12 Reasons to Refuse PARCC

There is so very much I could (and eventually will) say regarding the current ABSURD testing obsession, but for now, I will leave you with this spot-on piece written by Diane Ravitch.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Activist parents and educators who belong to SaveOurSchoolsNJ helpfully assembled a dozen reasons to refuse the Common Core PARCC test.

1. PARCC is poorly designed & confusing

“For many of the sample released questions, there is, arguably, no answer among the answer choices that is correct or more than one answer that is correct, or the question simply is not, arguably, actually answerable as written.”

Why?

“The tests consist largely of objective-format items (multiple-choice and EBSR). These item types are most appropriate for testing very low-level skills (e.g., recall of factual detail). However, on these tests, such item formats are pressed into a kind of service for which they are, generally, not appropriate. They are used to test “higher-order thinking.” The test questions therefore tend to be tricky and convoluted. The test makers insist on answer choices all being “reasonable.” So, the questions are supposed to deal with higher-order thinking…

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When Johnny Refuses to Work

Mr. Jones looked patronizingly at the teacher standing resolutely before his desk. “I see, Mrs. Smith, that Johnny received a ‘zero’ on his social studies project. Can you explain to me how that happened? Surely his project was not that poorly done.” Having been in this situation before, Mrs. Smith replied with grit and determination, “Actually, Mr. Jones, Johnny did not turn in a project at all. I have worked with him to make sure he understood the assignment, met with his mom to ensure they had all the materials they needed for the project, and given him three extra weeks to turn it in. He received a ‘zero’ because he did not do the work.”

“I respect your position, Mrs. Smith, but surely you understand that a grade of ‘zero’ is demoralizing and discouraging to a child.” The principal stood and walked around his desk to stand face-to-face with the experienced educator. “Let’s give him a 50 instead. That will do wonders for his final grade.”

“But what will Johnny learn if he is simply handed a grade that he does not deserve? What about the students whose projects were not very well done but at least were turned in? They received a 50 based on their effort and proficiency. Why should Johnny receive the same for doing absolutely nothing?” As she spoke, she was ushered to the doorway.

Mr. Jones made a cutting gesture with his hands as if to say this conversation in general, and her rebuttals in particular, were a waste of time. “Now, now, let’s don’t make a big deal out of this. I’m sure he’ll do better next time, and it really makes things simpler to give his grade a little extra boost. Imagine how much work it would be to fail him!” That being said, he closed his office door with finality.

Defeated yet again, Mrs. Smith released a long sigh and turned to walk slowly towards her classroom, required to do as bidden, and destined to regret it.

While the scenario above is fictional, the situation is one that has become all too common in today’s public education system. It is, I believe, one of the major issues currently affecting education. Low-achieving students are passed year after year, from grade to grade, in an effort to portray a picture that is not quite what it seems. Reasons, when given, are typically offered in sharp, defensive tones. “If we let so-and-so student fail, it will look bad on our school.” “It will take mounds of paperwork to let so-and-so student fail! We already have too much work to do!” “We can’t let so-and-so student fail; how upset his parents would be!” The hastily delivered explanations usually have a ring of truth to them. In reality, there is little to be said for sending a failing fourth-grader to be successful with fifth-grade work. Or a failing Algebra I student to pass Algebra II. Inevitably, these are the children who will fall through the cracks. And that is where the real trouble begins.

Do not misunderstand me. I absolutely am not advocating the attitude that says, “Oh well, I’ve done all I can do for so-and-so student. She’ll just have to repeat this grade.” Such is the teacher or administrator who should not be in a position of authority to begin with. My argument with the current trend is the following: if a child is completely unsuccessful at producing grade-appropriate work after numerous thoughtful, reflective, and continuous attempts by the school community to help him or her learn in the way most effective for the student, he or she should fail. Period. The pupil’s grades, passing or failing, should reflect nothing more or less than the student’s performance.

When a student is consistently performing below level, the classroom teacher should reflect on his or her teaching methods and make adjustments based on what is most effective for the child. Other plans of action and interventions also may be suitable. The objective is to meet the student where he or she is and work from there with a mutual goal of success. But in the event that a student, such as “Johnny,” has been offered every assistance available, yet refuses to put forth effort, what other recourse is there but to allow him to reap the rewards of what he has sown? It could be the greatest lesson he will ever learn.

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Ten-Frames and How to Use Them

“I just don’t understand, Amy! How can he pass a test on fractions, multiply two digits by two digits in his math workbook, and solve word problems on his homework, yet if I ask him, ‘What’s 2 less than 9?’ he has to think about it for several seconds and count on his fingers to get the right answer?” Sound familiar? This woman’s frustration with her grandson’s inability to do something as “basic” as mentally solving 9 minus 2 is not uncommon. In fact, it’s an aggravation often expressed by grandparents, parents, teachers, and the like—basically anyone who’s had the baffling experience of dealing with a child who typically makes good grades in school and may even score well on standardized tests, but can’t seem to solve a simple addition or subtraction fact without the use of his fingers. And if the child is struggling to work with small numbers, he can all but kiss success with larger numbers goodbye! Ask any teacher, and she’ll tell you–it’s a universal issue. And an impartial one. Afflicting the academically high-achieving, as well as those deemed most at risk, the inability to compute mentally with fluency is fast becoming the norm.

Lest I am instantly berated for being “old-fashioned,” allow me to say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with using one’s fingers to add and subtract. And in this age of technology, when virtually everyone has ready access to a cell phone calculator, some may feel that I am making too big a deal out of this, but I would beg those people to reconsider. A cursory examination of our everyday lives reveals that we most frequently depend on mental computation when we use arithmetic: calculating a waitress’s tip, figuring the sale price of an item, doubling a recipe, etc. Possessing a good sense of numbers is essential to life!

Enter the ten-frame. It’s a tool as old as the hills within the walls of academia, but its use in the public-school classroom generally declines markedly after the primary years. “Why is that?” you may ask. Tragically, the majority of the answer can be summed up with just two words: standardized testing. While superior teachers recognize the importance of continually working with students to develop their number sense and fluency with mental computation, they don’t always have the opportunity to spend an adequate amount of classroom time on this endeavor. In other words, if it isn’t likely to be a test question, it isn’t likely to be granted much time in the classroom. Sad, isn’t it?

While I could (and eventually will) spend an inordinate amount of time lambasting the current testing trend forced upon educators by the powers-that-be who’ve never taught, I am going to use this post to focus on something that doesn’t induce vomiting. And that, my friends, brings me back to the purpose of this post: the ten-frame and how to use it.

Five-, ten-, and twenty-frames are fantastic tools for helping children gain a conceptual understanding of working within those numbers which, in turn, enables them to work mentally with much larger numbers, as well. The frames are basic and look like this.

Five-frame

Blank Five Frame

Ten-frame

Blank Ten Frame

Twenty-frame

Blank Twenty Frame

Dots or counters are placed on the frame to provide a visual representation of a certain number, specifically as it relates to the total number of blanks in the frame. For example, the number 3 on a five-frame would look like this.

Five-frame

3 on Five Frame

The number 7 on a ten-frame would look like this.

Ten-frame

7 on Ten Frame

And so on.

The beauty of these little gems is that they give children a visual for how much three is in relation to five or how close seven is to ten. The strategy is simple, but the benefits are ENORMOUS. Students who possess a firm grasp of 5, 10, and 20 usually will not need to use their fingers to count forward or backward, even when dealing with numbers that contain 2, 3, and 4 digits. In addition, children who have used these frames extensively are much less likely to be fooled by “absurd” answers when solving problems. For example, a child who finds the difference of 45 – 39 to be 14 will promptly see her error, even if it takes her a few moments to make the necessary corrections. She will realize that she has made a mistake in calculating because she has a solid understanding of numbers; she knows without even contemplating it that 14 is greater than 10, and that 10 added to 39 would equal 49, which is already larger than 45, even without the additional 4. Consequently, she will know (without being told) that her answer cannot be correct. And isn’t that what we want—to enable today’s children, and tomorrow’s leaders, to be successful independently?

If you’re a teacher who is fortunate enough to work under an administration that believes in high-quality instruction meant to improve students’ lives, not just their test scores, perhaps it’s time for you to dust off your old ten-frames and introduce them back into the daily life of your classroom. If you’re a parent who can relate to the scenario described at the beginning of this post, or if you just want to give your child a leg up in developing his or her number sense, here are a few things to remember when using five-, ten-, or twenty-frames.

1. Only one counter is allowed in each frame.
2. The top row of frames is filled first.
3. The frames are filled from left to right.
4. Like anything else, practice makes perfect! Repeat, repeat, repeat!
5. Following are a few activities to get you started:
• Begin with a complete set of five-frame cards. (You can purchase my pirate-themed pack of five-, ten-, and twenty-frames with activities here.) Have the child show any number on his five-frame. For example, say, “Show me 2.” The child can place two counters on a five-frame, or he can pick up the five-frame with the pre-printed two dots. Next, ask the student to tell you what he notices about the number 2. Any response at this point has merit, but remember that the ultimate goal is to focus the child’s attention on how many more dots or counters are needed to make 5 or how far away from 5 that number is. Again, repetition is your friend! Building a concept takes time, but it’s well worth it!
• The above activity should be repeated with the ten- and twenty-frame cards. “Show me 8. What do you notice about the number 8? How far is it away from 10? How many more dots are needed to make 10?” Also, talk about 8 in relation to 5 since a complete five-frame is half of a ten-. “The number 8 is three more than 5. The number 8 is closer to ten than it is to 5.”
• Once the student has spent a sufficient amount of time making observations and has grown familiar with numbers’ visual representations, use the pre-printed frames like flash cards. Hold one up in front of the child and have her identify the number shown as quickly as possible. Needing to count the dots every now and then is not a huge issue, but if counting is required more than once or twice per ten or fifteen cards, don’t sweat it—just go back to getting to know the numbers and save this activity for later!
• If your child has mastered the above and is ready to move on to something more challenging, you can use the frames like you would employ addition flash cards. Hold one up in front of the student and have him identify the addition fact represented there. For example, a ten-frame that has 6 dots and 4 blanks would be identified as 6 + 4 = 10. And so on.
• The above activity then may be adjusted to provide practice with subtraction. “10 – 4 = 6.” Et cetera.

Ten-frame cards (and their five- and twenty-frame cousins) are inexpensive and highly effective tools for helping children develop number sense and increase fluency with mental computation. Give them a try; you’ll be glad you did!

Until!

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The First Post

In Nora Ephron’s romantic classic “You’ve Got Mail,” Meg Ryan’s character wrote the following to her e-mail pen pal: “I like to start my notes to you as if we’re already in the middle of a conversation. I pretend that we’re the oldest and dearest friends…” For this first, most auspicious blog post, I am going to take a page from that favorite movie o’ mine and begin my first note to you, the reader, as if we’re already in the middle of a conversation…but for a slightly different reason. Wait for it…

Writing the first post is HARD! There’s so much pressure! Does it capture the reader’s attention? Is it entertaining? Does it make the reader want to hang around and be your friend? Does it compel him or her to follow your blog and hoist you out of the blogosphere abyss? Is it awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, enriching? DOES IT CHANGE THE WORLD?!?

The struggle is real, people. And by the time I’ve picked myself up off the floor, having succumbed to the panic attack that put me there, I am ready to throw in the towel on this whole blogging thing, make myself a cup of hot tea, and go watch a movie. Probably “You’ve Got Mail.” So, instead of using this first post to delve into an intellectually stimulating topic intended to turn education on its ear, I’m going to attach a picture of the first page in my K&Company SMASH* book from ten years ago. (Ahem) I believe it speaks for itself. And if you have trouble reading it, just imagine that it contains all kinds of pithy wisdom for the ages.

Post 1 Pic with Doodles

Am I finished now? Is that enough for my first post? And…why are you still reading this?

Cheers!

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