Sunday, January 24, 2010

Permission to vent...

Before I begin my venting session I would just like to say this is MY opinion. My opinion does not reflect my district or administration. I realize that many factors go in to the operation of a large school district and that there are instances in which concerns may arise.

Okay, with that said...We are coming upon a time of many formal assessments. Both state and district. Assessments are essential to highlight student's academic accomplishments. We need to know if they have met curriculum objectives. So far, so good.

Now the venting begins...I am a resource teacher. This means my job is to work with students who are identified for special education. The students I work with have been identified as learning disabled, mild/moderate mental handicapped, other health impaired, and autistic. I, and all other resource teachers, work very hard to keep students involved in general education classrooms. This is an ideal situation; keeping them in with non-identified peers.

This is not always possible. Our district has established curriculum for reading and math which is considered "life skills" level. Students are able to work with curriculum which is essential to the goal of independence in the community. Essential knowledge for survival (for lack of a better term). I applaud my superiors for their forward thinking. I have seen student have many "light bulb" moments when material is provided at a level which is not at a frustration level.

At this point, you may be asking, "so what is her problem?". The problem is when it is time fore the formal assessments mentioned above. Students who are in the life skills classes are required to take the SAME formal assessments as students in the general education classrooms. The SAME assessments that differentiated students take. My blood pressure rises each time these tests near. How can I expect students in life skills classes to be proficient on assessments for which they have not been taught?

An example of this problem is highlighted with semester CRTs (criterion referenced tests). All students in all grade levels have two of these each year. They are base upon material presented in their math classes. Well, students in life skills math class are not in these classes. Some of the concepts are not a part of their curriculum. However, ALL students must take these test. The only exception is if a student participates in alternate assessment which is used for moderate/severe students.

My heart breaks each time I see my students taking these test. I think to myself "I am helping them see one more thing that they cannot do". Students with disabilities may have had many failures in the past; this certainly does not help. How many times must special educators hear a student say "I don't know what to do" and we must reply "try your best" or "use your best test taking strategy".

Do these assessments truly represent my student's abilities? Don't get me wrong. Assessments are essential to show summative growth. But it is not a summary of my students' growth. I think a more appropriate approach would be to take the same objectives for the topic and have tests which are written for the ability level. This may mean changing the wording, reducing objective tests from 4 choices to 3 choices to omit a possible distractor.

If we are going to continue to have life skills classes, why don't we have life skills CRTs? The criteria would be based upon the material in which the students were taught. To me this is such a basic concept. Tests should reflect material presented. I have no problem if students do not pass assessments which are based on their material. At least it is accurate to their learning opportunities.

I have confidence that I am not the only educator who has had this problem. In fact, I bet that people at the district level have also had this conversation, many times. I would like to think of my district as being progressive and always evaluating practices.

I would really appreciate feedback from readers regarding my opinion. I would like to have an open dialogue of viewpoints. Feel free to leave your comments, links, etc. to keep the conversation going.

Photo Credit: via Google Image Search

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cleaning out my RSS feeds (aka Cleaning House)

This morning I cleaned house. I swept the floor, wiped the counter tops, vacuumed and started laundry. But, that's not all of the cleaning I accomplished. I decided it was time to clean out my Google Reader page. I use RSS subscription to keep up on the latest educational and technology trends. It is amazing how much I have learned from reading blogs and following updates by my favorite vendors.

I go through times where I subscribe to so many feeds that my inbox becomes unmanageable. It can be overwhelming to see unread items topping 200. However, much is valuable. I frequently bookmark ideas with my delicious or diigo accounts.

This morning, after reading through current posts, I realized I had a long list of feeds that I could not even remember why I had subscribed. This is what brought me to the next phase of "house cleaning". One by one I clicked on the feed and looked to see when the last post was made. Surprisingly, I found some from 2007! Needless to say, I decided to unsubscribe. I then decided that if someone hadn't posted in 6+ months I would unsubscribe.

Well, now I have hindsight and wonder if I should have changed my criteria. I am lax at posting myself. Does that make my thoughts unworthy of subscription? This is a thought to ponder. My resolution to this problems is as follows. I will continue to visit links posted on Twitter, Plurk, and other venues of my Professional Learning Network (PLN). Many of these sites I will subscribe to. Some will have great value, some will not. That is how it works.

My hope is that I might inspire someone who has not used RSS subscriptions to give it a try. I can honestly say that my teaching and learning as well have been greatly changed by the content I have gleaned from my subscriptions.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Snow Day #4

Snow Day #4
Cannot believe we have another snow day...when will it end?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What Teachers Make

This is an edited version of Taylor Mali's poem. I muted one cuss word. I am not much on cussing!
I did not blur the finger though...I guess I am more of a novice than I thought.