Saturday, October 7, 2017

Stretch Goals

Way back in the 1960s, IBM was the dominant computer company. Indeed, the industry was known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: IBM being Snow White and the other tech companies such as DEC, Sun, etc. having such a small market share that they were tiny compared to Big Blue headquartered in Armonk, New York.

IBM was noted for insisting that everyone wear a suit with a white shirt. Also, it was known for setting goals for its sales force that were achievable. IBM believed that people needed to have goals they could achieve to motivate them to work harder as opposed to goals that were clearly impossible, stretch goals, that they could not achieve, that would have made the sales force lose motivation, and not bother to try very hard as it would be impossible to hit the mark.

Ah, stretch goals. I once worked for a man who did stretch goals. I clearly remember the day I sat with him and we looked at the goals for the business that I was put in charge of. I remember the tingling feeling in my body as I thought we could achieve the goals we had set. WE CAN DO THIS! And then the man ratcheted the goals up higher in the belief that he had to keep goals impossible so he could rant and rave at his personnel and they would work harder.

Oops. At that point, I realized he would never allow anyone to feel success and never again bothered myself about what he wanted.

Now we come to DCPS, a misguided school board, and their stretch goals:

(Even Nikolai Vitti got this a year ago when he clashed with A S-J over setting goals that would motivate staff.)

What does it mean to have a new algorithm? Do they mean they developed a mathematical formula that leaves out human judgment?

While the Board celebrates their self-determined excellent work, have they bothered to consult anybody who works at the schools? Principals? Teachers? You know, the people who actually make it happen and know better than anyone else what their school can achieve?

No, they did not. They don't bother because they really don't think the actual employees have any expertise in educating children.

If they did, they would have included principals and teachers in this goal-setting process.

They celebrate themselves because now they have set goals for each school as opposed to setting overall district goals. They think they are the first ones who have done this. Hello, exalted personages who sit on the dais once a month in public sessions: NO, you are not. It didn't work in the past and it won't work now.

What's that? Why? Because you haven't included school-based personnel in the goal-setting process.

Oh, but your algorithm is the best idea since sliced bread? (And I hate it that you force me to use that cliche.)

Just like Coca-Cola's secret formula, the Colonel's secret recipe with its secret herbs and spices, and may I add the student growth formula that you refuse to release to teachers so we can see exactly how you are determining 50% of our annual evaluations, it's a BIG SECRET.

No one can know.

Is that because it is astoundingly, astonishingly excellent? Or is it more of your normal <ahem>? If you refuse to tell people, we will just trust you.

I hate to tell you this, but we don't. Take your stretch goals and go to the gym because they will not have any effect in this school system.

Not until you begin respecting teachers and other school-based personnel.


In one of the all time favorite Broadway shows, Phantom of the Opera, we get this stupendous chorus and dance:

The Masquerade: where everyone hides behind a mask and pretends to be someone different.

But who is that fellow who appears at the end? None other than the phantom, who has something to say about the theater.

Today that is me. Let's talk about the masquerade of the standardized testing, Common Core-styled, a/k/a PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and variations on the theme as it pertains to mathematics, in particular, the technologically-enhanced items that have you convinced that at last, at long last, the states have a test to measure student achievement in a meaningful way.

     This type of item tries to do away with the test-taking technique of narrowing down multiple choice answers until there is one obvious answer to choose. The student must evaluate a number of choices and select each one that is correct.

An example:  What is 4 + 3?
                             () 7
                             () 3 + 4
                             () 5 + 2
                             () 43
                             () 12
                             () 1

How does a student need to tackle this problem? By looking at each choice and deciding if it is correct or not!

This is not a new type of question: It is an old-fashioned TRUE/FALSE quiz item.

Drag and Drop:
     This type of item presents open boxes and circles to be filled with numbers, variables (letters), and symbols from an answer bank.

An example:

Fill in the blank! Generations of school children have dealt with this type of quiz question and hated it because they had to think up something for the blank. But wait! Our newfangled CC tests give them an assist: all they have to do is grab something from the bank for the blank.

     Let me quote from Florida's Item Specifications for Grade 8 mathematics to give you an idea of this one: "The student checks a box to indicate if information from a column header matches information from a row."
     Which, as every student knows, can be worked out by making all the obvious matches and then seeing what's left. Since these item types don't ask for more than 3 or 4 matches, once the student works out the obvious ones, all that's left is to connect the one pair they don't know but have to go together.

Drop-Down Menu:

    Meant to mimic "Cloze Reading," this time asks students to complete a paragraph by choosing the correct response from a drop-down menu.

An example:

    Sorry that the screen capture is small, but hopefully you can see that all a student has to do is select one of the choices presented. Yes, this type of question is really multiple choice.

Equation Editor:

    At last, an item that requires a student to determine a correct answer without a list of choices or a 50-50 guess. Perhaps we finally have an item that truly measures student understanding and skill. But wait, take a look at this:

We are asking students to generate original thought, but there are two problems with this. One, the interface. The equation editor is hard to use and students frequently ask for help during testing to get their desired response entered correctly. To which every smart teacher says, "I cannot help you," for fear of being accused of cheating. Two, student don't understand the response required. Once, a student asked me how to enter his response when the screen showed 'y =' and then the response box. He asked, "Do I put 'y =' into the box?' That would have resulted in an incorrect answer because the computer would have seen 'y = y=.' Yet, the student had the correct answer. So these items don't measure student understanding of mathematics as much as they measure the student's ability to navigate the interface.

Free Response:

    At last, an item worthy of testing students. An example:

But this requires a human to score it, which negates the argument for computerized testing. In fact, it suggests that the best person to score a response is the student's teacher. Oops! We can't have that. So we'll advertise on Craig's List and other places for warm bodies to read and assign a grade. I wonder how much time this item's response will get when we have previously had reports from persons grading writing test that they get about a minute per essay.

The Take-Away:

You have been told that computer testing has eliminated the limitations of standardized testing in which students eliminate possibilities and guess/select the best answer. Nonsense. Most of these item types are old wine in new wineskins. The only types that are new come with limitations that make them of limited use: the interface gets in the way or we simply ask less qualified persons than professional teachers to evaluate the responses and assign a grade.

Why does anyone think these Common Core era tests are better than what was done in the past?

Why does anyone think that these tests measure anything other than the test-taking skills a child possesses?

It is nothing more than a masquerade.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Price of a Human Life

The College Board, through its alter ego the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is soliciting teachers to sign up for a trial program in which teachers can serve on an advisory panel that will help them develop a testing platform, "a suite of tools," "that will measure student learning." Oh, and for signing up, teachers agree to have their classes undergo field testing in the Spring.

I will share the email text below.

For this invaluable help, the ETS will pay the school, NOT the teacher but the school, five dollars for every completed test.

Sorry, I should have warned you to put your drink down. Sorry I can't help you clean up the liquid you just spewed on your floor.

Five bucks. Five dollars. It puts me in mind of the scene from the second Harry Potter movie when Lucius Malfoy asks Arthur Weasley what's the point in being a disgrace to the name of wizard if he's not being well paid for it.

Indeed. Why would I sell out my students (I wouldn't do it for any price), but ETS is not going to pay well for it. Data mining on the cheap. AND they don't offer to pay me, but they will give a measly five bucks to my school.

If I was tempted, I would tell them my students are worth far more than that. Should we open negotiations at $500,000 per completed field test?

You're right, not enough.

ETS, let's start at five million, but I expect more.

What is the price of a human life? What price can we put on human data?

What ETS offers wouldn't buy even a Big Mac anymore. Nope, can't stomach it, will not cooperate with a corporation that wants a human life for less than the cost of a hamburger.

Here's the email text:

ETS is seeking teachers to participate in an online survey panel which will aid in the development of assessment tools that can be used in your classroom. Your input will help us to develop the product to be responsive to the needs of today’s students and educators.  Over the next two years, we will also be conducting a variety of activities and studies that will allow us to collect feedback on our items, systems, and products.  In thanks for your participation, we will provide you with a gift card for each survey and/or activity you complete.We are in the process of developing a new suite of tools, including Summative, Benchmark/Interim, and formative components to be used within the classroom, to measure student’s knowledge, skills and abilities in mathematics and English language arts, from elementary to high school grades. This new product from ETS, called the Winsight™ Assessment System, will be a unified, configurable system that harnesses the strength of ETS research, providing insight into where students are and where they need to be-- and enabling educators to create a pathway to get them there.Winsight is flexibly designed for your state’s standards and ETS Learning Progressions and integrates the state summative, interim and formative assessments into one inter-connected assessment system that requires less summative testing time, by measuring what is truly important, and makes learning deeper and more transparent. Winsight will deliver more actionable information to guide instructional strategies thereby creating a richer environment for teaching and learning and leading to improved outcomes for your students.In addition to the online survey panels, we will be conducting a field test this spring to test items and the end-to-end delivery system.  These field tests are being conducted across the country, with students in Grades 3-10.  In appreciation for the work, your school will receive a $5 honorarium for every completed test, as well as information on student’s performance and professional development materials that explore how students’ conceptual understanding develops in key areas of mathematics and English language arts.If you would like to take advantage of any of these opportunities, please fill out our survey by clicking the survey link below:Survey LinkThank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response!The ETS Winsight Team

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Trump GIF or Should I Say Gaffe?

So a jokester makes this GIF of the president striking a golf ball, which then hits Hilary Clinton in the back (oh, the wonders of Photoshop) and causes her to fall down.

The president sees it in his Twitter feed and retweets. He must have found it hilarious.

But in his weird Trumpian way, he condemns himself at the same time.

As an avid golfer, Trump knows that such an errant golf shot that has left the golf course to strike a person at an airport who is boarding a plane is OUT OF BOUNDS.

Let the irony sink in.

The jokester forgot to edit in a speech bubble with the president shouting "Fore!" to warn persons to duck.

Yes, so what seems to be a ha-ha for Trump is actually a condemnation of his disregard for other people to the point of showing him callous to the danger he has put them into.

Why in the world did he think this was worthy of a retweet?

Donald Trump, you are out-of-bounds, sir. An honorable golfer would call a penalty on himself.

Are you game?

Friday, September 8, 2017

People of Faith and Natural Disasters

Long, long time ago: well, 25 years to be exact, I was taking a course in biblical Greek because the seminary I would enter in January demanded that students come in with expertise in the language. Although they allowed students to take a course upon matriculation for no credit, I as always worked to meet the need and enrolled in a Miami seminary, a very small outfit, to get the needed knowledge. When I arrived in Wilmore, Kentucky, I took and passed an exam to prove I could read and understand the language.

(Yawns, okay, why is this relevant?)

Because 25 years and a few weeks ago, Hurricane Andrew devasted South Florida with 165 mph winds.

That delayed the start of the course. But when it began, we had an info session with everyone in the room: students, profs, deans.

I remember to this day how one dean talked about Hurricane Andrew and how it was forecast to strike West Palm Beach directly, which would cause unimaginable death and destruction to millions of people, but he was convinced that God put his hooks into the storm and pulled it south where it would not impact as many persons.

Hooray for you, God! Thanks for sparing me, but damn, do I feel bad for the people who got it.

Later, in my class, as people shared their Andrew experience, I realized that many people in that room had to listen to that spiel knowing that their homes were destroyed, knowing the hard work they were engaged in to rebuild their lives, and knowing that they were committed to not letting a Category 5 hurricane disrupt their education. They didn't share their feelings, but we can imagine how they felt hearing that God spared me, but it sucks to be you.

I recall that memory as Irma approaches Florida. Please, Christians, however it turns out, can we not embarrass ourselves? Let's not thank God loudly if we are spared the worst of the storm when others are not. We are not better, we have not lived better lives, if you need some help, I direct you to read Ecclesiastes.

Or perhaps these words from the Gospel will help: [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.

It happens to us all. Long after the hurricane has passed (now is not the time), we can have a discussion about sin and how the entire world fell with humanity and so everything, including climate and weather, is imperfect and potentially harmful.

I haven't prayed much about this storm. Does that surprise you?

But I'm not smart enough to know what is best. I leave that up to God. I simply trust in His goodness, and that He will make all things better according to his purposes.

In this life or the next one. That is another theological discussion we can leave till later.

For now, let's do what we can to survive and then to help others to recover. Regardless of faith or creed, let's protect human life.

It's what Jesus wants us to do.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Open House

Open House, when parents come to school to meet their children's teachers. A year ago, a BAT (Badass Teacher) created this meme to suggest questions for parents to ask teachers. I will answer them.

1.  Which Standardized Tests will be given this year?

Answer: Your child will take the state-mandated End of Course sometime in late April or May. In addition, the District requires two more tests: a 'baseline,' which they take now to see if they know what I haven't taught them yet, the results will be used to judge how good a teacher I am. In December, they will take a 'scrimmage,' so the District can figure out if they will score highly on the state test. If the District is not satisfied with the December results, they will add additional tests to 'monitor progress'. Also, the District does not mandate, but strongly leans on teachers to give unit tests developed by their specialists. These tests do not measure your child's learning; they are used to predict test scores. I refuse to give them.

2. How much class time will be used for these tests?

Answer: Too much, but let me be more specific. The Baseline test and the December test were reduced to one day this year versus two in the past. Add those two days to the two days the State requires and you get a false picture that we will only waste 4 out of 90 (block schedule) instructional days. That is ignoring the necessary review and test prep we will be forced to do--because the District believes we need to teach your child test-taking skills rather than keeping them learning mathematics. 10% of class time would not be far off as a rough estimate.

3. Will these tests be given online or be paper & pencil?

Answer: Online, although research has discovered that online tests result in poorer results than paper & pencil when all other factors are accounted for. So, yeah, the State & District are focused on their needs, not your child's needs. They have never heard a child scream in frustration, "I must be stupid," because the format is too difficult.

4. What is the technology in this building?

Answer: We don't have enough computers. That's why we give the tests over four to six weeks. By the way, when we get a hard downpour, the internet goes out. I would hate for that to happen on the state exam because your child is not allowed to finish the next day. Let's not get started on the bandwidth, when it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get a room of 25 onto the internet and begin the test.

5. When will parents be given the results?

Answer: For a district test, never. For the state test, you do get a report, but it is not detailed enough for you to know what your child did and did not learn. As a teacher, I have no idea. So your child scored answered 3 out of 10 questions correct in Geometric Modeling. Which three questions? Modeling covers measurement formulas for surface area and volume, population density, estimation, and more. I don't have more of a clue than you do. I'm not allowed to review the test or see question by question the scoring results. You will get nothing useful out of it, but then, neither will teachers. If you are now questioning why these tests should be given at all, I have some great groups of people you should join: opt-out networks, parent groups, and there's also this group 56,000 strong known as BATs.

6. What is done with the data from the tests?

Answer: Districts store it on third-party servers that offer data analysis services. In my district, it is Performance Matters. The state keeps the data, the test company keeps the data, the Federal Department of Education requires some reporting ... oh let me put it this way. Have you ever blown a dandelion seedhead into the wind?

7. How will my child's data be protected?

Answer: So my dandelion metaphor didn't explain it. Okay, let me be blunt. It won't.

8. What is the procedure for parents to opt out their children and refuse the standardized test?

Answer: Parents who followed accepted opt-out procedures in Florida last year for 3rd grade reading in punitive districts found that their children were denied promotion to 4th grade. It was pure caprice on the part of the district officials for their schools. The parents sued. They lost. Google '3rd Grade Parents vs. FLDOE.' The real answer is you can't without running the risk of damaging your child's future and happiness as sucky as the actual test experience is. No, the REAL answer is regime change in your state capital. Vote out the incumbents who are destroying public education because they profit from it. Here in Florida, we have a Speaker of the House whose wife started and runs a charter school group, representatives serving on education committees whose family members own and operate charters ... do you get it? Do they get away with their corruption because they are so blatant about it? We will only solve this at the ballot box.

Friday, August 4, 2017

From Russia With Chaos

Yesterday news broke that Robert Mueller, special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's entanglement with Russian operatives, had convened a grand jury, which enables him to subpoena documents and compel testimony under oath.

So what's up with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign that has so discombobulated the president?

1. The first issue is the meetings that took place between Trump associates and persons affiliated in some manner with the regime of Vladimir Putin. The character of these meetings and the topics of discussion range from mere contact with a presidential campaign through discussion of issues of interest (adoption, the Magnitsky act--more on that below) to a possible collusion in order to obtain damaging material on Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent. Collusion becomes an issue because if the Russian operatives are handing over damaging material that is unknown to others, two questions emerge: What did they want in return and was the Trump campaign willing to give it? If the meetings were harmless and innocent, why did the campaign, notably Trump's son and son-in-law, pretend the meetings did not happen, fail to mention them in required disclosure forms, offer different versions of the meetings until at last the truth emerged?

Yet these meetings, as unsavory as it may be for a presidential campaign to consort with a foreign power in order to win an election--to use a hostile regime to put down a domestic foe--these meetings do not constitute an ongoing problem for the president. His base of support is not swayed by the disclosures and it would seem that no obvious legal infraction has taken place.

2. A second issue is the alleged file of possible sexual escapades during visits to Russia. It is not known if such a file, including video, exists. This is another non-issue as it doesn't seem to matter to Trump's supporters. His adulterous lifestyle, including a lack of restraint over his hands that is ingrained into every child--keep them to yourself!--his infamous remark that represented the 2016 election's 'October Surprise,' and his overall misogyny have done nothing to undermine the support he receives from his base, including the Moral Majority, better known as evangelical, conservative Christians. It is a mystery as to why they excuse Trump's behavior, but they do, and these allegations that come with a murky undertone of possible blackmail have been generally dismissed by the populace.

3. A third issue could be the sanctions, which Trump despises, and his desire to ease or end them in order to have better relations with Putin's government. Putin's behavior in the world, the annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, his threats to his neighbors, and more may compel Trump's admiration, but these are political and diplomatic issues, not legal ones.

From here we now depart what is known or can be deduced from reports and enter into the world of sheer speculation. This is only a possibility. Mueller's investigation will uncover the truth.

SPECULATION: One thing really got Trump's goat in the ongoing inquiries and that was when Mueller expanded his investigation to cover Trump's financial dealings with Russian investors. That was when Trump issued a public warning to Mueller that he had better not cross a line, whatever that line marks off.

To acquire and develop his properties, Trump has utilized Russian investors. What if these same investors are the oligarchs targeted by the Magnitsky Act?

For those who don't know, the Magnitsky Act was passed in late 2012 to identify and sanction persons who were known to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating corruption. The passage of the act enraged Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by ending adoption of sick Russian orphans by U.S. citizens.

What if Russian investments in Trump properties are tied up in the sanctions and that is at the heart of Trump's desire to ease sanctions? Or worse, what if these investments, maybe not directly by the named individuals but by associates, front men or shadow companies, are circumventing the law and allowing the oligarchs to avoid the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act? What if Trump is allowing his properties to be used to launder these assets such that the oligarchs can get them out of the country?

Only speculation, an attempt to look at all the possibilities for why the Russian investigation is driving Trump bonkers. I don't know that any of this is true, nor do I think it probable, but it would explain a lot.

That is why the Mueller investigation must be allowed to run its course. In the end, if Trump has nothing to hide, he will be exonerated.

Whatever the outcome, I believe the Magnitsky Act will be playing a significant role.

In ending, Trump dismisses the investigation and all allegations as fake news, but he has tried to shut down the investigation in many ways. Congress doesn't agree on much, but it has a bipartisan solidarity in standing up to Russia meddling in U.S. affairs, an approach Trump does not share.

He has the Clinton problem. Remember the Whitewater Affair? For two people who maintained their innocence, Bill and Hillary acted like they were guilty. Same with Trump. If he and his people are innocent, what does he fear from Mueller's investigation?