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25 March 2005: Who's cheating? (4 of 4)

First, It's plain to see that the current system significantly over-values test scores. The irony is that the test scores often don't reflect student ability or learning. I've heard it said that the only thing standardized tests scores consistently tell us is the economic status of the students.

So when a district administrator, principal, or teacher puts great value on high test scores, what will the district, school, or classroom be like? Don't expect to see lots of critical thinking and project-based learning. Test prep, test prep, test prep. Hm. Probably not the best environment for the majority of students who learn best through discussion, action, collaboration, or creation.

Beyond that, I absolutely must disagree with the way that money gets spent in this system. Does someone really believe that giving money to FOR PROFIT businesses to diagnose and enforce our educational success is a good idea? Do you have any suggestions as to how that money could be spent helping your students learn?

24 March 2005: Who's cheating? (3 of 4)

Though the answers to these questions would probably anger me further, I know that there are answers out there. I understand that somewhere, sometime, these decisions were made by individuals who thought they were being reasonable.

Of course, to me, the most important question also has the most disturbing answer: Who really pays the price in this system? Of course, it is the students.

So although technically it is taxpayer money that pays for public education, it is inarguably the students who pay when that education does not serve them.

Clearly, having an administrator change a few answers on a bubble sheet doesn't cause harm to a student. But there are two significant elements of this culture of cheating that we're operating under that have significant effects on student learning.

23 March 2005: Who's cheating? (2 of 4)

Okay, so, to summarize: NCLB requires that states and districts spend a certain amount of money for private companies that publish and score the tests that determine access to federal funds. Because of these high stakes, educators dishonestly inflate test scores. As a result of this, states and districs spend more money on private companies that investigate dishonest testing practices.

Right now, I'm remembering a bumper sticker that is seen almost exclusively in the blue states. You'll see it on fuel-efficient, compact, foreign, and discontinued model cars. Aside from the fact that they may be bleeding-heart liberals, I think they have a point in this case: If you're not angry, you're not paying attention.

When my anger rises and collides with my natural curiosity, I find that I boil over with questions.

What is it about this test that makes it SO valuable?

Why are politicians and businesses responsible for defining student success?

Why are educators giving in to the system?

Why would dishonest educators act in such a way that they are not only perpetuating the system that encouraged them to act dishonestly in the first place, but they are also making the situation even worse for schools that don't cheat?

22 March 2005: Who's cheating? (1 of 4)

The headline of an article published online on January 18, 2005 by the Chillicothe Gazette reads:

Increasing test pressures lead more teacher, school cheating.

The article states that the federal law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has "changed the landscape of education." By creating a system where access to federal money is conditional, based on a district's performance on standardized tests, the article says that NCLB has created a culture of cheating among school and district administrators.

But don't worry. Because this is the United States, where there is a will, there is a way to make money:

A group of former testing experts has turned evidence of cheating nationwide into a business opportunity. Caveon, a new Utah consulting firm, operates as testing detectives for hire by schools and health care and other industries.

Indiana and North Carolina are expected to pay thousands of dollars to the testing security firm before the end of the school year. Delaware and South Carolina already are on board, and the firm is working with Massachusetts and Florida.

The group reviews state testing policies, analyzes student answer sheets for patterns of cheating and looks for test questions that have been leaked in advance.

21 March 2005: Grammar Schmammar (4 of 4)

Hopefully by now I've made a strong case for why those folks at the University of York can conclude that teaching grammar does not make students better writers.

Of course, the natural question follows, what does make students better writers?

In my opinion, the most important factor that affects learning is motivation. Just like riding a bicycle or learning to speak, students must see value in something before they will be motivated to learn it. For some students, the motivation lies simply in getting a good grade. For others, success in school is less important than success outside of school. Either way, helping students recognize the value of being able to express themselves in writing is every teacher's challenge.

When student motivation is paired with opportunities for practice and experiences of success, that's when they improve their writing skills. Start with a good reason to do it, give them the tools they need to be successful, and give them lots and lots of opportunities to practice. You don't have to read it all, because correcting the grammar won't help them learn anyway.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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