Tuesday, April 30, 2013

High (and Low) Stakes Testing


This will not become a rant. This will not become a rant. This will not become a rant.


Okay, I’ve got this.

I got into a conversation on Twitter this morning with John Stevens and Katie Regan (if you’re not following them you should be - they both Know Things and like to share). The conversation centered around state testing. Then, I got a folder of district-mandated common assessments for my ninth grade world history students this afternoon. Based on these two things, I wanted to get a few thoughts out.

It is high stakes testing season across the US right now. In California, STAR testing rules the day at most schools. Seven weeks before the school year is over students are tested on bloated state standards. Multiple choice tests. #FoDayz as the kids like to say.

Let’s look at the stakes of these tests. For my school and district, STAR tests are high stakes. They determine our AYP and all those other acronyms I often get confused about. Imagine being a math or English teacher in California: the way our state formula works, math and English are disproportionately represented in in a school and district’s AYP. I’m lucky - I teach world history (only 14% of a school’s AYP), which is only tested in tenth grade. That means no STAR tests for my ninth graders this year. Which is, you know, nice.

For my students, the STAR tests are low stakes. The tests mean nothing to them. Their future doesn’t depend on it. There is no audience, authentic or otherwise, for STAR tests. These tests literally mean NOTHING to my students - no impact on their grades, graduation, or future.

Result: STAR tests are the lowest of low stakes for my students and, given the ass-backwards, myopic and incomplete way we are currently choosing to measure education in America, the highest of high stakes for my school and district. This juxtaposition of stakes is not lost on me.

Fast forward to this afternoon. Waiting in my mailbox were the multiple choice answer forms for my district’s ninth grade common assessment. This is a test I am required (maybe? I’m working on that) to give. I didn’t help write the test. In my six years in my district, I have yet to actually see the results of this test. If I’ve never seen the results of the test, you can guess whether or not my students have ever seen their results...

Again, to the stakes of this common assessment. For my students, the stakes for this test are low: it means nothing to them at all. No audience, authentic or inauthentic. No impact on their future. For me the stakes are low: it means nothing to me at all. As I said, I’ve never even seen the results this common assessment. And yet. And yet. I’m asked/required to give up a day of my class so my students can complete this test. Result: this test is huge waste of my time face to face time with my students.

I’m left with several thoughts. First, both tests rob me of the ability to allow my classroom to be student interest-driven. If it weren’t for bloated state standards and high stakes testing, I could teach some world history. Real world history, not the ‘world’ history that the California content standards ask me to teach, which is essentially European history. And I would teach some world history. But there would be some awesome 40% time (no, not 20% time - 40% time) for students to learn about what they wanted to learn about. Yes, all students should be exposed to some world history. But all students should have the right to come to school and be excited about learning and creating things they are passionate about. Without overbearing standards and poorly conceived standardized tests, my students would have this 40% time to explore their passions.

A second thought I had was which test was a bigger waste of time. Neither test means anything to my students; the stakes are only high on STAR tests for my district and school. Because of the dramatic difference in the stakes of STAR tests, does that make them a bigger or smaller waste of time? Or is it the test I’m mandated to give by my district but have never looked at the results of that is a bigger waste of time? I’m not sure what the right answer is here. I am sure, though, that neither answer is right.


I’m not a super jaded, job-hating teacher. Quite the opposite, actually. I’ve got a PLN that pushes my thinking on just about everything on a daily basis. I’m taking a hammer to my classroom and trying to figure out what a world history class can really be. I’m excited about the changes I’ve made this year in my classroom. I’m more excited about the changes I want to make next year (PBL? 20% time that is really 20% of the time my students are in my class?).  I love my job. I love my students. But high stakes testing, how we measure what students know and learn, and how we evaluate schools (and teachers if value added metrics become part of teacher evaluation) frustrate me.

There is a way forward. A collective schoolwide vision about what is most important for our students is a start. Yes, this vision needs to be a cornerstone of your planning and classtime, not just a thing that people pay lip service to. Department wide vision on what a history class can be and what should be emphasized in it. A portfolio system that focuses on subject mastery, growth, creation, and authentic assessment is another part of the answer. Emphasizing soft skills in the classroom over content memorization will help. Innovation Day/genius hour/20% time - ways to base more of a student’s time at school around their passions - will also help.

But man, high stakes testing just has to go. It is ruining education.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Flipped History Featured on Flipped Learning Podcasts

Troy Cockrum, an English teacher in Indianapolis, runs a series of podcasts about flipped learning through EdReach. Recently, three flipped history teacher (Frank Franz, Tom Driscoll, and myself) have been featured on his podcast. Check out the links below.

Tom Driscoll: Democratize Learning

Frank Franz: Flipping History

Me: Flipping History

Monday, April 15, 2013

History #flipclass Discussion

I got to chat with Frank Franz, Jason Bretzmann, David Fouch, Kaelyn Bullock, and Dan Hoehler tonight on Google+. It was a good, wide ranging conversation on flipping history classrooms. Check it out below!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Innovation Day at Hillsdale

So at some point this past summer, I came across Innovation Day; I’m not sure if it was from Pernille Ripp or Josh Stumpenhorst. I leaned heavily on their blogs and expertise throughout the process - a huge thanks to both of them! 

As my team and I saw down and planned our advisory curriculum this summer, we set aside a couple weeks to devote to this day. There were concerns that all students would create something meaningful, something that they were proud of. We took some intentional steps to make sure that would be the case.

We introduced the idea of passion driving people to create awesome, innovative ideas by first asking students what showed up in a ‘normal’ music video.Then, the students watched the OK Go video for the song “This Too Shall Pass.” You’ve seen the video - the one with the crazy Rube Goldberg machine. If you haven’t, check it out. After this, it was pretty clear that passion created a dedication that was pretty darn evident in this video. Students then brainstormed things that they were passionate about or were interested in learning. 

The following day, we watched this video about ways to stay creative. Students then brainstormed how they would make sure their creativity would shine through in their creations on Innovation Day. On the third day of advisory, students looked at possible deliverables for their project: we wanted to make sure students had lots of ideas to sort through for their possible creations. 

Next, students created multiple possible project outlines that stressed the four key ideas for this project: that they focus on something they are passionate about, that a deliverable product was created, and that their product would have both an audience (it didn’t have to be a huge audience, but it needed to have a possible audience) and would create an impact on their audience. Finally, students choose the favorite of their brainstormed ideas and wrote up a formal project proposal. Group projects were fine, but projects that incorporated multiple people had to legitimately require a group effort. These formal project proposals required some detail and typically took two or three revisions in order to be specific and complex enough to take an entire day. 

My advisory proposed to create the following things: a fantasy world with lore, a presentation about why school is the way it is, a zombie movie, necklaces to raise money for anti-bullying charity, football safety videos, an anti-bullying video, a presentation about beaches, two separate piano and vocals songs, a children’s book, a choreographed dance piece, two different board games, chalk art, satirical movie, a brony video, and a horror story. 

We’re just about at the end of Innovation Day right now. I’ll write more about what the day felt like and show off the products of my students created soon. Promise. Want to check out the materials we used to prep our students for Innovation Day? Click here - feel free to copy and modify any of the documents and use them for your school’s Innovation Day.

Late addition: I just received this awesome video from our student photographer. Check it out below!

SVCUE #flipclass Presentation

I presented about flipped classrooms with Cheryl Morris at the Silicon Valley Computer Using Educators event a couple weeks ago. Sam Patterson livestreamed the presentation and put it on YouTube. I figured I'd share it here. (part 1, part 2) Here's a link to our presentation that day - lots of good resources here too!