Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fundamental Mis-alignment

Alice Mercer:

Our reform program, interestingly enough, will be centered on student writing. Why is that interesting? Well, it’s not currently a tested subject. It used to be tested in fourth grade, but with budget cuts, they eliminated the test because it’s more expensive to grade than multiple-choice.

I, of course, have no problem with this general concept pedagogically, but... wtf? As far as school accountability goes, you might as well focus on gym class. When they come to shut down your school and/or fire you, writing is not even part of the conversation. At all. When they publish your value-added scores in the paper, they ain't going to be writing scores.


Leroy's Mom said...

Nice catch, and nice to see you're reading my blog. Three points:

1. I'm a computer lab prep teacher. Although I do more with core curriculum there than most, like others in my position, I don't teach a "tested" subject. Still, I do care about my fellow teachers.

2. They haven't changed our evaluation instrument in the district (if they do, the state's RttT MOU specifies 30% on test scores). Instead, it's based on admin observation, which this year will include student work, which at my site will be based on...student writing. The only person in danger of being fired is the administrator (although, they could move the rest of us around).
3. Lower in the story I hinted the research rationale for teaching writing to improve reading. In addition, they are tested on writing indirectly by multiple choice (horrid, I know) and the part they usually bomb on is "writing strategies". Matt Needleman's comment shows how this will help on that. Writing Strategies starts out as a small part of the test, but by the sixth grade it's a whopping third of the writing section of the test.

This all could turn out to be foolish, but the district-wide reform movement on a macro-level looks a lot how Ravitch describes San Diego in her book in the sense that the curriculum is pretty liberal with a focus on writing, project-based learning, etc. Since we've been deeply steeped in direct-instruction for the last-decade, and the kids seem bored to tears with school well before they leave elementary, I think this is a good idea. As to whether they will be able to blame the teachers IF things go wrong, I think that because teachers will be judged on student writing in their evals, the district will be ham-strung by their own desire to be progressive educators and won't have anywhere to turn and point fingers...

Tom Hoffman said...

Ah, I was trying to remember who Leroy's Mom was...

Were writing scores included in the "lowest-performing" calculations?

Leroy's Mom said...

Yeah, sorry, it makes me log in with my blogger id, yhetta, yhetta, even though, as you show in this post, I blog at edublogs. Sorry I'm so confusing.
Obviously, that was a post that I couldn't go into a lot of detail on. Well, I could have, but it might have been way too long. I think you do ask some really critical questions. I'm going to do a follow up post to contrast doing this sort of approach with a standards focus, and without. I will likely cite your wonderful analysis of common core and the misalignment of objectives and standards as part of it.
Writing in multiple choice form definitely was part of how we ended up being "chosen" for reform, and in the years 4th graders were tested on writing, that was factored in as well.

Tom Hoffman said...

My perspective on it may be a little extreme, because the writing tests we have in RI, at least for high school, aren't actually taken into account for NCLB, etc. accountability at all.