Named One of the Best Educational Blogs 2010 by the Washington Post
Amethyst Hinton Sainz | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | October 23, 2014

My Quiet Rage: Against Objectives


I’ll just say it: I resent writing objectives.

For those of you who may not teach, I offer a brief primer.

  • Teachers are required to teach to the standards.

  • Teachers generally plan units which target specific standards.

  • Within each daily lesson during the unit, teachers write objectives of what students will learn and do to help them build toward the standard.

  • The objectives are the smaller chunks of learning that the teacher determines to be necessary to reach the standard.

  • Teachers use assessment to determine student growth on the objectives and, ultimately, the standard.

This is all solidly based in research over the years that shows that when teachers can articulate what they want students to achieve, and when students can explain what they are learning, the learning improves.  I don’t have this research at my fingertips, but names such as Robert Marzano and Madeline Hunter come to mind as two of many respected educational researchers who have influenced my practice.

So, back to my rage.  I have taught high school English in four districts over 19 years, and the following represents an overly simplified, biased and probably incomplete timeline of my journey through the professional development I have received learning to write objectives:

1995-2000:  Have a plan. Do the plan. Make sure the plan helps students stay engaged and learn something helpful.

2001-3: Write an objective on the board so that students (but especially administrators visiting my classroom) can easily determine what the goal is for the day.  It’s okay if it takes 2-3 days to reach that objective.  The objective should include the learning and an observable outcome.

2004-2008:  Performance assessments, or benchmarks, are created for each standard.  The objective for the day should lead into the performance assessment should be written on the board for students and observers.  The objective should include: The learning, the observable outcome, the conditions, and the level of proficiency.  You should have a rubric developed by you or within your PLC or department that defines proficiency and can be used to track student progress over many opportunities to practice the learning.  (Marzano, Wiggins, etc.)

2009-2011:  To accommodate language learners, there should be both a language objective and a content objective.  Also, the objectives should be divided into three tiers to engage learners at different levels. (Structured English Immersion)

2009-2012: Everything I do in class must be aligned to that darn objective.  So if I have multiple objectives, such as an assignment that targets more than one standard, I’d better get those up on the board. If I have a 90 minute block with multiple strands happening at the same time, better make sure my objectives for all are posted.  (Madeline Hunter, Essential Elements of Instruction*)

2012-2014: In my written lesson plans, which I must hand in weekly, I need to include one main objective. It’s okay if certain small things we do do not relate to that objective, because that’s life in the classroom where multiple things are happening all the time. Then, last year the term "behavioral objective" was being tossed about again, but I was slightly too embarrassed to ask for a reminder of what that means.

2014-2015:  In addition to writing an objective in my lesson plans, I am to make sure I also rewrite  it as a Learning Target, which is a chunk of learning that is accomplished and assessed that specific day.  The learning target should be written from the student’s point of view and should include the learning, the Depth of Knowledge level, and the assessment. Also, identify Levels of Engagement for each activity.  Learning Targets are things that are learned and achieved each day.

The speed of these cycles of change is mind-boggling.  I can hardly imagine that any of the districts or schools involved really gave any of these initiatives time to take hold before they moved on to the next big initiative.

In addition, I can hardly imagine that very many of these shifts have really refined my ability to teach, or my students’ experiences learning in my class.

In addition, English class cannot, and usually should not, be broken down into a series of daily chunks.  For some skill sets it helps; for others it does not, such as Sustained Silent Reading and processes such as writing and revising.  These are ongoing developmental processes which are not always linear and chunkable, but also supported by research and, hello, common sense and my 19 years of experience.  I could go on for weeks about this in the context of a language arts class, but maybe that’s my next blog.

Constantly obsessing over writing my objectives also limits the feeling of freedom I need to have to make adjustments as the week goes on.  I spend all my time writing lessons for the following week to meet a specific format instead of analyzing where my students are right now, today, in the work they turned in and in class.   Obsessing over how to write objectives limits my freedom to use technology innovatively because of the level of unpredictability that is inherent in trying out new tech tools.  Perhaps most importantly, I believe it is possible that it limits my students because although we are definitely headed somewhere together, how am I supposed to predict what each of them will take away from a lesson on a daily basis?  

Here’s an example of an objective dilemma from my lesson for today about a nonfiction reading on Utopia, which we will be studying in our next unit: If we read about Utopias and only focus on, say, use of parenthetical commentary and quotations to achieve the author’s purpose for her audience… what is lost in terms of theme?  If I only read in terms of theme, then I lose an opportunity to analyze a great little example of a writer using her style to reach her audience. I worry that the analytical chunking of knowledge and narrowness of the definition of an objective actually discourages the kind of holistic thinking about writing, literature and humanity that, frankly, makes kids want to become English teachers.  Or at least lifelong learners and readers.

And yet, in classroom observations and in conferences about my lesson plans, the focus is on the objective, the chunking of time and student engagement, and the assessment.  

So where does that leave me?

If I allow it to, it leaves me in a world that pulls me away from what I believe to be worthwhile goals.  Can I meet the requirements of my professional development and lesson plans while also staying true to my vision of how an English class should be run?  Probably, but I waste an awful lot of time and mental energy doing it, time that could be used better.

Sandy Merz | Education, Life in the Classroom, Science |

A Neglected Anniversary in Science Education


Photo 1
We didn't light the autumn sky with homemade rockets or harness the wind to electrify remote villages. But in 1974 a group of juniors sitting in the back of biology hung on every word our teacher said, because we never knew when he would add a new entry to "Great Words from Mr. Blake's Unlimited All-Star Vocabulary."

To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of this milestone in science education, I present here the unabridged list, copied exactly from my faded, folded, and slightly torn original, that I've kept all these years. The words are in chronological order; the numbers indicate the times Mr. Blake repeated the word. In italics are comments I added as I assembled this post.

Some words and phrases are common, but spelled the way he said them. Others are common and he said them correctly, but they were funny just because he said them.  Still others he said just right, but we had never heard them before, and that made them funny.

The List:

  1. bosh (5)         
  2. pshaw (15)              
  3. flick (4) as in movie
  4. adjournal (2)  as in, "We'll now adjournal into the lab."   
  5. chuckyplum
  6. savee (8)
  7. samosamo (2)
  8. oomps 
  9. gaak (20)
  10. beasty (12) he had lots of generic word for organisms - it was biology afterall
  11. contangerous he liked to change just one letter or syllable 
  12. pardnon he also liked to add a letter or syllable
  13. bugger
  14. hissy (1)
  15. bogus
  16. larvay
  17. anuse 
  18. pfffft (1st 9 weeks) he considered vowels optional
  19. kiddiebumps as in, "You kiddiebumps need to study more!"
  20. krkhjjh 
  21. duh (1)
  22. crimenently
  23. plumchucky
  24. mongamous (1) in other words humongous
  25. comoselama (2) that l was pronounced "la" 
  26. Holy Pete
  27. boo - ooo (4)
  28. croak (1)
  29. trite bit of ariation as in, "What was that trite bit of ariation, Jill?"
  30. guk
  31. walag
  32. yi-ee-aa
  33. AAHHH!!
  34. peachy keen
  35. boob tube (4) 
  36. figidy
  37. gook as in a sticky mess
  38. tad bit (11)
  39. funky dory
  40. Johnny Bloenose
  41. Price of Newcastle
  42. bulla bulla bulla
  43. befuddled
  44. blubber
  45. pinky sheet as in, "Do all the problems on the pinky sheet."
  46. zap (2)
  47. bannanas (8) as in, "Don't go bananas, but..." 
  48. señor mouse (1)
  49. tody habits
  50. chicky eggs
  51. bag of worms (1)
  52. Sam Hill 
  53. Whooo (1)
  54. Ya-oooo
  55. Pall Mall
  56. coposati
  57. snicker snicker
  58. kitty kat 
  59. bow wow 
  60. snot
  61. mish mash
  62. bling
  63. ding bat (2)
  64. super duper
  65. bugaboo
  66. chewing gum for the eyeball
  67. chew on your nuts to a class full of adolescents?
  68. heapies (1)
  69. iota
  70. joggers
  71. how some ever (2)
  72. critters (7)
  73. hook & crook
  74. conotes
  75. crawlies
  76. poor little hairy hide
  77. cookery
  78. zip zip
  79. croak
  80. taboo
  81. cheapy
  82. bunch of spaghetti
  83. oodles
  84. cut the mustard
  85. doosch
  86. haul our bods as in, "Let's haul our bods into the lab"
  87. plaza loma
  88. boomp
  89. 600 nitro express (1)
  90. babababababoon this was sung - "Baaa ba ba ba ba boooooooon"
  91. nomenclature
  92. minuous
  93. o-observay
  94. twosies as in, "Work on this assignment in twosies."
  95. zerah
  96. Ricky Baby as in, "Ricky Baby, be quiet!"
  97. zamples
  98. fortay
  99. spewtum
  100. 6 of 1 1/2 dozen of the other (2)
  101. cute attacks of apoplexy as in, "David, would you explain your cute attacks of apoplexy?"
  102. krambs
  103. cobre
  104. scrage
  105. The Hanging Drop
  106. the gobbling up things as in carnivors
  107. tayboo
  108. sitting on your buffs waiting for the goats to come home
  109. hebies
  110. toydie
  111. Sandy Cumerzis I made the list; He liked me! He really liked me!
  112. wluwluwlu
  113. fruitcake
  114. bludublubdadublu
  115. hokeed up 
  116. do our thingie
  117. Suzy Q
  118. the big TIT I wonder why I capitalized it
  119. horsies
  120. moo moos
  121. nerd
  122. flim flam
  123. cow 
  124. fly by night

Late in the year the list was published in the school paper. Mr. Blake thought it was funny. I think I'll start saying these words in my teaching. After all, he got us engaged with them. 

But I think I'll avoid 67 and 118. And maybe some others.


Jess Ledbetter | October 21, 2014

Educators: Are you talking about this election?


Car sign Dear educators, this is just a quick post to ask the question, "Are you talking about this upcoming election in the community?" If you aren't, I believe that you should be. The state election of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Governor, Secretary of State, and other important offices will dramatically influence education in future years. With all the hoop-la of negative ads, there are people out there who don't know who to vote for--people who don't know which candidates are good for education. Even worse, these people may not do the research and vote without encouragement.

As teachers, we have a special influence in the community and people do value the opinions of teachers. If you strongly believe that a candidate is the right person for an office, I encourage you to boldly tell others why you think so. I think that teachers have a challenge here because we have an inherent belief that people are entitled to have their own opinions, to make up their own minds. This value, though very noble, keeps us from telling other people our own opinions. Educators, I think that this will lead to our downfall in educational policy.

This year, I have been making intentional attempts to start conversations with people about the election. I encourage them to consider education very carefully when they make their decisions. When the right opportunity comes along, I share my opinions about the people who I believe in for this state. Despite my quickening heart and higher blood pressure during these conversations, no one has had a negative reaction (except me maybe!) People have been interested in my thoughts and shared their own. These conversations have been very stimulating. Most importantly, I remind people that it is very important to vote on November 4th. I tell them the date multiple times and ask how they vote (in person or by mail). I wrap up the conversation by quickly reminding them to think about education when they make election decisions this year.

Educators, don't waste your influence by maintaining silence this year. There are great ways to have influence in social media, putting up house signs, decorating your car, and talking with people in person. This election counts. Use your voice.

Jen Robinson | Current Affairs, Education, Teacher Leadership, Web/Tech | October 15, 2014

Connected Educator Month


10649556_651183781644659_2820342266413046468_nDid you know that October was “Connected Educator Month”? On Saturday in an effort to avoid the work I initially sat down to complete I decided to look into this Connected Educator thing a bit closer. I initially came across it while reading through Facebook posts and happening upon a post from Edutopia. I have to be completely honest, my technology skills are very limited to say the least. I have a twitter account, but very rarely tweet unless I am at a conference or in a low risk arena where I have immediate support to trouble shoot my errors. I connect with friends and educators on Facebook and even find myself immersed in Pinterest from time to time. I read and respond to blogs, but not nearly as much as I could or should. So my thinking is this resource might just help me step out into the world of social media in a way that could positively impact teaching and learning on my campus.

At first glance the site is very user friendly and creates a safe space for those of us who are “developing” our technology skills. One feature that I found helpful was the supporter toolkit, which simply provides the basics of what Connected Educator Month (CEM)is.

CEM provides you with opportunities to learn how to be more proficient with social media to improve your practice. Originally it was developed by the U.S. Department of Education and it’s partners as part of the Connected Educator Initiative. CEM offers highly distributed, diverse, and engaging activities to educators at all levels. Based on its success over the past few years, the initiative is predicting to reach even more educators in 2014, through expanded partnerships and enhanced programming.

The goals of CEM include: 1. Getting more educators proficient with social media to improve their practice. 2. Deepening and sustaining learning among those already enjoying connection’s benefits. 3. Helping schools credential/integrate connected learning into their formal professional development efforts. 4. Stimulating and supporting innovation in the field.

Once on the website you will find each day in October is filled with online activities to get you started on your journey as a connected educator and learner. Topics range from video conferences on virtual learning to the principal’s role in supporting educator collaboration, improving professional development to webinar’s in story telling, and twitter chats on digital learning, education around the world and equity in a digital age. The opportunities cover a broad spectrum of relevant and compelling topics for teachers, teacher leaders, administrators, and educators in general. Join me in learning more about being a connected educator.

I invite you to share your thoughts on Connected Educator and how you might use it to push your practice forward? 

John Spencer | Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | October 14, 2014

I Don't Use Rewards -- But My School Does


When I set up my classroom as a first-year teacher, I created a daily game system where students would compete Jeopardy-style, for intellectual dominance. The winning groups would receive candy bars. I also added a Spencer Store, with photocopied artificial money bearing my face (think Shrute Bucks from The Office) and a dollar amount. I also created a PAT time system that Fred Jones had recommended.

It worked. For a week. Then kids started complaining that the game wasn't fun and that the candy bars weren't enough. So, I upped the ante a little. The students were right. Fun size candy bars? Two bites and they were gone. What's the fun in that?

So, I moved to full-size bars and eventually king-sized candy bars. PAT time failed, too, because it made more sense to be disruptive for a full hour than to behave in boredom for two days before earning twenty minutes of free-time.

Finally, the Spencer Store had a sudden inflation problem, as students engaged in counterfeiting and began trading services for Spencer Cash. It wasn't that the system had failed. I had created extrinsic rewards based upon economic norms and the students, for their part, had become excellent consumers. They gamed the system so that they could do as little possible for the biggest reward.

It had me thinking about the world's greatest teachers. None of them used rewards. Socrates didn't pass out pizza coupons (or perhaps pita coupons). Jesus didn't offer to turn water into wine if his disciples would just stop squabbling and start getting along for the next ten minutes. Instead, they were motivated by purpose, meaning, creativity, and fun.

I mention this because my son came home with a packet explaining his school's behavioral management system, filled with PAT time and Roadrunner dollars and cards that you pull if you're bad (creating a literal scarlet letter right next to the board if you suck at sitting still and keeping your mouth shut). The letter implored us to participate in a similar system at home.

Why Rewards Fail

The following are a few reasons why rewards fail:

  1. Students cheat, because they are working from economic rather than social norms.
  2. Students no longer cooperate, because they are in a competitive behavioral system.
  3. Students become risk-averse.
  4. Students learn that it's more about following the rules than doing what is right.
  5. Students lose the desire to learn.
  6. Students see behavior as something externally managed.
  7. Students lose out on a chance to think ethically about their actions.

A Different Approach

So here I am, over a decade into teaching. I don't give PAT points or cards or stickers. I have no special Treasure Chest where students can pick out a toy if they have done well. I don’t hand out pizza coupons for great readers and I don’t believe that field trips should only be meant for the best-behaved kids.

Instead, I use a relational approach to build a community. I treat behavioral issues as learning opportunities, both for the student and for myself (often behavioral issues are due to bad instruction). The following is how I would summarize my approach:


  • Have clear procedures
  • Communicate my expectations
  • Make sure the lessons are meaningful and engaging
  • Offer the right scaffolding for students who are struggling
  • Pay attention to the pace of the lesson

In the Moment:

  • Utilize space proximity
  • Use eye contact
  • Gently pull a student aside to remind him or her of expectations

After an Incident:

  • Have a reflective conversation with the student
  • Create a plan of what the student can do next time

The results of this approach is that the class tends to be well-behaved. There are moments when I’ve gotten impatient. There are times when kids screw up. However, when those things occur, I handle it relationally and personally rather than passing out makeshift Shrute Bucks. I haven’t written a referral in almost two years. Most of my parent phone calls are positive comments about the work I am seeing.

So, here’s the problem: We are now doing PBIS at our school. We are required to pass out our version of Shrute Bucks. The schoolwide system runs counter to everything I believe about behavior and motivation. What’s the solution? How should I handle the conflict between what I believe to be best for kids and what I am asked to do as a member of the faculty?

Christine Porter Marsh | October 12, 2014

"Losing to win"...


It seems to me that one of the biggest lessons that guest-speakers want to pass on to my students is to follow their own passions. For the past year, many politicians and political candidates have visited my classes, and that “follow your passion” theme has recurred a lot.

I suppose it makes sense, because not many people probably want to subject themselves to the brutality of campaigning, unless public service is a true passion. I don’t think that’s always the case, by the way: I think that there are probably many politicians who got into “public service” in order to serve themselves, not the public. It’s just that those types of politicians generally don’t agree to visit Ms. Marsh’s classes; we mostly have the “I want to be a public servant” type of politicians.

Thus, my students have heard from numerous adults the importance of following their passions, of finding what they really want to do with their lives.

It’s been an unexpected blessing of having politicians in class.

On Thursday, we had a truly inspiring candidate. She talked about a few political races that she’s been in when she knew that her chances of winning were very slim. She entered these races anyway, though, so that “We the People” would have a choice and so that the opposing candidates would have to debate all the way through the general election (instead of only having to run a campaign through the primary). By doing this, she raised the level of discourse and awareness. A different candidate talked about how the election cycle is really just a long-term job interview, so having debates and conversations with and about candidates becomes a very important part of the process.

My students and I both thought it was so inspiring that Thursday’s candidate sometimes has to “lose in order to win.”  The next day, my students and I talked about that concept and how being part of something—and losing—may actually be incredibly beneficial and may result in winning. It’s a paradox, I know, but it resonated with my students. They “got” it.

In this society which focuses so often on winning at all costs, it was refreshing to have a respected adult talk to my students about the value of losing, about the gains that may result from simply trying something—even if it might technically end up in loss.

When we read To Kill a Mockingbird, they will see this theme again, as they witness Atticus fight a battle that he knows he won’t win. He has to fight it, though: Tom Robinson needs him to, as does the town itself.

I hope it’s a lesson that the students take with them throughout their lives. Sometimes, we have to fight battles that we know we will lose. Sometimes, the value is in the fighting, not in the outcome. Sometimes, following one's passion may result in "losing." But it's really winning. 



Jess Ledbetter | October 10, 2014

Teacher wellness: On the decline?


Want to know what I’ve been wondering about lately? I want to know if teacher health/wellness is declining amidst the pressure of educational reform today. A few days ago, I was walking behind a colleague and noticed that this person had gained some weight. It was nothing major--just something I observed. The observation prompted personal reflection. I thought about the changes in my own health and wellness over the past few years: the smaller clothes (now at the back of the closet), the infrequent trips to the gym, the lack of sleep, the quick meals on my way home when I’m wiped out, and the rare opportunities to actually EAT during my “lunch break” (a.k.a. more work time)! Being a teacher today is CHAOTIC! Though some of my colleagues sweat out their stress at the gym regularly, I am experiencing waning commitment to healthy outlets for releasing stress. This week, I’ve been wondering: Is it harder for teachers to find time for health and wellness given the many aspects of their jobs today?

My gut tells me: YES. I think the educational climate of “reform,” accountability, and the multi-faceted nature of the job keep educators busy long before and after the school bells. Finding balance is incredibly challenging in education today because there is a lot to do! Some SfS bloggers have offered great examples in recent posts below. I see it in my own practice, too. Every time I turn around, there seems to be a new initiative to connect with families, another way to track/report student progress, a new committee/club looking for teacher volunteers, another meeting to attend, a new form to fill out, another grant to submit for classroom supplies, and more items on the staff meeting agenda afterschool. Is this the price of being a “teacher?” I only seem to think about my health and wellness when I get to a breaking point, like when I get really sick or find myself completely exhausted. Otherwise, it’s ‘boots on the ground’ go, go, go, go, GO! Teachers are world changers, and we don’t like to stop and think about ourselves. How does that affect our health when there are so many things to do as a teacher today?

To take this further, serving as a teacher-leader adds additional responsibilities. I believe that teacher-leadership is essential in the profession, but it takes a huge toll. Every time I turn around, there is another training to plan, another teacher with a (great!) question, or a new resource I’d like to create. Of course, these duties come on top of my commitment to being an excellent teacher for my students. Good teachers who are also teacher-leaders are BUSY! Is this the price of “teacher leadership?” I can’t possibly count the Red Bulls that have kept me going with energy and enthusiasm despite very little sleep. But I’ll stop there with this one. Teacher leadership is worth it.

How does all of this affect the health and wellness of teachers? In a profession with high levels of attrition, could teachers be leaving because the stress/wellness issues are overwhelming with limited time for improvement? Additionally, declining health and wellness would be a serious concern for school districts that are self-insured. This past year, I heard about a local school district that increased employee healthcare contributions (what teachers pay to the district) by $700! A representative from that district said, “Employees need to get healthier to keep the cost down.” Talk about a double-edged sword. This profession requires more hours than other fields of work. Worse yet, many other fields have accepted long hours as common practice in the American workplace. I’d like to go on the record here: I don’t think that long work hours are good for health and wellness at all.

So what does the research say? I checked out keywords including: teacher, declining, health, and wellness in various combinations using Google News and Google Scholar. Unfortunately, there was nothing specific to teachers and their health/wellness. So does this mean that teacher health and wellness is not declining? Or does it mean that no one is asking questions or studying this topic? Sorry to say: I don’t have the answers there. But I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think that teacher health and wellness are declining in education today? What other research/news do you think relates to this topic?

When you’re ready to share your thoughts, come and find me. I hope I’ll be at the gym.

Jen Robinson | October 8, 2014



Gg54905816The past ten weeks have slipped away, some days blurry, others skipped by very purposefully, others were over before they started and a few seemed longed than they should have been. But, this week a calm has washed over our campus – fall break. As I move between tasks I am content, my thoughts are clear, I am focused on the sound of the maintenance team sanding our outside doors preparing for new paint. All week there has been a flitter of activity on campus with teams doing one thing or another, replacing ceiling tiles, ripping up and tacking down new carpet or resealing the floor in our multipurpose room. I am excited for the return of students, staff and parents next week. However, this quiet time was much needed. Not only for myself, for teachers, staff, students and parents– a time to rejuvenate and rest, a time to reflect and refocus.

A few teachers were in and out preparing for the week that awaits them after break. Parents stopped by to withdraw or enroll students. I don’t want to lose kids, but I also understand that sometimes life happens and families have to move on. That said we will always have new students and parents join our family.  That’s just the way it happens. Some months more, others less, we have come to know it as part of who we are, a constant flow of new students in and familiar faces leaving. I wonder who will move on and who will join us?

I love coming into school over break and listening to the building. I know it sounds quirky, but during the school day, it is too easy to get caught up in walk-throughs and evaluations, meetings and professional development, breakfast, lunch and duties, arrival and dismissal, analyzing assessment data and facilitating grade level plc’s, observing student behavior and meeting with parents. Time over break gives me a chance to walk around the playground, swing on the swings, slowly walk down the dark hallways, and gaze into empty classrooms reflecting on teaching and learning. I see students engaged in learning and working in groups to solve problems. I hear teachers refocusing students and asking questions pushing them to explain their thinking. I feel fortunate to get to do this work and do it along side amazing people who put children first and do what it takes to achieve greatness. It is a time for me to reflect on teaching and learning, on student and teacher growth and goals. It is a time to re-evaluate the past ten weeks with a clear mind and an open heart, looking ahead with eyes wide open, preparing for what lies ahead in the next ten weeks.

When you have a break, in what ways do you rejuvenate and rest, reflect and refocus? How do you reset?

Donnie Dicus | October 7, 2014

When is Enough, Enough?


"Ugh not another test!" That was one of the first things one of my students said to me this morning. In my head, I thought, "You ain't kidding, kid!" Out loud though, I exclaimed, "This isn't a test, it's an opportunity to show your learning." I felt that student perfectly illustrated the frustration with the focus on tests right now in education in America.

Last year, I began teaching a third grade SEI class in a new district. My first week at this school and I was giving my kids a pre-test which lasted 4 days. I gave that same assessment 4 more times last year at the end of each quarter. I also gave my students a state required language test which lasted three days. Immediately after that test, I administered the mother of all tests for third graders; AIMS which lasted nearly a week. As a teacher, I know it's a struggle to include any form of instruction on testing days or testing weeks. Students are burnt out and tired. They need stress free activities those days. That being said, my students used 7 weeks of school for testing purposes and that doesn't include typical classroom assessments.

7 weeks is nearly a full quarter of the year. If you think about a student in my class over the course of his education from kindergarten to 12th grade, he will test 91 weeks on this schedule. That is 22 months or nearly 2 and a half years worth of grade levels (With the assumption that an academic year is 9 months).  How much academic growth could have happened in this student in those 2 and a half years?!

I am grateful that my district re-evaluated their testing requirements. Instead of 5 district assessments, we only do 4 and instead of 4 days, they only last two days. Therefore this year, I will be able reclaim nearly two weeks of instruction time. Over time this amounts to 5 months more of instruction for my students.

I know assessments are important and useful to measure growth of students and also the effectiveness of a teacher, a school, a strategy, or a curriculum. We couldn't do our job without assessments.  However, is that data worth the loss of significant amounts of  instruction time? Are there more effective ways to administer a test or even better assessments to minimize the loss of instruction time? Could we find ways to share assessments that can show similar growth for multiple purposes? Are students in school to be assessed or to learn? My district is asking these questions but shouldn't more leaders in education be asking these as well? How much testing is too much? When is enough, enough?

Christine Porter Marsh | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Mentoring | October 6, 2014

#Evaluate That!


This week, three students asked me if I would write letters of recommendation for them to submit to their prospective colleges.

I answered with, “I’d be honored to do that,” which is what I usually say—and mean it. It is an honor to help them fulfill their dreams. It’s one of the reasons that I love teaching: I get to facilitate them on their journey toward adulthood, toward reaching their goals, toward becoming the future leaders of this society.

This week, alone, I spent four hours on college recommendation letters. I finished five of them in that amount of time. I have roughly 30 to write before November 1st, and I spent about three hours on them last week, as well. This will happen on a weekly basis until I am finished, which will have to occur in the next 28 days.

This week, I also spent roughly an hour proofreading some of my students’ college entrance essays. That, for me, is hard. I know that I will not be doing them any favors if I am not brutally honest, with an emphasis on brutal. What good does it do a student to submit an essay that’s not just this side of perfect? I almost made a boy cry this week. He brought me a college entrance essay about which he was quite proud, but it was bland, even boring, and I had to tell him that. I couldn’t face myself if he turned in a bland essay and potentially got rejected from the college of his choice because of it. (By the way, the student gave me a new copy on Wednesday, and it was beautiful; he thanked me for being so harsh…I mean he was truly grateful and actually used those words: “Thanks for being harsh with me, Ms. Marsh, because I think my new draft is much better.”

So what’s the point of all of this?

In this age of accountability and the push to evaluate teachers on their students’ test scores, I think it’s incumbent on the public and politicians to understand at least some of the things that teachers do for which they will never be evaluated—and some of these things are time-consuming and require serious concentration. Trust me, I can’t proofread a student’s college entrance essay with TV on in the background, or sitting in the waiting room at the dentist, or while my cat is trying to get my attention for some affection.

The focus on teacher accountability is concerning, because there is so much that teachers do that cannot be evaluated, but they’re still valuable. My students will collectively pull in literally hundreds of thousands of scholarship money, and at least some of that money will have a direct link to a teacher—whether it’s through extra tutoring for PSAT testing, or proofreading essays, or writing recommendation letters. Some of what we teachers do will have a direct impact on financial gain for students and their families.

On Wednesday, my staff had an in-service presented by “Not My Kid,” which is a group that provides education and resources for families (and teachers) of children who are facing substance abuse issues, bullying, depression, and suicide attempts.

This particular in-service focused on depression and suicide and what teachers can do to help at-risk students. 

It focused on how teachers need to be aware, observant, and willing to act if they see a potential problem. We were given resources and warning signs and ways in which we can legally and ethically intervene on behalf of a child for whom we have concern.

I take that role—as somewhat of a watchdog for students—very seriously. With 38 students in a class (and high school teachers have five classes), I question a teacher’s ability to be vigilantly observant, but that’s an issue for another blog. I can only hope that I would notice any behavior changes in my students who may be at-risk, and I’m sure almost all teachers feel that way.

These things can’t be evaluated, though. Nor should they be. Do the stakeholders in education know these things? Do they understand how much goes into guiding these kids successfully through their careers than can be evaluated by a test or an administrator?

I don’t think they do. And they need to.