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Standards Based Reform Discussion

Individuals were directed to a study What Do Teacher Teach and requested to reply with a point of view.

(posted in order received)

From a teacher (1/2/2003)

I am one of few teachers I know who supports standardized testing, and believes the test results are valid. However, until such a time that the test includes all areas of the academic curriculum (not that I want the test any longer) the students will receive a lop-sided education that basically doesn't include anything not on the test. (Do I teach social studies anymore? In theory, "yes"; in reality, "barely".) And of course the untestable areas such as art and music are a terrible casualty of the whole "high-stakes testing" movement.

Are tests important? Yes. Do they create insoluble problems? Yes. It's a Catch-22. But a practical bottom line is that they give voters/politicians some basis on which to feel investment in public education is not being wasted. And we need that money.

From a parent (1/3/2003)

I continue to be concerned that in all disucssions of priorites the focus is on moving kids up to the middle. I appreciate the great need to work on this want to make sure that this district also works to move all kids up. If we only put our energies on the low end, we will have a mediocre district and lose people who can afford to exit and feel we are not meeting their children's needs.

From a teacher (1/6/2003)

Here are some random thoughts on the issue of standards based education, pros and cons: 1.) For me the shift to standards has caused me to look more closely at what I teach and how I assess what I teach, a good thing, .2.)The diaglogue amongst teachers with respect to standards and teaching has been a good thing, as we discuss both the value of the standards and the implementation of them, 3.)The greatest flaw I see, with respect to standards based instruction, is that instruction is structured in a way that assumes solid skills and steady progression. At the high school level, in order for students to achieve the standards and pass the various assessments they must come to us with grade level reading and writing skills. That's just not happening. in the past, high school teachers (all teachers, actually) compensated for the lack of skills by finding ways of still delivering the curriculum to the students with low skills. This meant creative projects, group projects, watching movies of the novels the kids were unable to read, reading to them. none of these things, it seems, translates into high SAT9 or exit exam scores. Ultimately, the kind of holistic assessment piloted years ago, which took into account learning styles and individuality, just does not translate to an easy to produce multiple choice test. There seems to have been a shift to a more slick, economic (and yet heartless) program.

It strikes me as being very modern and technical, both things we adore in our current culture, but just not based in human experience and reality. In my teaching career I have strived to give students both the skills they need, and the vision and heart they need, to not just make it in the world, but to thrive in the world. And when students come back to visit, as college kids or adults, they seem thankful they got both from me,not just thankful they were able to pass a mass produced examination ordered by legislators and designed by educators far removed from a classroom. For me, and many, many of my colleagues, it has made the prospect of a long career in teaching less likely.

From a teacher (1/13/2003)

I have taught for twelve years. The first four years were spent teaching third and fourth grades. I then taught at the middle school level.

My first seven years I considered my glory years. I taught things that I was supposed to teach, but also things that were sometimes fun, sometimes very memorable and sometimes exceptionally meaningful. We adopted a family one Christmas--every kid participated in collecting donations, shopping for gifts, wrapping the gifts, delivering gifts. I can't do that now--it's now standards based. In terms of math--especially at the 6-8 range, my principal wanted our kids to be solid in concrete math. He believed that if all kids left a primary school being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers, integers, fractions, decimals, etc., we were giving them all the tools to be successful in high schools classes, such as alegbra 1 and 2, geometry, etc. In history, we dealt with what was happening here and now. The kids loved watching the news and bringing up topics and questions they had seen or heard. They loved debating, researching, and questioning their parents and other adults. When I assigned homework in the lower grades, I'd assign he usual spelling , math and reading, but I'd also assign them to do a chore or play outside, and enjoy the fresh air. I loved teaching at that time passionately. My students loved coming to school; it was always an adventure and the stuff I taught was always created with the kids in my class in mind. It was tailored for them. It was tailored for their personalities. During these years I had more parents thank me for helping their kids and more importantly making them like school, than I have ever had since.

Fast forward to the last five years. The words standards based, accountability, kept trickling down. I never worried about the acocuntability piece--my students have always learned and have always like school--for the most part. But each year we were getting squeezed a little bit more. Forget teaching about the Bay--that's not part of the 6th, 7th or 8th grade history standards. Forget that it holds meaning and is in our own backyard. You must teach 11 year olds about Ancient Egypt---which can be really fun. But all most 11 year olds remember from that unit is that they made fun masks or mummified an orange. They can't and cerainly don't want to do what the standards ask us to make sure they can do. In fact, many times, most parents of my students can't meet the standards (sometimes even I have no clue what the standard is asking me to teach). The curriculum isn't tailored to what is appropriate for 6th graders, or 7th graders or even 8th graders. And it isn't tailored to what is even remotely appealing to this age group.

Now, it may sound like I hate the standards--nothing could be further from the truth. I support the idea of them wholeheartedly. Too many teachers have in fact, taken advantage of that closed door, and have not taught their students. This is a travesty and it has happened in too many places. However, as a teacher who thinks she taught her kids before standards, I feel that the standards have tied my hands somewhat. Not to mention, I am still so concerned about my students (especially this year) who are in my class, and they haven't yet mastered 3rd grade standards--and yet I'm expected to teach them 7th or 8th or 6th grade standards. The gap is so huge. Now I know research says that teaching them the higher standards causes them to rise up---a few do, but most sit there befuddled, and then don't do their work because they are so discouraged and lost.

I know this doesn't happen at many other schools in Alameda. I mean, when kids are coming in at grade level, the task of teaching the standards is certainly easier and probably even more rewarding because you can take them to the levels they are supposed to go to. You probably don't see as many lost faces either.

There is my huge aw-hah this year. Our feeder schools have all made huge improvements in the abilities of the students coming in. What we did not anticipate however, was the huge number of kids who have moved into Alameda with such poor skills, and work habits. Our #1 feeder school this year are schools out of Alameda. It feels like every year, especially this year, we are starting over. We take four steps forward and three back. It can be frustrating and it is impossible to plan for.

So what do I do behind my door now? I teach to the standards. I attempt to be as creative and enthusiastic as possible, but somedays, I want to teach about things that are just important. And that is what I grapple with. I also have to try to make up for the ground the kids have lost. For example, today the kids did a 5 minute warm-up on identifying sentences. Run-on sentences have been a problem of late, so we reviewed briefy what a sentence was and we did a quick warm-up. 90% of the kids could not correctly identify which were sentences and which we phrases and incomplete sentences. I'm not talking compound sentences here, I'm talking simple sentences. So even though this is a 2nd grade standard, I have to do some serious teaching tomorrow, because they have not mastered it, and it affects their writing. This is what oftentimes gets in the way of teaching the standards I am supposed to be teaching.

I used to be able to say I teach kids, not curriculum. That meant to me, if the kids don't get it, do over differently. Teach it until they get it. Now I feel I there is a time bomb ticking and there are 700 standards to teach. I can't take the time to make sure all kids get it, because the clock is ticking. This is exceptionally discouraging to me.

Well there you have it. I teach what I supposed to teach--whether it is interesting to my students, or is meaningful or is useful. And when I'm feeling like a renegade--I teach what they need to know, even if it is a second grade standard they haven't quite grasped.

From a parent (1/14/2003)

Those of us who took the time to look behind those classroom doors as parents are/were the ones when the situation was bad, we made sure it changed for our children. I think the standards do attempt to close the achievement gap. Not all parents have voices or use their voices and this attempts to standardize things. However, if teachers and administrators had done their jobs in the first place we probably wouldn't be in this place. Teachers need to teach and if they don't, 'administrators need to be in the classrooms enough to get rid of those who can't.

Unfortunately, now the administration job is so huge at underperforming schools and probably most schools, they can't be every where at once; and things get compromised.

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Last modified: January 14, 2003

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