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The Whiteboard Jungle: Decision-making process should also include teachers' input

Ohanian Comment: Take a look at the people in charge of i-Ready Curriculum Associates. Ask yourself: Would you put a kindergartner you care about in their hands? Would you let them test a kindergartner you care about three times a year?

The description of how this test is going to deliver the directions for needed skill instruction is so much phony-baloney I just can't cope with it at this moment.

Below, a teacher comments on the situation.

Then there's the newspaper account, with the headline, teachers adjust... With the superintendent saying it's a learning process. It's long past time for teachers to stop being so damned adjustable.

The Whiteboard Jungle: Decision-making process should also include teachers' input

by Brian Crosby
September 12, 2014

In the game of education, there are many players: students, parents, teachers, administrators, district officials, state and federal politicians. Too often, the group that has the most contact with the students -- the teachers -- is not part of policy decision-making.

For example, sometime beginning in the late spring, the Glendale Unified School District went ahead with a major endeavor, signing a five-year contract worth $3.4 million with Massachusetts-based Curriculum Associates to use their i-Ready diagnostic testing program, evaluating each kindergartner through 12th grader three times a year.

What was quite startling about all this was how few of the major stakeholders were in the loop, including some administrators.

Glendale Teachers Assn. President Phyllis Miller said that the organization was not part of any discussions about this program, as well.

Just as the Common Core standards seemingly came out of nowhere, so, too, has i-Ready, which no one knows with certainty will benefit students.

The difference between the rollout of Common Core and i-Ready was that Glendale Unified officials carefully involved teachers in introducing the new standards over a three-year period; the systematic testing came like a "Bam!" a la celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. In the past, the district has piloted new programs before committing to them. Not this time.

Susan Arcuri, product marketing director for Curriculum Associates, claims that there have been positive results in Glendale. It's a mystery how she came to that conclusion considering testing has just begun.

Miller said that many teachers who have used i-Ready say that the test itself is taking much longer than expected.

Where I work, the reading test is currently being administered, taking two class periods to complete. If that holds true for the math test, that would translate to a loss of 12 hours of direct instruction in arguably the most important subject classes.

And don't forget the time it takes school administrators to organize the computer labs and monitor the testing, time better spent elsewhere.

It's understandable the district wants to do something to help students perform well on the new Common Core-based assessments. The idea of providing teachers with individualized data to help shape future lesson planning sounds ideal. The problem is that it is not practical.

Any teacher watching an i-Ready presentation espousing its benefits could inform upper management of this. How are teachers going to find the time needed to analyze the data and then to modify lessons to meet the needs of each student? If a teacher were at the decision-making table, these legitimately difficult questions would have arisen.

One would have to make quite a convincing argument that spreadsheets of colored graphs is preferable to lessons taught by a qualified teacher.

Often overlooked is the analysis already occurring in the classroom on a daily basis facilitated by the expert in that field, the teacher. Teachers don't need third-party testing results to understand that a student has difficulty understanding a Shakespearean passage. They discover it through their lessons and assessments.

I have had the privilege of having thousands of students spend time in my classroom. I'd like to make an impact. But the effect I could have on a child gets further diminished with each hour of standardized testing.

Teachers are very possessive of the time they have with their students, so there needs to be a strong reason to justify taking that time away.

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools" and "The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at briancrosby.org.

Teachers, students adjust to new exams

By Kelly Corrigan kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

September 17, 2014

Glendale school officials said Tuesday that educators and students are adjusting to new computerized diagnostic tests that the majority of Glendale students have taken since the beginning of the school year.

However, the test is taking longer than anticipated to complete for some students, and that additional time has the teachers' union concerned.

In July, the Glendale Unified school board approved spending more than $3.4 million to contract with North Billerica, Mass.-based Curriculum Associates for the next five years, giving Glendale Unified access to print and online instructional materials, lessons and computerized diagnostic exams that adapt to students' achievement level.

Glendale administrators said they embraced the new program because it allows the district to adopt a universal approach to measure the strengths and weaknesses in reading and math of 26,000 students, and in turn, help teachers tailor learning interventions.

As of Sept. 10, 59% of students in the second through 12th grades had taken the reading diagnostic exam, while 43% had completed the math test.

But Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said during a school board meeting on Tuesday that the exam has taken some advanced students three hours to complete. Earlier this year, educators anticipated it would take only 45 minutes.

"It is our first go-through," Sheehan said. "It is going to be a learning process like everything you do for the first time... This is definitely a learning process for the district and I think we're gaining very valuable information as we move forward."

Similar to the new state standardized exam, the computerized i-Ready diagnostic test adapts to each student's achievement level, meaning a student who correctly answers a difficult question will be posed with an even more difficult question, while a student who answers incorrectly will be asked an easier question.

John Sipe, regional vice president for Curriculum Associates, said it's not uncommon for some students to need more time, especially those who perform high academically, so they face increasingly more challenging questions.

"With some extremely high-performing students, the test can take a bit longer than the norm," he said.

Of the elementary students Sheehan spoke with about the exam, he said they are "excited" about the tests and enjoyed how it adjusts to their level. Special-education teachers told Sheehan they favored the adaptive exam over one that would typically gauge only if a special education student either passes or fails.

But because the test is taking some students longer to complete, Glendale Teachers Assn. President Phyllis Miller said the exam has cut into instructional time.

The union recently filed a demand to consult with school officials on i-Ready and the effects it may have on teachers who may need to contribute more time to the program and be paid for the time they need to commit to it.

"I do know that it's taking a lot of class time," Miller said.

Glendale administrators said Tuesday that teachers will receive a two-and-a-half hour training session from Curriculum Associates employees on how to read the reports that the company will generate for each student after they take the first round of diagnostic exams.

Sipe said the tests serve as "big mile posts" and their results will lead to individual learning plans and lessons for teachers.

"The teacher's still at the heart of instruction," he said. "The heart of success here is always the teacher."

For a fifth-grade student who may be reading at a third-grade level, the data will show the student's most challenging hurdles when it comes to specific components of reading and comprehension.

"We give the teacher really specific next steps for instruction," Sipe said.

Glendale Unified will give parents results of their child's exam in November, and students will take the tests again in January and May.

The district is one of fewer than a dozen research partners with Curriculum Associates, which will provide the district with data Glendale educators request. The data could help district officials better predict how students will perform on state exams this spring, target certain subgroups and compare Glendale Unified with other districts.

"The nice thing about i-Ready... each student has a learning plan specific to them," Sipe said. "It's done in a way that's so personal and so motivating that everyone gets excited about it. We all want to learn at the level that's right for us."

The reporter is on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

— Brian Crosby and Kelly corrigan
blog and Glendale News-Press




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