4.2 Setting Instructional Outcomes–All the instructional outcomes are clear, written in the form of student learning. Most suggest viable methods of assessment.
Standards 4.2 means that one is able to write a coherent lesson plan that focuses on the needs of the student, with activities and assessments that are understood by the students, and which will maximize learning opportunities.
EDU 6150, General Inquiry, Teaching, and Assessment Methods, was a valuable course in my journey towards achieving my teaching certification and Master of Teaching. This course broke down the components of a distinguished lesson plan while concentrating on the elements of a technique called Backwards Design. Backwards Design focuses on beginning a lesson plan with the end in mind, and emphasizes the importance of starting with the desired results of the unit, then narrowing down the activities of the lesson based on those learning targets. Backwards Design (Figure 1) is a focal point that my school uses to create unit lessons, but still, I was quite unfamiliar with the method. With Backwards Design as a foundation to begin with, I was able to create a strong lesson for Third Grade Literacy that exhibited the necessary components: a Central Focus, a Learning Target, practice activities, informal assessments, and a closure assessment of student voice.
In EDU 6150, I learned many components of a lesson plan with which I was vaguely familiar.
One of them was Stage 2 of Backwards Design, which focuses on the part of designing a unit that looks at how to achieve evidence that students are understanding the material, and was able to use these elements in the form of formative assessments in my lesson plan (Figure 2). I think the biggest take-away from this course, however, was how to ensure that my lesson plans are student-friendly, in language that my students can understand. One of the ways I showed this was in the Learning Target (Figure 3).
My Learning Target is written with an action verb and measurable goal with the language, “I will” that allows students the opportunity to appropriately reflect on their learning after the lesson. Student voice allows students to rate their learning, understand what they are learning, and identify their weaknesses and strengths in their reflection at the end of the lesson (Figure 4).
Simply telling students the Learning Target can raise student achievement by 27 percent (Norton 2016), which was something I was not aware of prior to this class. Knowing this will help me focus my lessons and instruction to be more aware of this language, with the desired hope that I can maximize learning with my 3rd Grade students.
Norton, J. (2016). Module 3: Presenting New Information [Power Point Slides]. Retrieved from: https://spu.techsmithrelay.com/d2m9
Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
No Child Left Behind and the Impact of Testing in the Classroom
Karin S. Thompson
Seattle Pacific University
No Child Left Behind and the Impact of Testing in the Classroom
For more than a decade, the establishment of No Child Left Behind Act has been impacting classrooms across the nation. What started as a plan to help raise achievement levels of disadvantaged students has now led to high-stakes testing—a practice that has led to student and teacher burn-out (which causes teachers to overlook the benefits of some testing methods), a decrease in performance in schools across the nation, and unintended consequences from the inappropriate use of testing. With this research, it is intended to not only highlight and discuss the impact that testing has had in the classroom, but to also bring about the importance of using testing for the right reasons.
No Child Left Behind Act
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was launched in 2001, is the reauthorization of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. NCLB supported a standards-based reform movement aimed to set high standards in schools across the nation in an effort to improve education. As each state began to develop their own basic standards and generate assessments to test basic skills of students, the federal government’s role in education increased with their focus on annual testing and academic progress, higher teacher qualifications, and, eventually, remarkable changes in funding. When the Act was first implemented, achievement was indeed seen in many schools. However, over time, the overuse and overreliance on standardized testing to judge students, teachers, and schools came under much criticism.
As No Child Left Behind quickly increased the role of standardized tests and the way schools are funded, teachers came under a lot of pressure to get their students to perform and reach the standard of Proficient on performance tests. Annual achievement tests in math and reading became required, and these assessments meant to measure student knowledge started altering the funds to which a school had access (Schoenfeld, 2015, p. 185). In order to qualify for federal funding under NCLB, states had to regulate standards for performance and assess students on a regular basis, and students had to reach a certain level of achievement. This regular assessing of students became known as “high stakes” because teachers’ salaries and jobs, administrators’ salaries and jobs, students’ promotions, and the very existence of schools and districts themselves became dependent on the test scores (Schoenfeld, 2015, p. 185). The high-stakes decisions—based on high-stakes test scores—made by the Department of Education include continued testing but also whether to fail students, remove teachers, or close schools (Kumashiro, 2015). If schools did not perform well—if student test scores failed to meet scoring requirements of the standardized tests—and schools were shown to not have met qualifications for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the districts to which they belonged could become dismantled entirely. Schools would be put on plans for improvement, and teachers and administrators could all be without a job as new teachers and administrators were brought in to help improve the school. The result of this pressure of schools to perform well has, not surprisingly, brought about a new trend—teachers doing whatever was needed to meet the testing requirements (Schoenfeld, 2015, p. 185).
Many educators and critics see the standardized testing as a way to limit creativity and reduce opportunities for students to learn non-test items and skills. Even the United States Department of Education and the Obama Administration, which released in an action plan for testing, acknowledged in the October 2015 document that testing has taken away the creativity of learning and has sucked up vital opportunities for teaching and learning. The standardized achievement tests give students a narrow learning experience because teachers have had to shift their focus to that of test preparation. Teachers began to “teach to the test,” which meant that they were putting aside good teaching strategies and impactful lessons in order to get their students to memorize content that they would see on the end-of-the-year exams. The implementation of the 2009 Race to the Top Initiative further spurred anxiety and “teaching to the test” trends as teachers now became the ones accountable for testing—instead of the schools—in this competitive program meant to get schools and teachers to satisfy certain educational policies to earn grant money for their state (Roach, 2014).
Consequences of Testing: Positive and Negative
While testing students is not a new practice and was around before No Child Left Behind, the amount of tests that students are required to complete in their schooling days has drastically increased since the implementation of NCLB. Students had formerly been tested in both reading and math, but were only given each of these subject-area tests once in elementary school, middle school, and high school, for a total of just six tests through one’s school experience. Now, however, students are testing sixteen times in grades three through eight (DeNisco, 2015). This increase is a clear indication of the testing overload that is currently experienced by teachers and students. Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was reported as saying that the frequent testing was criticized for failing to measure students’ abilities to analyze and apply knowledge, creating too many incentives to cheat or teach to the test, and narrowing the curriculum (Roach, 2014).
Though the attitude towards high-stakes achievement tests has been declining, it is important for teachers and students to understand that, according to many psychologists and researchers, not all testing is bad. Nancy Waymack, managing director of district policy at National Council on Teacher Quality, believes there is “Value in knowing how well students are doing” and testing should be used to “inform instruction, inform parents, and compare the performance of students to others in the district, state, or nation” (DeNisco, 2015). According to Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, in their book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, we should think of testing as practicing retrieval of learning—a practice that has been shown to strengthen memory and interrupt the process of forgetting (Brown, et. al, p. 19-20).
The Department of Education’s action plan for testing recognizes that an essential part of education is ensuring that students are learning. One way to measure this is through the use of assessments, but they need to be done the right way—they need to be done well, and they need to be thoughtful. Assessments should provide the necessary information to educators, families, and students to help measure a child’s progress and improve the outcomes for learners: “Testing should be a learning tool, rather than a dipstick to measure learning,” (Brown, et. al., p. 19). Essentially, this means that teachers and schools should be using assessments as a tool to show students their current progress and help guide them towards exploring areas of improvement. One type of testing for gaining instant insight into a child’s current progress is a formative assessment (standardized tests are considered summative assessments, because they evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit or grade level and is compared against a standard or benchmark) which can be defined as an exam or performance opportunity in which the primary purpose is to provide students and teachers immediate feedback about a student’s current state, while there are still opportunities for improvement (Schoenfeld, 2015, p. 184). One type of formative testing, according to psychologist Robert Sternberg, is called Dynamic Testing (Brown, et. al., 2014, p. 42). This testing assists learners with focusing on areas of needed improvement and to gauge a learner’s potential. Formative and dynamic testing gives learners the chance to discover their weaknesses and improve them by asking questions to themselves such as, “What do I need to learn in order to improve?” Low-stakes testing, such as this and other frequent formative testing in the classroom, helps reduce test anxiety and enables instructors to identify gaps in students’ understanding in order to adapt instruction to fill the gaps (Brown, et. al., p. 43). It also reiterates the work that has been done by psychologists to prove that assessments should be used as a tool for learning—not judging—so that students can quickly and efficiently expand their learning and success within the classroom.
Impact on Performance and an Action Plan
In their document discussing an action plan for testing, the U.S. Department of Education acknowledged that federal policies intended to help underprivileged students has created unintended, and negative, consequences seen in schools and communities across the nation. A 2012 Gallop poll discovered that twenty-nine percent of Americans believe that No Child Left Behind actually worsened education (Roach, 2014) compared to the sixteen percent of Americans who feel that NCLB improved education (thirty-eight percent said it had not made a difference and seventeen percent of people polled had no opinion on the issue). Recent test scores released in 2015 show that this may actually be true; declining reading and math scores indicate that high-stakes testing is not helping public education, further demonstrating and highlighting the negative outcomes that have come from testing, including the previously mentioned production of a narrow and less effective curriculum (Kumashiro, 2015). Standardized testing emphasizes memorization and massed practice, but doesn’t allow for a larger grasp on context or creative ability (Brown, et. al., p. 19). Psychologist Robert Sternberg believes that “standardized tests can’t accurately rate our potential because what they reveal is limited to a static report of where we are on the learning continuum at the time the test is given” (Brown, et. al., p. 151).
Unfortunately, the increasingly frequent assessments has contributed not only to testing overload with students, but has ultimately been turned into a tool used to measure teacher success and performance as well. With the Race to the Top Initiative as major factor contributing to this trend, the scores of students on high-stakes tests are now being used to judge whether or not a classroom teacher is fulfilling her educator duties correctly. Testing that was supposed to measure how schools and students are achieving is now being used to interpret competency and effectiveness of classroom teachers. The American Statistical Association recognizes that effects—both positive and negative—attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other unmeasured factors (DeNisco, 2015). The education advocacy group ASCD is calling for a massive move to cut back on testing and limit the use of testing on an accountability measure, since they do not accurately and adequately reflect a teacher’s classroom performance. “Students should never be tested for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers,” states Nancy Waymack from the National Council on Teacher Quality.
It was recognized in the Department of Education’s action plan that support of implementing testing and its use has been inadequate, and the Obama Administration explained their intent to correct these inadequacies to help “unwind” the practices that have burdened classroom time, students, and educators. Some principles that have been addressed regarding assessments, and how they should be changed, are that they need to be: worth-taking, of high-quality, time-limited, fair in equity in educational opportunity, fully transparent to students and parents, just one of multiple measures, and lastly, tied to improved learning. The last two principles seem of high importance as they discuss the recognition that “no single assessment should ever be the sole factor in making an educational decision about a student, an educator, or a school” and that a student’s academic performance should also be based on school assignments, projects, and portfolios. The broad majority of assessments should be tools for improving learning and teaching, according to the Department of Education and the Obama Administration. Additionally, the Department of Education has begun to reduce the reliance on student test scores for educator evaluation requirements. The Department has adjusted policies to ensure that states and districts utilize other measurements of teacher evaluations, such as observation systems and student and parent surveys.
When used correctly and thoughtfully, testing in the classroom can have positive effects on the learning and achievement of students and teachers. Formative assessments should be used frequently to help a student and her teacher know individual areas for improvement. The overuse of summative testing to measure success of everyone inside a school building has caused overload and burn-out, a decrease in overall performance, and a decline in the creativity and passion that an educator attempts to deliver to her students during their educational journey. Hopefully, a change in the Department of Education’s expectations surrounding standardized testing will help point America’s schools in the direction of utilizing testing in the classroom for their intended purposes—to measure current learning progress and help students improve.
Brown, P. C., Roediger III, H. L., McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of
Successful Learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
DeNisco, A. (2015). ASCD wants to halt high-stakes testing for evaluations. District
Administration, 51(3), 18-20. Retrieved from:
Kumashiro, K. (2015). Testing is Not Helping Public Education. Progressive, 79(12), 11.
Roach, R. (2014). Teaching to the Test. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 31(3), 32-36.
Schoenfeld, A. H. (2015). Summative and Formative Assessments in Mathematics Supporting
the Goals of the Common Core Standards. Theory Into Practice 54(3), 183-194. doi: 10.1080/00405841.2015.1044346. Retrieved from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00405841.2015.1044346
United States Department of Education. (October 2015). “Fact Sheet: Testing Action Plan.”
Professional Issues: Special Education
I have been teaching for five years. During my third year of teaching, I had a particularly challenging class at the public charter school in which I worked. I had a number of new students amongst my class of twenty-eight fourth-graders. The trend over the past couple years had been that many students whom had been expelled from the nearby public schools for behavioral problems were now headed our way. As I guided my students through an ice-breaker activity to get to know each other and learn about their backgrounds, something immediately stuck out to me about one student, whom I will call Jay. Though I cannot remember exactly what students were saying when they stood up to introduce themselves, I know for certain that telling the class when their birthday is was a part of the activity. Jay was not only unsure of when his birthday was, but was also eagerly adamant that his birthday was January 1, New Year’s Day, and the same day as another student. I thought it was strange that I would have two New Year’s babies in the class, so I later looked up his exact birthday, and found that Jay was definitely wrong.
As the weeks went by, it was evident that Jay has having a hard time in my class. He struggled with day-to-day activities in the classroom, especially ones that required working or communicating with others. It didn’t help that I had two other students who were particularly challenging in their behavior, and who would often provoke Jay. During the third week of school, after students had taken their beginning of the year NWAIS test, we discovered that Jay was also very low academically. He was placed in both the “low” math and reading groups. We would begin switching classes for the reading and math blocks that week. As students were standing in line outside their reading class, Jay’s anxiety rose, and he punched another student. It was clear to me, and few of my colleagues who were paying attention, that something was wrong. Jay continued to struggle in class, especially during transitions, when he became agitated that other students were looking at him. In October, my students were in Technology class. As I was sitting at my desk during this planning period, two of my students came back to class to report to me that Jay was being sent back to class because he was being disruptive. As they were telling me what happened in Technology class, Jay walked into the classroom and got very angry that we were talking about him. He picked up several chairs, threw them at the wall, and knocked over a few desks. I immediately ushered my other two students out of the room, sent one of them to get the Principal, and held my door shut so Jay could not exit the classroom. Shockingly, even after furniture was thrown in the room, my Principal and Assistant Principal did not believe that something was wrong. As I continued trying to teach my students with such challenging behavior problems in the room, I sat my students down and discussed an “Exit Plan” that would be used if Jay began to have another violent outburst.
Finally, in November, Jay was sent down to the office and spent a few hours in the Assistant Principal’s office. It was in there that he had another violent outburst—this time, it was videotaped. They finally realized that something was wrong and needed to be done. Jay was sent home multiple times during the school day, which was particularly hard for his mom, who had Lupus, and his dad, who was working two jobs (a day shift and a graveyard shift). After weeks of trying to contact his previous school, we finally got his records. Jay had been previously placed on an IEP—one that required a self-contained classroom—with needs that we could not meet. Additionally, it was discovered that Jay’s parents did not believe that he really needed the IEP services, and had left his previous elementary school in an attempt to “get him off the plan.” It did not occur to me that parents could even do this, but Jay’s parents had found a way. In December, right before Winter Break, we finally expelled Jay, and sent him back to his home district, which would be able to provide for him the Special Education services that he so desperately needed.
Reflecting back, I realize that this is one of those stories that I will always remember. I will always wonder about Jay, where he is and how he is doing, but most importantly, I worry that someone is not advocating for him. We have Special Education services for a reason, and it was very saddening to see parents who did not want to give their child the best possible education. Half of his fourth-grade year was gone, and Jay had spent that time struggling with inner difficulties that he probably couldn’t even process or understand at his young age. As teachers, we work hard to give students the best opportunities to succeed. But what do we do when it’s the parents who refuse to advocate for and help their own child?
EDU 6989 Session 2 Reflection: Character, Moral, and Religious Education
One focus of this week’s session was the topic of character, moral, and religious education, and specifically whether or not it should be part of the school curriculum. Several decades ago, this issue was not even on the table. However, with the rising decline in solid family structures, concerns have risen regarding whether or not schools should step up and teach certain values to students. Crime, domestic violence, and high-risk behaviors by or against youth have increased over the past several years, and has become imperative that somebody steps up to address the issue. As Thomas Lickona (spelled Likona in Critical Issues) and others stated in 2003 in their argument for character education in schools, character education is important to instilling good character values such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect, among others. The arguments that Lickona makes for good character education programs in schools include: giving students the opportunity for moral action, creates a caring school community, includes a curriculum that helps all learners succeed, and fosters students’ self-motivation. My thoughts on the issue are that schools should be modeling character traits and values. I do believe that the home and family is where the majority of teaching character development should be occurring. Schools should not have to teach things like good manners, honesty, integrity, and respect. That should come from the home, and schools should model these virtues in lessons and activities. Additionally, I believe that schools should teach virtues such as diligence, perseverance, and resilience. When children come to school with values such as respect and honesty already instilled in their character, teachers are better able to teach and model virtues such as tolerance, cooperation, and compassion.
During class this session, the topic of moral behaviors in teachers was addressed. More specifically, the question of how can teachers help and guide students while still instilling good and whole moral values and beliefs amongst their students. Teachers may find ease in teaching and modeling basic character values, but what happens when they are faced with a moral dilemma? When I was teaching 4th grade in 2010, I was also coaching the middle school girls’ soccer team. One day, during my planning period, I had one of those players approach me in my classroom and confide in me that she thought that she was gay, and that she was having conflicting emotions about it. She sought out my advice, guidance, and support. However, my first thoughts after helping her navigate a difficult realization, was to protect myself. I was sure to think carefully about my comments, suggestions, and questions with her, because I did not want something I said to be construed in the wrong way or be used against me. I also struggled with knowing whether I should tell a colleague, when the student had come to me in discretion. This student could have gone to any other staff member, and by her coming to me, she was seeking a certain response and reaction from me; she wanted and needed my support. I gave this to her, because my moral and religious values allowed me to not judge or shame her for her sexuality. However, what would have happened had she gone to another teacher with less accepting moral and religious values? In the end, the character values that were most important in these interactions were trust, honesty, caring, and respect.
EDU 6989 Session 1 Reflection: National Standards
Education is a part of society that will always be changing, and it is important that we stay tuned to the issues at hand. We have come a long way since the issues in the book Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Educational Practice were laid out by author Dennis Evans. Even though these issues were addressed at the time the book was published—in 2008—I found the research into the issues to be quite interesting, and though I did quite a bit of reflecting on both Issue 1 (National Standards) and Issue 18 (Educational Technology), I will share my reflection on Issue One here.
The first issue in the book is, “Is It Time for National Standards in Education?” was written in 2008, some fifteen years after individual states had been left to create their own sets of standards. Lawmakers in Washington were worried that what one state deemed “Proficient” was not the same as what another state would deem “Proficient” in the areas of Literacy and Math. Thus began the issue that asked if the national government, rather than state government, should develop the standards instead, so that every state would have the same set of standards to prepare society’s children for the future. Those for national standards felt that when a set of rigorous standards were developed—and developed well—national standards would be great for schools, teachers, citizens, and especially students, since it was the goal to prepare students for college. Standards would allow educators to work collaboratively on curriculum that would build grade by grade and culminate in knowledge and skills that would help children succeed, and were also aimed to help bridge the achievement gap and reach both privileged children, and not so privileged children.
In 2009, state leaders launched the effort to develop common state standards. Final state standards were released in June 2010, and states spent 2011 and 2012 reviewing and adopting the Common Core State Standards into their curriculums and schools. While I have not worked directly with the CCSS myself, I have heard and read of many negative reviews surrounding the initiative, and I have spent the last school year teaching a math curriculum that is “Common Core-Aligned.” The math that is presented to my students is, at times, overwhelming and confusing, and attempts to teach “strategies” that just confuse my students. I do believe that standards are necessary to be able to consider students of the country equally “Proficient” on certain knowledge and skills, but I feel that the way that the CCSS initiative has infiltrated into our schools was not done with the students and teachers best interest in mind.
ISTE Standard 4: Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility.
To create my digital citizenship poster, I first needed to find out what issues are most pressing for my students. In the classroom, we don’t use the Internet much except when they view videos I have linked in their One Note notebooks, or they play games to which I have provided the links. We are about to embark on a research project, so I wanted to make sure that my students understand how to properly and respectfully cite sources. However, the issue that seemed more pressing was the fact that the majority of my students spend hours at a time on the evenings and weekends exploring videos on YouTube. Whether they are being supervised or not, have a private username, or make good, ethical choices while perusing this website varies with each student. Therefore, I wanted to make sure my students are being good digital citizens while searching for and viewing videos, as well as if they are posting their own videos under their own username.
I wanted to make sure my poster was something that would catch their eye, and be relatable for the third-graders. Therefore, I took photos of them on YouTube to include on the poster, hoping they would enjoy seeing themselves, then stop and read the poster. Next, I thought about the digital citizenship elements that are most concerning when children are using social media (YouTube). After doing a lot of research, I came across an article on Edutopia by Vicki Davis, who briefly summarizes the “9 Key Ps” that she teaches her students. Since I did not feel that all 9 “Ps” were relevant to my students while they use YouTube, I included only a few of the important ones on my poster. The ones I felt were important in one way or another were: Password, Privacy, Personal Information, Photographs, Property, Protection, and Professionalism. I did not label them, rather, I wrote them in dialogue bubbles and in first person to go along with the photographs I took of my students so that it would be reader-friendly. Lastly, included one photograph of a student on Google, since I wanted to be sure I included citing sources as an important aspect of being a digital citizen. I also included this because I know students use search sites at home to find photographs that are either posted onto social media sites or shared with friends. I plan to display my poster on the classroom charging doc for my students’ laptops, and plan to partner with the school’s technology teacher to help emphasize these important reminders. You can view my Glog here.
Davis, V. (October 2014). Edutopia. What Your Students Really Need to Know About Digital Citizenship. Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/digital-citizenship-need-to-know-vicki-davis