So interesting afternoon at the capital building here in Colorado:
As in much of the rest of the country, Colorado students, parents, and teachers have had more than enough pointless testing. Organizations from all over have been trying to cut back, including trying to take high school testing down to the one test in four years mandated by the federal government. Today, I went to the capital to testify in favor of a bill that, initially, promised to help do just that.
Senate Bill 5 was written to eliminate 9th grade testing. I spoke first (the speech is included below). Several other people, including teachers, spoke about how vital state test results were, for them, to placing students and developing curriculum. I would argue that if you can’t come up with a decent formative assessment for this purpose, you might be somewhat challenged in many other aspects of your career, but that’s neither here nor there right now.
You may recall that 365 days ago (adjusting for Leap Year), I wrote about meeting Senator Tim Neville on lobby day. I said, “He seemed very genuine.” HA!
Here I was, naively waltzing into the capital thinking, “How refreshing, a Democrat (me) and a Republican (him) on the same side. Boy, Washington could learn a thing or two from us.” HA!
Let me take a moment to break away and tell you about two other events colliding. Yesterday was a huge blizzard, which delayed UPS deliveries. Tomorrow, I am hosting a Chicago-themed party as part of a church auction donation. Hang with me—this all comes together. I was supposed to get a shipment of genuine Chicago Italian beef and cheesecake today for tomorrow’s party. I thought the blizzard had delayed the shipments, but then I saw that they had both been checked in, in Commerce City a few miles from Denver, at 2:00 this afternoon, so I made my excuses to my CEA colleagues at the capital in order to get home in case the packages showed up. Beef and cheesecake are quite perishable. They are also, as of typing this at 7:10 p.m., not here.
Apparently soon after I left, after Senator Neville and his colleagues said all kinds of lovely things about me, they amended the freaking bill to give rural districts the option of hiring non-licensed teachers and never allowing them to move beyond probationary status where they would receive due process protection.
What does that have to do with testing? NOTHING! God forbid Neville and his Republican colleagues work with teachers to benefit students. Did I mention that Neville is related by marriage to one of our old board’s nightmare “reformers”?
So now the Colorado Education Association has gone from supporting SB5 to opposing it, and the chance for bipartisan support of kids is out the window.
And I still don’t have most of tomorrow’s dinner for the party.
Greetings members of the Senate Education Committee:
My name is Paula Reed. I have been an English teacher at Columbine High School for nearly 30 years, and for most of those years, I have taught 9th or 10th grade English.
I’d like to tell you about some of my more recent writing instruction. I’d been teaching kids to make arguments following a point-evidence-analysis structure.
They began by researching their topic, then outlined paragraphs. I looked these outlines over after school that day and could see they were struggling with the difference between points, evidence, and analysis. I created a mini-lesson for the next day, outlining a paragraph like a meal. Each course was a “point,” the specific dishes were the “evidence,” and the explanation of why each dish was the best choice was the “analysis.” This helped them understand the distinctions.
Next, they used the outlines to write paragraphs and highlighted each part in different colors: point in one color, evidence in another, analysis in a third. They turned these colorful rough drafts in, and that afternoon, as I read them, I could see exactly what each individual student was thinking as he constructed his argument.
They are ninth graders; sometimes it’s hard for them to keep their focus, and many were combining multiple pieces of evidence, muddying their claim. The very next day, I gave them back their papers and had them draw circles around each of what they intended to be a single, fully developed idea. They wrote to the side one unifying word. Those who could not do this quickly realized they had wandered off the topic. They made corrections, then handed the paragraphs back in.
Again, that very afternoon, I checked their progress. Almost every student was on track. The handful who were struggling got one-on-one instruction the next day while their on-track peers began the next paragraph in what would eventually become a five-paragraph essay.
This kind of instruction, not unlike sports, is comparable to a coach addressing the team at halftime, assessing the team’s progress, dispensing advice, maybe even adjusting strategy. This is what good coaches and teachers do: Deliver exactly the instruction needed so that progress continues uninterrupted.
I have heard it said that not testing students in ninth grade is “like turning the score board off in the 4th quarter.” Actually, pulling students out of class for hours of testing (which we will be doing the week after we get back from spring break) is more like stopping the game in the 4th quarter to have tryouts again. The game is in progress. It is from the players’ actual performance in the game itself that teachers and students get the feedback they need to win.
It’s not as though there is never an endgame. Federal law requires one test in high school, and the ACT this year and SAT next ultimately provide adequate measurements of Colorado’s students. Colleges have trusted these tests for decades. Please, don’t stop the game needlessly. Allow teachers like me to use every minute on the clock to students’ benefit.