomorrow.

I had a brilliant time over the past few days grading final essays written by my advanced Spanish students, and, as usual, I have been dismayed by the incredible academic gaps that exist between students. Students with educated parents can write a cohesive and logical argument; students without such parents usually produce confusing and disorganized sentences that spin around disconnected ideas.

It took me years to learn how to write; and I am still trying.

Even with tons of my own work to prepare my students for such a writing assignment, the results show clearly the haves and have-nots.

Writing is a difficult life-long skill that many many high school students simply don’t get a good opportunity to develop. How can they when their public school teachers have 35 students in a class, five classes a semester?  How are students able to get the individual attention, the critical feedback and the encouragaement that they need in order to get better at producing logical organized thought?   And what was I thinking?  Each paper takes me 10 minutes to grade and there are almost 70 of them!!!!  I need an assistant or two!

I imagine that the Common Core State Standards are supposed to help us fix these issues like the national critical thinking gap – I like to think that, at least.  The ELA standards focus much on critical thinking and writing – and they are decoupled from one particular curriculum, so as to make it just as much the science, social studies and Spanish teachers’ jobs to help students develop these skills as the English teachers’.  I love this idea, in theory. But, the year that Common Core is rolled out in California is the same year that class sizes go up in my district, and much of our Professional Development is spent on trying to figure out computer software that will help our students with the new computerized Common Core tests (not to help students get better in writing, mind you, but just to get the district ready for computerized testing itself).

So here is why I haven’t written since October.

In early October, the faculty and staff of the high school where I work spent 45 minutes or so taking the new Smarter Balanced practice tests for the Common Core.  On the following website, you too can take a practice test, in math or ELA, in 3rd grade, 8th grade or high school, and you can see what it is all about.  I ask you to please do so, so that you know what our kids will have to go through.

https://sbacpt.tds.airast.org/student/

After attempting to take a few of the tests, I became utterly depressed and I actually shut down.  I really lost sleep for a few nights thinking about these stupid tests!  Eventually, I did write to the tech coordinator of my district with specific feedback, but here is my brief takeaway from my humble experience:

–       The computer based tests that many California students are required to take this year are still in beta stage, full of glitches, bugs, annoying pop-ups and randomly assigned control keys! The math portions actually did not work on ourschool computers!

–       The tests are extremely user unfriendly; and are not similar at all to instructional materials that students use in class!

–       If students use computers with small screens or tablets, the reading requirements are ridiculous!  Scroll through 4 different articles of text in a small window and simultaneously analyze them critically without being able to scan them whole or write notes on them?  I have a Masters Degree, and I can’t keep that much information in my head; I doubt most high school students could do better. But why would they even want to? This test doesn’t grant them anything except a headache!

–       Answering the muliple choice questions are confusing, and made me think the computer was telling me which one was the correct answer before I made my choice!

–       The third grade questions made my head spin- there were so many correct answers to choose from! And often, I didn’t understand what it wanted me to do or think.

–       How will this actually convince students and teachers to take it seriously?

–       Why is so much money going into this?  Who is making money off of these tests?

–       How will an entire high school get every single student to take the tests in a short time frame? How do we get enough computers?  Is this an educational goal to have more computers than we need during the rest of the year just so that we can give students state tests?

–       Will our schools have the resources to hire the multiple techs needed to fix every problem that comes up as students take these tests?

–       Should third graders really be judged by how well they can type on a computer? Shouldn’t they have an art teacher or a librarian or a really good social studies fieldtrip learning experience instead of spending money for the purposes of this computerized test? Can’t they learn how to type in middle school, and spend a whole class period daily learning the skill well?

–       Can the Smarter Balanced Assessment actually ever be a quality assessment tool?  Will most students be able to demonstrate their learning effectively? Will students be motivated to do well and try their best? Will students be distracted by the software itself? Will students be better off taking this test or engaging in classroom instruction? Will teachers get the results they need to inform their instruction?

So, ugh.

In the meanwhile, I traveled to New York, talked to my sister-in-law who complained non-stop about the effects of the Common Core on her two elementary school aged daughters (“everybody in New York hates it”); and I have continued to read about the uproars in New York about the Common Core.  For those of you who have not followed the major news: the tests showed that 70% of New York students are below standards and almost no English language learners or Special ed students passed; parents and teachers and superintendants have been fighting the rollout of Common Core there and feel that the Board of Regents is not listening to their complaints; then US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, made fun of the “white suburban moms” who found out that their kids weren’t as smart as they thought they were.

Here is a really good article written by several NY superintendents who argue against the Common Core standardized testing regime

Valerie Strauss’ article about Arne Duncan’s reaction to the parents who are complaining about the Common Core – “white suburban moms”

An article by Stanford Education Professor Larry Cuban about the iPad rollout disaster in Los Angeles:

An article about Long Island parents and teachers opting out of the Common Core testing.

And one more brilliant article by Deborah Meier on the problems with standardized education in forming democracy  :  “Maybe it boils down to this. I want my child’s schooling to be the responsibility of someone I can talk to—eyeball to eyeball.  I want a lay board and faculty that I can try to persuade, and that is— in the end—accountable to a democratic process that rests with citizens I can, with my limited resources, influence. . . In the end, I simply want for all children what the wealthiest count on for theirs.   A close-to-impossible task in a society as unequal as ours (and growing more so daily), but human beings have accomplished impossible challenges before.”

I love Deborah Meier.

So, if there isn’t enough to be wary of, I give you this one more topic of concern: many parents and teachers are also concerned about the “data sharing” of students’ records made possible by a system called “InBloom”.  I am trying to figure out if this is a real concern; I imagine that it is one more thing we Californians should be paying attention to, although so far Jerry Brown has been a fairly good in this area.

Mercedes Schneider is an English teacher blogger who has researched Common Core and InBloom and this is her latest.  The resulting comments are fascinating and include commentary by the power players in question.  And, if any of you are up to it – enroll yourself in Thursday’s webinar about whether parents have a right over their children’s school data being shared by private corporations.

http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/beware-of-data-sharing-cheerleaders-offering-webinars/

Mercedes Schneider is a great blogger, a great researcher and a great writer!  I could definitely learn something from her!

I am sorry to have written so much, but, really, should public education be this difficult to navigate?

Maestra Malinche

“It is what we are excited about that educates us.”- Mike Rose

Learning without a standardized test

Every year, I embark on a new trajectory with my magical class called Spanish 4 Honors.  This class has the potential to be a Spanish teacher’s dream – I have no set curriculum to cover; I can create high level creative and critical lessons based on literature, history, culture, linguistics, music, theatre, whatever I want.  Some of my students are Hispanic, some are not, some came out of bilingual immersion programs, some are classified as gifted, some are classified as needed special ed accomodations, some are both.  Most of the students are motivated academically, many are highly aware of their grades, some are really interested in learning Spanish.

However, within the freedom of my lovely fourth year Honors classes, I still find little time for actual authentic practice, thoughtful teacher feedback, and truly hands-on practical or creative experiences. (There are 35 students in each of my two classes this year – regular good feedback is not really possible).

The one part of the class structure that is more creative, authentic and student inspired is the project we call “Español en la Calle”, in which students choose four individual or partner projects throughout the year.  They choose the activity that they would like to do from a long list of ideas.  Students can volunteer in the community reading to young students learning English; they can read a book in Spanish; they can attend a cultural, musical or theatrical event pertaining to the Hispanic world; they can go to a church service in Spanish; they can eat dinner at the house of one of their Hispanic classmates (as long as they help clean up afterwards and write a thank you note to the family); they can interview an elder in their family or community that speaks Spanish and came as an immigrant to the US; they can compose a song; they can copy a work of art by a Hispanic artist; they can perform a musical piece; they can attend a dance class; they can research a topic that interests them; etc., etc., etc.

This year I decided that all of my students would do their first project as a classroom community building activity.  Each “familia” in the class (seating groups of 4 students that have to work with each other for six weeks in class) would have to do their first outside project together.  Many of them opted to have dinner at someone’s house and collectively talk to grandma in Spanish; many of them opted to go to a Catholic church service together and meet their classmates’ church community; and many of them opted to go to a local Guatemalan or Peruvian restaurant and talk to the waitstaff in Spanish (and ask them questions about their home countries).  I was pleased by how many of the groups managed to work well together, and to find the time to embark on an adventure together.

However, one group stands out in my mind  –  one group decided to create a puppet show based on the story of Rupunzel.  They made sock puppets, painted a tower, and wrote a script.  They then practiced their skit several times and performed it today in class.  I could not believe the dedication and the work that went into their project; and they all seemed to have a great deal of fun together.  The four students are each from a different background: Mexico, Peru, India and the Phillipines.  The Mexican boy and the Indian girl are the outstanding brainiacs of the class, who always make deeply analytical comments on every topic we discuss and write about in class; and yet, watching them make their puppet play took a different kind of work – a communal spirit, an openness to the creative process, intense collaboration and delegation of time and tasks.

I love my Spanish 4 Honors class because I can more easily let curricular time “slip away” and indulge students in projects like these without feeling the burden of an AP test at the end of the year, or a Standardized test coming our way.

I imagine that this is the way school should feel a little bit more of the time for all students in all subjects.

Maestra Malinche

Governor Brown will not allow students to be double tested this year!

A couple of items of note for our kids!
Our kids won’t waste time on two completely different end of the year assessments that take up hours of class time!  As you probably know, the old assessments took 10-30 hours of classroom time, depending on the year of instruction and whether your child is an English language learner.  The old tests are primarily multiple choice, and teachers and parents have no way of seeing what their kids actually got wrong.  I have lots of issues with multiple choice state tests, but that’s another post for another day.
The Governor is defying the bizarre mandates of No Child Left Behind that dictate that all kids have to be tested every year, with the cost being passed down to states and local districts for testing materials and the companies that score them.  So now our kids will be taking the Common Core assessments as a practice run – something that many of us in the teaching profession are still questioning, and parents should be questioning as well.
The pros and cons continue, and I will write more as I have more answers . . .
As I continue to question the Common Core, I continue to hear that 8 year olds will be asked to write essays on computers.  Are teachers and parents and child experts being asked if this is even appropriate?  Who is deciding this?  Who is holding them accountable?
Here is an article that delineates some of the issues of technological testing in the context of Louisiana:
Although the above article is fairly positive, I remain negative – particularly in light of the questionable spending of districts on technology in lieu of more experienced teachers, higher teacher student ratios, librarians and art teachers. (More on the iPad scandal in LA – kids hacking computers – hooray – they are smart!)
I’m currently reading “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley, who followed three American teenagers who lived as foreign exchange students in Korea, Finland and Poland, three countries that remarkably improved their public education through focusing on high quality teacher training, creating equity among schools, delaying tracking so as to give all kids high quality educative experiences through age 16, giving more resources to poorer kids and kids with disabilities, etc., etc.  I’m loving the book, as a cultural examination of how schools and students can really demonstrate improvement within the framework of their history and populations, and smart research-based policies (as the Finns say, they got their great educational ideas from the United States – too bad Americans don’t listen to their best educators and their own research).
And finally, Diane Ravitch’s book just came out with all of the answers of what we should be doing to improve our kids’ education, to save the honorable profession of teaching, and to preserve democracy.  It’s called Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.
I missed her speaking with Linda Darling-Hammond the other night at Stanford, but I’ve been getting the reports from my teacher friends who went.  Here is an interview of her with Michael Krasny from Monday morning – this is a very sharp and compelling interview – Andrew and I listened to it last night.  Great questions and great answers on all the topics that are important in the policies affecting our kids today.
Maestra Malinche