TESTING…1…2…3…TESTING

I remember when I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up. Adults got to do cool things and go to cool places. They got to hold these really interesting conversations. Adults seemed so worldly and so wise. I couldn’t wait to be just like them.

These days, I can’t imagine a kid looking outward and watching adult interactions and thinking they want to be a part of that world. It seems like over the last several years, a mist of meanness has settled over our society. Instead of focusing on being kinder people, we focus on being so-called tougher people. Being “right” has superseded being moral and being compassionate. We point to other people’s ill behavior as justification for our own unjustifiable behavior. Here’s a news flash that should be on the wall of every building in every community: lowering your opponent does not elevate you. If I am a kid looking for an adult who behaves in a manner that I’d like to emulate, I better be ready to cast a wide net.

Oh sure, there are people in communities doing selfless, great work, but more and more they are pushed to the background. Last year, then First Lady Michelle Obama laid out a challenge for us all to go high when others go low. I can find fault with that advice, yet very few of us have heeded that call and several have mocked it. Instead we attack, attack, attack.

Women who step forward and identify those who have sexually harassed them in the past watch their credibility and personal lives become fodder to discredit. Minorities who come forward and demand to be treated equally are accused of wanting specialty status. We demonize people on social media and in the press whose only crime is daring to have different opinions than ours. We use the most despicable terms to describe each other and never pause to think about who’s listening and the effect our words are having. It’s like we’ve all adopted former NBA player Charles Barkley’s words “I am not a role model” as our personal mantra.

If adulthood used to be the nightclub we were all dying to get into, I don’t blame the kids of today one bit for choosing to park it at the coffeehouse down the street. This being an adult thing, it ain’t nearly as enticing as it once was.

This morning I read an article about Silver Silverman ruminating over the actions of her friend of 25 years, Louis CK. Now I got to admit, Silverman isn’t normally someone I would look to for life guidance. But when she says, “It’s a real mind [expletive] you know because I love Louis but Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true, so I just keep asking myself, ‘Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?'” I think that’s what is at the root of all of it. Can we hold people accountable without vilifying them? Can we love someone and disapprove of their behavior simultaneously?

Silverman goes on to say, “I hope it’s okay if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged and the culture that enabled it, and also sad because he’s my friend, but I believe with all my heart that this moment in time is essential. It’s vital that people are held accountable for their actions no matter who they are. We need to be better. We will be better. I can’t [expletive] wait to be better.” That’s what’s at the core of my thoughts today. How can we be better?

TNREADY FUN AND GAMES

TNReady seems to be a never ending source of amusement, and I mean that sarcastically. This week, ChalkbeatTN published an article about the $25.3 million dollars we potentially owe the last testing vendor, Measurement Inc. If you’ll remember, their administration of TNReady state testing was such a fiasco, it gave fiascoes a bad name. The testing was stopped and started numerous times, and then the state suddenly switched to paper exams. The end result was no reliable results and the state of Tennessee canceling their contract.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The TNDOE decided that since they deemed Measurement Inc.’s performance unacceptable, they shouldn’t have to pay them. Measurement Inc. says, “Whoa, not so fast. You had a hand in this being a dumpster fire so you shouldn’t get to walk out on the tab.” Andy Spears over at the TN Ed Report makes a pretty good argument on why the state shouldn’t pay Measurement Inc. It’s a compelling argument – they didn’t deliver a test, their past record indicates that they weren’t qualified, and they never accepted blame. But I would make the same argument against the state of Tennessee.

An IT guy told me a couple of years ago that we take technology for granted and are always upset – and shocked – when things go wrong. The reality is that there are so many pieces involved in the process and so many ways technology can fail that we should flip our perspective and celebrate when things actually work.

So let’s look at the role of the TNDOE in the testing fiasco. The first issue is that they made the stakes associated with the test so high, they created an all-or-nothing environment. They never tried to make the transition a scalable process. They never allowed Measurement Inc. to work through their failings, i.e., adding servers as demand mandated them. Instead they imposed their own crisis management and subverted the process. I’ve always been taught there are three major components to every undertaking – planning, execution, and review. Please point to the area that the TNDOE exercised a high level of competence in relation to standardized testing.

What if they would have identified a handful of districts that standardized testing had the least potential impact on and allowed them to transition first while fully allowing the vendor to work through issues as they occurred in real-time? Then the next year they used the same formula but doubled the amount of schools. And so on, until the entire state was transitioned to the new platform? And then AFTER the transition was completed, they attached accountability. This approach would have potentially required granting certain districts exemptions during the transition period, but when complete would have produced greater confidence in the process. Would those waivers have led to teaching and learning coming to an abrupt halt? Not likely. I know many don’t believe that any accountability components should be attached to TNReady, and I’m not saying I disagree, but at least transitioning in this manner would have made the accountability features more justifiable. As it is, we now have a process that nobody, save for the TNDOE, has a lot of confidence in.

If I go out and buy my 5-year-old a 10-speed bike before he’s ever ridden a bike, and he wrecks it several times while trying to learn to ride, do I get to go back to the store with the damaged bike and demand a refund? Couldn’t a case be made that I should have started with a more basic bike, with training wheels, and then worked my way up? That’s the problem with creating goals like “fastest improving” and “greatest growth.” Those are terms that benefit adults and do not always have children’s best interest at heart. We race to finish the penthouse while neglecting the foundation, and without that foundation, that penthouse ain’t worth a damn. In other words, pay the man and try to learn from your mistakes.

MAP TESTING

This week, MNPS parents received copies of their children’s results from this fall’s administration of MAP testing. MAP testing is something that MNPS leadership introduced last winter. It’s given three times a year, and unlike TNReady, it is a nationally normed test. What that means is that kids get a score and that score is compared against kids from across the country. That means parents are looking at a score based not on an arbitrary standard, but rather on how kids of the same age performed on the same test.

MAP is also an intuitive test. So when a student answers a question they are given a harder or easier question based on the previous answer. Testing is done via computer and takes upwards of an hour depending on the number of right answers the student gets. Like any standardized test, it’s meant to be a snapshot of where a child is at that day. It’s not intended to be used as an accurate reading of a child’s level of learning. Nor is it meant to be used as an evaluation of schools or teachers.

Now with that said, while it can’t be officially used in the evaluation process of a teacher or school, I think there is a real danger that it could be misused in that manner. I don’t believe for one second that the district has invested millions of dollars in an undertaking of this magnitude for it not to have an indirect impact on teachers and schools. One of the benefits of MAP testing is that it allows a teacher to get a feel for where they are being ineffective or effective in their instruction and to adjust it accordingly. While that’s certainly a benefit, it also opens a door for a teacher whose students don’t show growth to be criticized for not fully using the tool.

I can easily envision a situation where Dr. Joseph is speaking to the Chamber of Commerce in several months and wants to use MAP results as evidence of effectiveness of his policies. But alas, several schools show low growth rates. “Sito! Get in here!”

Sito then summons the Community Superintendents and explains the situation. The Supes, who have demonstrated that they are not afraid to micromanage, bring the edict to the EDSSI’s, who in turn, lean on the principals. What do you anticipate the next step will be? I would also argue that if you didn’t intend for MAP testing to be used as an evaluation tool, why are you sending the results to the parents? I promise you that if I’m a parent already on the fence about a teacher, and I get a MAP test showing a lack of growth by my child… I’m evaluating. Is that right? No. Will it happen? Yes.

Which leads to my second complaint, the manner in which the reports are delivered. Most importantly, reports were not even delivered in a consistent format to every school. Some schools got the actual MAP report, while other schools received a school-tailored report. Remember that equity thing?

Secondly, schools sending home the actual reports sent them with little explanation and a key. At my kids’ school, some of our immigrant families struggle with the concept of compulsory attendance. How are they expected to fully understand this report? The instruction is that they go talk to their child’s teacher. That’s not quite as easy as one would think when a parent is working two jobs, at odd hours, and they have limited access to transportation. Why were FAQ’s not created that anticipated questions parents might have? For example, if your kid’s score is here and their report card grade is this, how do they correlate? I could list examples all day long, but no FAQ’s were provided and I think that’s inexcusable.

Once again, we have a policy that seems centered in justifying what adults value over benefiting kids. Adults are able to stand up and point at the tremendous amount of growth that they’ve supposedly facilitated, while families and their children are left to decipher what it all means as best they can. It should be noted as well that MAP is not without controversy. Several years ago Seattle teachers staged a walkout to protest opposition to the test.

ANOTHER FANTASTIC IDEA

This year, MNPS created a Principal Residency Pipeline program. The goal of the program was to begin the development of a principal pipeline by using assistant principals that are already employed by MNPS and have shown an aptitude for leadership. It’s intended to be a rigorous three-year program that will increase the number of highly qualified principals employed my MNPS. A noble idea, right?

Well, this week the head of that program sent out notice that after winter break, AP’s in the residency program would assume the role of “acting principal” while the current principal would cover their duties. Mind you, this comes prior to the administration of TNReady and those scores would still impact a principal’s evaluation.

I have to ask, what kind of leeway are these AP’s being given during their stint as “acting principal”? For example, one of the AP’s is at Antioch HS. If that culture gets altered during the AP’s reign, does it revert back after the 6 weeks? What if the AP is aware of policies that run directly counter to their training and belief system; can they change policy? What about when it comes to students and their relationship with a principal; who becomes the final arbitrator? A lot of questions here.

To me, this idea is crazy. It’s like Nick Saban saying, “I want to make sure you get a quality football coach after me, so I’m letting my offensive coordinator coach games 8 and 9 of the year. Hopefully they’ll do well, and we still win the national championship.” I don’t see principals embracing this practice anymore than Nick Saban would. And once again, I would ask how it’s benefitting kids.

POLL QUESTIONS

Looks like I’ve written too much already, so let’s get to this week’s poll questions.

My first question is about the MAP test results. Great? Terrible? Confusing? You tell me.

My second question is surrounding the idea of an AP serving as an “acting principal” for 6 weeks while the principal assumes their duties.

Recently, the Nashville Organization for Action and Hope (NOAH) held a series of quadrant meetings focused on restorative practices. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, I wasn’t able to attend. But I think NOAH does some extremely important work, and I’d like to know if you attended. If so, what was your takeaway?

That does it for the week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

 

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