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[PART 2] Is Education Ready For A Make-Over Or In Desperate Need Of A Do-Over?

Feb 19, 2019

 

In Part 1 of this three-part series, we saw that teachers weren’t too thrilled with the current educational status quo, not just in the States, but also across the pond.

And when we closed the lid on Part 1, we did so with a sneak-peek of the scores of our nation, the United States, in science, math and reading. You can catch up on the series right here.

While this might come as a shocker to you,
the USA isn’t in the top twenty when it comes to global ranking.

We rank in on the global scale at… well, see for yourself...

This graph is taken from the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment. [14]

24th in both science and reading.

While in math we have dropped down to 39th place.

Say what?!

Still not convinced there’s a problem… hmm. Okay, here’s another example from PISA. [15]

World map of test scores

Here is an easy break down of where the USA stands test-score-wise on a global scale as of 2015-2016.

 

CUMULATIVELY IN MATH, SCIENCE AND READING, WE RANK IN AT 31.

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 3.09.03 PM.png

 

IN MATH…

USA Math Score

IN SCIENCE…

Science USA Score

IN READING…

USA Reading Score

 

Now, these results are generated from a test, different tests and we all know (or should know) that testing alone cannot, does not, give us a full picture.

Hello, if this doesn’t make that reality hit home, that testing is not the be-all-end-all when we, the USA is a “world leader” [said tongue in cheek] I’m not sure what will!

Some people, some kids, simply suck at test-taking. I was one of them for most of my educational career.

And that’s unfortunate because more and more of the US education model is based on the collection of data and metrics. And yep, you guessed it, those numbers are the result of tests.

I’d like to go on record that tests have a place but should not be THE place we rely on to get answers on what works and doesn’t work.

I remember being in my 8th & 10th grade English classes that first year of teaching. I had no idea what I was doing, hadn’t gone to college to be a teacher. Yet, ten days after randomly applying for a teaching position, I was tossed into an old, musty classroom and was told books were on the way - soon. Maybe.

I was left to my own devices to figure it out, but only after being told that these two grades were tested in both reading and writing in March or April and those scores along with their math grade gave the school a grade.

The school was a D school when I arrived.

I heard over the following summer, my first summer break, that we’d become an A school.

I hear Madonna Live and in-concert singing Holiday... If we took a holiday. Took some time to celebrate. Ooh yeah...it would be so nice!

[Grooving out right now - 30-second dance parties are the bomb.]

Back to my part in the school’s new groove…

And yes, I can honestly say that I played a part in that huge jump in student achievement.

[And that’s not my ego here but simply a statement of fact.]

Why?

Well, I taught my kids to write.

What?

Yep. My focus was on writing.

Why?

Well, you need words to write. 


You need sentence structure to write.


You need a basic understanding of grammar to write. 


You need to understand different types of writing to write - from fiction to non-fiction to satire to poetry.

So, my students started each and every day with Bell Work. A simple prompt was on the board and they wrote one page on that topic or prompt.

Every.
Single.
Day.

Yes, a full page. Handwritten.

Side note: Because of this daily assignment, I know full well that my workday as a teacher did not end at 3 PM. Not when I had all those papers to read and grade. Now I did get smart a few months in when I realized my lunch break, dinner break, evening time and morning coffee couldn’t be spent reading each and every paper of all my 150+ students…every.single.day… five days a week.

That’s 180 school days. That’s 180 X 150 pages. Mental math anyone?

That’s 27,000+/- one-page papers in a year. Plus, normal classwork, homework, tests, quizzes and essays, reports, etc. Not to mention lesson planning, oh and all the other district required things!

Whew! Tired already.

I soon learned to pick one essay a week from each student. I also learned to give each student an opportunity to place a star on top of the Bell Work for the week they were most proud of having written.

Not always but often, that was the one that received my full attention and was graded.

But kids are kids and that would have been too easy, if they knew that that one starred piece was the only one I’d see and grade.

So I often pulled out a second set of Bell Work for each student at random.

And my students learned.

Not just how to write.

But how to read.

And how to test.

How can you fear a state writing test when you’ve just spent the last 100 days of school writing one-pagers via a teacher written prompt that’s on the board at the start of each class?

I’ll tell you. You can’t.

So my kids rocked that FCAT Writing test.

And the reading one, too. They saw that by reading they had more to say in their writing work, more to reference and more to pull from. From ideas to vocabulary words.

Surprisingly, it all worked brilliantly.

It was all by accident that I implemented this genius teaching plan!

Kid you not.

But because my students had done so well, my second year teaching, I was asked [insert cough as I’m not sure saying “no” was an option] to take on a class period, not in English or Language Arts but in teaching at-risk-of-failing 8th and 9th graders, who’d not passed or done well in the 8th grade state reading/writing test, how to do better.

So essentially, I was teaching a class to test.

[forehead met desk with a smack]

None of the 9th-grade faces in this new classroom were familiar. Meaning none had been in my 8th grade Language Arts class.

[Can I say obviously or would that be rude?]

Hence why I was now responsible for preparing them to “win” that test. Because come 10th grade they needed to rock those scores or our school grade would be in jeopardy.

Oh, and did you know those who don’t take the test, homeschool students and/or those who do poorly, can retest in October?

At least, that was the deal when I was teaching. So I had a few months to try and get them up to speed so they could be put through the test again.

But here’s what I noticed. The test questions on this state test were biased.

Here’s why.

In my classroom, I had a mix of Florida natives, those who’d transferred from other states or counties and about half the class was from Cuba.

Hello, South Florida.

Well, the Cubans for sure and many of the Floridian kids had never seen snow.

Yet there were test questions in the reading comprehension wanting an interpretation of things like “the barren tree.”

Now I grew up in New England. I’m very familiar with a leafless tree. In fact, the lack of green was one of the deciding factors on leaving the state for warmer (green) pastures once high school was over.

Now, I also, once I learned how, was an avid reader.

It wasn’t too hard for me to read between the lines to see that barren means “bleak or lifeless.”

But what about you? Would you get that right here and now…? What about under testing conditions and the added pressure of a jeopardy music theme sounding in your head?

See, I love words. And as an only child, I became an observer of words, people and situations early on.

I can go deeper and see that those three words “the barren tree” also tells me the season.

It’s got to be winter, right?

Possibly fall but late fall which really means the frost has hit, the colorful leaves of fall have (pun not intended) fallen and as there are no buds, or life, on the branches yet to denote springtime, it’s got to be [ding.ding.ding] winter.

Now, as you read this, if you’re not a teacher or a parent who reads a lot or spent time playing with words like I did as a kid, you might think, wahoo, I did not get any of that from those three words.


And you, friend, would not be alone.

And I can understand.

Some people don’t enjoy Robert Frost, but if you’ve read his The Road Not Taken [16], you learn to see much more than what is just written. The same for Emily Dickinson. Heck, the same can be true from the lyrics of an Eminem song, Bobby Marley classic or a Beatles tune.

Words paint pictures.

We link those words with pictures, or memories, of what we know.

But if you have no picture or experience to reference, you can’t possibly make the connection and thus, you can’t win at a question that’s testing you on things you have no experience of.

For example, if Cuba is your country of birth and South Florida is now your home, and you arrived on a boat or with not much money to your name, chances are you haven’t had the fortune (or misfortune - brrrr) of a ski vacation in Lake Tahoe or even Killington in Vermont.

Now, let me put this another way.

When I was in school, I remember taking a state or placement test that talked about cards - diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts.

And I had no idea what they were talking about.

This test assumed the test taker (me at that time) had a passing knowledge of a deck of playing cards.

I had none. I didn’t grow up in a card-game-playing-family, nor did I have brothers or sisters to play games with. I had books, the forest and animals I rescued. And later stories I wrote with characters I created.

Don’t tell anyone, but I had an imaginary friend or two as well.

But back to that card game question.

I had to know that a deck of cards totaled 52 in order to answer the question. I didn’t.

I could only guess or assume if willing to guess, which I was not willing to do as a child, that this diamond, club, spade, and heart thing they were talking about was split equally within the deck or not.  

Without that end number of 52 total cards, or some knowledge of what these random (nothing to do with cards) words meant, there was no way to solve this math word problem. Thus, there was no way to pass.

I can go on with other examples, but I think you can see the point.

A test is a test is a test and first, it only measures a certain type of knowledge.

Sidebar: You may want to check out my series on educational reform and specifically this section on testing (coming soon).

Second, a test is only as knowledgeable of the “smarts” of an individual - or a country - as the ability of the test taker to not just answer a question but to be in the right mindset and have an understanding of how to take a test.

Let’s wrap this topic up and then stick a fork in it and call it done.

Most adults have a passing knowledge of money, as they must in order to get by in the world, as money is the currency we as a global society have agreed to use in order to buy, sell, trade and exchange value.

Yet, how many adults would you say have a grasp on “good” money management?

In the US, there are recent reports in Forbes and other leading publications as of January 2019, which state almost 78% of America workers live paycheck to paycheck. [17]

What?!

Um, I’d call that a fail. On a society level. Wouldn’t you?

And yet 78% in school is a high C, a passing grade in the USA, and termed satisfactor.

How many of that 78 % of Americans living paycheck to paycheck would consider that a satisfactory way to live, do you think?

How many of those living paycheck to paycheck, just one blown tire, one medical emergency, one debt collector away from a dire situation would think that’s passing?

Yeah, think again.

So, to tie that not so pretty bow around this topic, let’s simply say that almost 80% of American “adults” might understand the concept of money, as they earn it and use it daily, they certainly don’t have a handle on what it means to manage it let alone have it work for them.

Much like asking a Cuban child in his first few months or year, in a South Florida school, with English not being his native tongue, to tell you the deeper meaning behind “the barren tree.”

Ah, fail.

But let’s switch from test scores and teacher frustration and ask another question.

So, why are the majority of students learning early on to hate school?

In Part 3 of this series and the final curtain call on this topic (for now), we’ll dive into the answer to this question and more.

But now, scroll down to the comments and share your biggest take away from what you just read. Do you agree? Disagree? Share your POV and constructive thoughts because it does take a village to raise a child - well.

And it certainly takes all of our voices to insight change within a system that is supposed to be dedicated to raising up and teaching the next generation.

If you feel that change is in fact needed, heart this post, share this post and let me know below. I look forward to reading your words…

Remember, learn something today that you can share with someone tomorrow.


REFERENCED IN PART 2


[14] PEW Research Organization. U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries. Drew Desilver. February 15, 2017.
[15] FactMaps.com. PISA Worldwide Ranking – average score of math, science and reading. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2015-2016
[16] PoetryFoundation.org. The Road Not Taken. Robert Frost.
[17] Forbes.com. 78% Of Workers Live Paycheck To Paycheck. Zack Friedman. January 11, 2019.

 

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