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Volume 3 Number 3

Harry & Rosemary Wong ask, "Is it possible that a school district would have no openings at a time of worldwide teacher shortages? But more importantly, why were there no openings in the Medford School District?"...
Effective Teaching by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Promoting Learning by Marv Marshall
4 Blocks by Cheryl Sigmon
Ask the School Psychologist by Beth Bruno
Online Classrooms by Leslie Bowman
The Eclectic Teacher by Ginny Hoover
The Busy Educator's Monthly Five (5 Sites for Busy Educators) by Marjan Glavac
Around the Block by Cheryl Ristow
Ask the Literacy Teacher by Leigh Hall
Instant Ideas for Busy Teachers by Barbara Gruber and Sue Gruber
Every Day is Read Across America Day!
Music is...
Ten Pennies and Ten Dimes
Swinging on the Education Pendulum
Literature Circles
Internet Based Interaction in the Classroom
How to Create A Bad Acceptable Use Policy Document (And Have It Survive)!
Safety on College Campuses
The Montessori Mystery
Playing Baseball in the Classroom - A Flexible, Adaptable Game to Motivate Your Students
Whither Not Social Studies!
When Bright Kids Say, "I'm Bored!"
Book Review: Comprehension Instruction
Teacher Social Groups
Retaining Principals
Today I Learned
Things You NEVER Thought You'd Have to Say…or Hear
What Was Your Most Unforgettable Show and Tell?
How Do You Deal With Middle School Students' Apathy?
Why Reading Scores Across the Nation Have Declined
Apple Seeds
Special Days This Month
Poem - Searching for the Gold
The Lighter Side of Teaching
  • YENDOR'S Top Ten
  • A Challenging Foot Feat
  • Schoolies
  • Woodhead
  • Handy Teacher Recipes
    Classroom Crafts
    Help Wanted - Teaching Jobs
    Featured Lesson from the Lesson Bank
  • Here Comes the Train
  • Upcoming Ed Conferences
    Letters to the Editor
    Chatboard Poll, What changes has your district made in an effort to raise test scores?
    Action Against Hunger Project
    Explore Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest
    Third Annual Music Education Survey Gets Underway
    Gazette Home Delivery:

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    Teachers.Net Poll...
    by Kathleen Carpenter, Editor
    Another informal survey, asking teachers:

    What changes has your district made in an effort to raise test scores?

    In Illinois there is a high stakes test for 11th graders. The high school has put 11th graders in separate study halls. During the months leading up to the test, instead of study hall the juniors have test review. Betty Ann

    A district I consult with has done three things that have resulted in rising test scores---one designed to specifically raise student achievement and the other two were designed for other purposes, but DID raise achievement--or so we think.

    1. The one designed specifically to raise student achievement is spending time with our new teachers working with the content standards. We are giving a class in instruction---it is a 2 unit class with credit given through a local university. It is a year-long class. We have taken the content standards and learned how to task analyze them into instructional objectives and then how to determine the critical attributes of the major concepts so we can be sure kids are getting what they need. The teachers are loving this class---and so am I. They meet in a 3-hour chunk of time so they have time to really work with their particular standards. They are becoming familiar with them and they feel comfortable designing lessons to teach them. It has given them a chance to really get the standards into manageable, teachable pieces. Veteran teachers now are asking for this class so we may do another one. We think it will give our beginning teachers a running start. Much work is needed in the area of instruction as teachers have not had it in the past few years and now we are back to where these skills really matter.
    2. Two years ago, we had great numbers of first-year teachers. We were concerned that the lack of experience would cause test scores to drop or, at least, not go up---and they needed to. First and second year teachers went through two days of class management training and then we coached them throughout the year (in classrooms) in managing their classes. They also had a mentor onsite. Beginning teachers had no difficulty with management, usually a first year nightmare. Test scores took a real jump that year. Principals feel it was because the BTs did not have the usual trouble with management and could focus on teaching. I have to agree as BTs typically do have to spend inordinate time and energy, going through some difficult times, on behavior management. Not having this problem freed them to plan instruction and work actively in teaching. We continue to offer that class. We did not give the class for that purpose, but in analyzing why there was this phenomenon of high scores in classes of beginning teachers, the district attributes it to the lack of trouble with management. In fact we found higher scores in some cases in BT classes than in veteran teachers' classes---particularly when veteran teachers had management difficulties. We are trying to sort this our more so our veteran teachers can also get assistance in this area if needed. We know that research shows management is the most influential variable in student achievement, so it makes sense. We just never thought about it until we did it and the results appeared! Hmmmm...tells us we might want to look at the research a little more. We could have done something about this sooner!
    3. Principals formed a study group to look at research on best practices---what practices had the highest probability of paying off in student achievement. They meet monthly. They then take back those ideas they like and work with their staffs to implement them. They have focused on reading comprehension. This has been a gift to the teachers as they are really working on practices with a proven track record instead of with those that do not.

    The two areas that we must do next are:

    1. Organize sites into study groups to look at student work in a systematic way. They will, based on what kids are doing, determine a school wide objective and then work on it together in a focused, collaborative way. At this writing, we have been completely UNSUCCESSFUL in doing that. One school only did it. The results of that one: Its test scores went up higher than most others in California and each teacher was just awarded $25,000,00 by the state for their efforts! Yep, it works, but it is just so darn difficult to implement!
    2. Connected to the above is the connection of assessment to instruction. How to assess, interpret your findings, and then use those findings to inform practice in an ongoing and continuous way. This is really hard! We are struggling to do it and not really having a handle on it. I think this will greatly improve achievement, including test scores, IF we ever figure out just how to do it! We are really behind in this. Jan

    This year, our district is doing a Math Review. Every teacher who teaches math had one lesson observed by a teacher from another school. It was really stressed that it was a data gathering process, not an evaluation. The observing teacher simply observed the lesson and checked off what he/she saw being used. (manipulatives, etc.) S/He then asked the teacher some questions about what we would like to see in the area of math. They are in the process now of compiling the info. As to what will result from this, it's yet to be seen. Alta Rose

    One thing that our district has done, and I agree with wholeheartedly, is develop a curriculum guide that all schools must follow at the same time. In the past, I would get students from neighboring schools that were either far behind what we were working on, or way ahead. There was no consistency between schools in the same system. Last year, our school board, along with a large committee of teachers developed a step by step curriculum guide. They then developed a new report card based on that guide. Now, every school in the county is working on the same skills at the same time.

    Another thing that will help us raise test scores in the long run is the new exit criteria that our school board has developed. Each grade level has a specific list of criteria each student must master before being allowed to move on to the next grade. It is a LOT of work for us to document all the skills for each student, but it will be worth it. At the end of the year, we will have concrete evidence as to why a child needs to be retained. In the past, a parent just had to sign a paper stating that they were aware that the child had problems in that particular grade, but they still wanted them promoted. We were getting kids in the fourth grade that couldn't read on first grade level because of this! You can just imagine what this did to our test scores. Now, parents won't be able to do this. Child doesn't meet exit criteria, he is automatically retained.

    The last thing our county has done, was to start a new high school mentors program. High school students from the gifted program are coming to our school two evenings a week, and working one on one with at risk students. The kids love it! The high school students were trained in specific skills to help the younger students. Rita/KY

    A couple of years ago our system realized that many of the High School and Middle School students really did not "give a rip" for the most part when taking the decided that all who scored in a certain area or showed major improvements could be exempted from the final exams at the end of the year! It worked like a charm!! Of course, they were given the option to take the exams to improve their average if they wanted to. Vir &#220

    Read Jan's Post Carefully!

    I hope that those looking for the "magic wand" answer to the problem of raising test scores will think about what you've done. There is, of course, no magic wand. Rather, we have to approach the problem from an instructional and assessment perspective.

    A couple of years ago, I read an article by two British researchers named Black and William called "Inside the Black Box." (I can't recall the specific citation.) Their thesis was that we have spent a great deal of time thinking about standards and a great deal of time thinking about tests, but we haven't spent much time thinking about what happens in the classroom-- the "black box"-- between the input of the standards and the output of the tests.

    Their conclusion was that classroom assessment practices make all of the difference; in fact, they make the ONLY difference. If the students can see where they are, if they can see their targets clearly, and if they can see a path that connects those two points, they will improve. Such improvement will be reflected in state-level assessments, and much more importantly, the improvement will be real, not just an artifact of some kind of test preparation.

    In reality, those tests should be no more than confirmations of what we know already from our classroom-based assessments. There should be no worry at all about the scores.

    Mentoring new teachers is also critical. Most of us forget how alone a new teacher feels-- and actually is. If huge chunks of their time are spent in reinventing wheels the senior teachers have already constructed, they will either develop slowly or give up. Classroom management is such a wheel. Every minute spent on that is a minute that can't be spent on instruction.

    Your two "failures" are instructive, and in them you are not alone. Getting people to understand data is very, very difficult. (In fact, getting people to even want to understand data is difficult...) However, without it, any improvement in student performance is more likely than not to be a fluke happening. "Intentionality" is the buzz word, but it's a genuine problem.

    Thanks for your post. If all-- or even most-- educational consultants had your understanding, the schools would be the better for it. LFSmith

    Questions for Jan posted by Roger Fuller:

    1. Did the staff know of this money in advance?
    2. Did EACH and every teacher on campus got $25,000?
    3. Is this a yearly, permanently funded award?
    4. Are the lesser amounts?
    5. What school was this? (I would like to confirm it and cite in the future.)

    Jan's Responses:

    1. Did the staff know of this money in advance?
    2. All teachers in California know of the POSSIBILITY they could get this. The awards had been not only announced but touted by our governor all over the country. Other governors were praising him at the Governor's Conference. Watch out, it may be coming your way!

    3. Did EACH and every teacher on campus got $25,000?
    4. Yes, and also the principal who, I believe got more but I am not certain.

    5. Is this a yearly, permanently funded award?
    6. Yes. The governor has announced that, in spite of the huge cuts in education funding, the awards will be given.

    7. Are the lesser amounts?
    8. Answered above.

    9. What school was this? (I would like to confirm it and cite in the future.)
    Washington Elementary, Redondo Beach, CA

    Now, I want to say that this school and these teachers deserved that money IF money is to be given. They pulled together analyzing student work, working on reading comprehension, and meeting together collaboratively. They are excellent teachers and have an outstanding principal.

    Do I think any school should be so rewarded? Absolutely not. And, I think the Washington teachers might tell you the same thing. All teachers in this district work very hard. They have outstanding principals. Many schools are very high achieving already---you don't get awards for being ALWAYS high achieving only for growth.

    Superintendents statewide begged the governor in formal letters and individually to NOT do this---to not pit one teacher against another. He chose not to listen. This was his political innovation and he loved it. Money is very short in California for education. These teachers who received it feel uncomfortable. They work closely with all teachers in the district. They didn't want to be singled out. It is not a good plan, even though if somebody was going to win this money, I am thrilled for these teachers!

    1. We've realigned our curriculum and scheduling so that the students take courses in classes that they will be tested in before they are tested in those areas, and as close to the time of the testing as possible (I teach in a high school, and our state tests different subjects at different grade levels). This has helped our scores, but I don't see how it helps our students.
    2. We've put more emphasis on the areas we've been weak in, unfortunately, this means less emphasis on other areas, so I'm not sure what the overall impact of this is.
    3. We've taught -- and practiced -- how to take the test - for instance, on this type of questions, the scorers will look for responses written in this format. Again, this seems to have helped our scores, but I don't see how it's helped our students. In fact, it seems to me to be a negative, since every minute we spend teaching how to take one particular test that probably has very little if any bearing on what the kids need to succeed in life after school, is a minute less we have to teach students the things they need to prepare them for life after school.
    4. Our students practice released items for old tests. Once more, it seems to help our scores, but I don't see how it's benefited our students.

    Of course, all this is IMHO. jme

    Here is what we have done:

    1. Collaboration meetings to determine standards to target i.e. those in which we have scored low in the past. Collaboration on pre- and post testing to document increased learning (or lack thereof ) regarding the targeted standards.
    2. Principal provides release time for grade levels to meet to discuss teaching methods that have worked for them. During these released times principal and vice principal (and a few aides) teach mini-lessons to students on other standards.
    3. We teach an A.M. Academy. Students come to school an hour early each day strictly for the purpose of test prep. Teachers are paid by the hour to do this. We have purchased PSSA Reading and Math "Coach" books to review the state standards.
    4. Teachers and principals work to create visual cues for students that are hung in each classroom. (i.e posters regarding important terms, formulas etc.) The idea is the students will use these on a regular basis in class and learn what is on the posters.
    5. Collaboration meetings with primary grade teachers so that they, too, can start teaching the standards that are on the tests. They also are learning to teach their students how to "write about math" to describe thought processes. This will help tremendously as students move up through the grades.
    6. In our school, the test prep is not left to fifth grade teachers. Every grade level is involved in collaboration meetings to decide the best teaching practices which will help to meet state standards. Debbie