Many of us in education have deep misgivings about the role standardized tests play in our schools. As a principal, I’ve had a front-row seat to incidents that illustrate why we should be seriously concerned. Let me tell you about one of them.
A few years ago, an assistant superintendent approached me about the performance of my kindergarten teachers. He had looked at the school’s scores from a commonly used standardized test and had identified an underperforming kindergarten teacher.
He pointed out that in one of my four kindergarten classes, the student scores were noticeably lower, while in another, the students were outperforming the other three classes. He recommended that I have the teacher whose class had scored much lower work directly with the teacher who seemed to know how to get higher scores from her students.
Seems reasonable, right? But here was the problem: The “underperforming” kindergarten teacher and the “high-performing” teacher were one and the same person.
I had just two kindergarten teachers. They each taught one morning and one afternoon class.
The idea that I should have the “high performing” teacher coach her lower-performing colleague was suddenly very concerning to me, not to mention impossible. It was clear to me that I couldn’t use standardized tests to distinguish high-performing from low-performing teachers. And this incident fed the doubts that I already harbored about using those same tests—which are meant to be “scientific”—to measure student learning.
Dozens of Variables
I am married to a scientist. He runs tests on plant pathology, analyzes the results, draws conclusions, and uses the results to develop solutions to the problems he studies. I am in awe of the tidiness of the whole process.
I, on the other hand, am an educator. At best, every child is an experiment of one. We test the children’s learning with admittedly limited instruments—standardized tests—that were never designed to be used as a standalone analysis. A lot of classroom time is dedicated to preparing for these tests and giving them. Results are affected by dozens of variables that we can’t control: illness, hunger, sleep deprivation, unfamiliar forms of a test, limited command of English.
While my husband carefully chooses which plants and which growing conditions to use in his studies to get more accurate and replicable results, I cannot even begin to predict which variables have the most impact on any individual student when she takes a standardized test on any given day.
However, in our best attempt to mimic scientific experiments in education, we insist on measuring the success of a learning intervention by students’ standardized test results. These are the very same tests that have let us down by failing to accurately capture what a student knows and can do.
Many people say that we use these tests because we have no better way to measure learning. That’s not really a good answer, much less a reason to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of an intervention, or worse, about the performance of a teacher.
Occasionally I’ll hear a story about a student whose abilities teachers vastly underestimated, and then a test at school finally revealed the level of his or her true capability. I do not doubt those stories.
But my own experience of watching tests and students for many years is that standardized test results underestimate large numbers of students as learners, especially those who belong to minority groups. Most often, it’s the teacher—not the standardized test—who will recognize a student’s true abilities and understand that the student simply is unable to demonstrate on the test what she knows and can do.
Teachers—good teachers, who are with students day after day through all the variables of learning—are far more likely to know not only what a student can do but also how to increase his learning. If we focused on that and worked to build our strength as identifiers and promoters of children’s learning, we could have a real impact.
I fear that the charade of saying testing can inform instruction has diverted us from exploring what can really make a difference in a child’s learning. And the precious little time we have to bring children as far as possible, to nourish their potential, to have them become capable of successfully navigating whatever world they will live in with confidence as a lifelong learner, is simply not a gift to squander. As sociologist William Bruce Cameron wrote, “not everything that can be counted counts.”
Margaret Pastor is the principal of Stedwick Elementary School in Maryland. She has more than 35 years of experience in education, and is the co-author of One School’s Journey, about teaching through authentic projects.
This week’s #TeacherTuesday shines the spotlight on Will Melvin, an English teacher at Central Bucks High School South. Will is a candidate for PA Teacher of the year and a member of the Central Bucks Education Association. Will was inspired to teach by his freshman English teacher’s captivating passion and energy in the classroom. Now he brings that into his own classroom, making sure his lessons are “relevant in the 21st century to a new group of adolescents.”
If there’s a teacher you think deserves to be highlighted, let us know in the comments.
Over the past 30 years, the cost of living has risen, college tuition has soared, and the education profession has changed dramatically. Yet Pennsylvania’s minimum teacher salary has remained on the books at $18,500 per year, unchanged in the school code since 1989. Now there is a legislative proposal, recommended and supported by Gov. Tom Wolf, to raise the minimum salary across the state to $45,000.
Why is this so important? There was a time when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued more than 14,000 licenses to new teachers each year. In the last few years, that number has dropped to fewer than 5,000. Pennsylvania, like other states around the country , is experiencing a chronic shortage of certified teachers, not only in our urban areas, but here in Bucks and Montgomery Counties as well. What’s more, the problem is most acute in the areas of math and science, which are critical to a 21st century education, and special education, where the number of students identified and needing services has increased dramatically over the past 30 years.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that up to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Experts estimate that the teacher attrition rate is about 8 percent annually, with higher rates in urban districts. We need to find ways to not only recruit a diverse educator workforce, but to retain them in our classrooms across the state.
The Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS) believes that increasing the minimum teacher salary can address this growing teacher shortage by offering better compensation. Great schools depend upon great teachers, and we can’t attract the next generation of educators if our best and brightest students aren’t going into the profession. If we truly value those people who are responsible for enlightening the next generation, we need to ensure that their starting salary is commensurate with other professionals in the state who have equivalent levels of education.
Who would be impacted by this new minimum? There are 288 school districts in Pennsylvania where a total of 5,152 experienced educators earn less than $45,000. Of these educators, 76 percent are women. Even worse, there are 1,130 education professionals who make less than $40,000 per year. Half of these teachers have more than three years of experience, 20 percent have more than six years of experience, and 26 percent have master’s degrees. And a few of them are right here in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
The governor’s proposed minimum salary increase would not impact local school district budgets. It would only require an increase of one-quarter of 1 percent (. 0025%) in the state’s basic education funding line item. This translates to less than half a penny on the dollar. It’s the right thing to do for the people who educate our children. It’s time to give these professionals the respect they deserve.
If you agree that well-educated professionals shouldn’t struggle to make ends meet, please contact your legislators to express your support today.
Alan M. Malachowski is a music teacher in the North Penn School District and a member of the Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS).
Her principal, Brea D’Angelo, has been quoted as saying, “When you walk into her classroom you are transformed into a world of true deeper learning.” Melissa states, “Student choice and autonomy is an important part of my classroom environment and how I can build strong relationships with my students.” And she adds, “When you give students choice in their reading and in their learning goals you can engage them at a higher level. Students in my class are passionate about what they are reading and what they are learning because it is student driven and they know that there is no such thing as one size fits all.”
What other amazing educators are engaging our learners? We’ll continue our #TeacherTuesday posts throughout the summer, so let us know and we’ll profile them in the upcoming weeks.
Bucks and Montgomery counties’ seven technical schools have equipped their students well as the 2019 graduating seniors prepare for jobs in the workforce, enter the military, study abroad and attend universities such as Lehigh, Drexel, University of Pittsburgh, Fairleigh Dickinson and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Technical Career Graduates
Of a graduating class of 342 at Bucks County Technical High School (BCTHS) in Fairless Hills, 98 are headed to the work force, with several joining construction unions or working for SEPTA, and another 24 entering the military. Nearly two-thirds are bound for further education at universities, community colleges and technical/trade post-secondary schools. The valedictorian and salutatorian are both headed to Drexel, and others will join the ranks of new students at Lehigh University and the University of Pittsburgh.
These grads were awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships and grants from colleges they plan to attend as well as $50,000 in cash scholarships received on senior award night.
At the Eastern Center for Arts and Technology (EASTERN) in Willow Grove, where students from nine school districts in Eastern Montgomery County attend half-day programs, 228 completed one of 14 different areas of study. Thirty-eight, or 17 percent, of graduates will work in related fields and 16, or seven percent, are headed to the military.
Technical Career Graduates 2
Another 64 percent, or 146 graduates, are pursing related post-secondary education at schools such as the University of Arizona and Drexel. One graduate will spend the next year in Germany through the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Program before returning to the US to attend Johnson and Wales University.
The EASTERN Foundation, supported by businesses, various community organizations and individual donors, awarded $40,000 for academic and technical achievement to 128 students.
The Middle Bucks Institute of Technology (MBIT) in Jamison is graduating 235 students. During the 2018-2019 school year, they earned a total of 1,642 industry certifications in fields as diverse as nursing, dental assisting, welding, cosmetology, Adobe Photoshop, network cabling, fire-fighting and emergency medicine. Of these newly minted grads, 179 are beginning full- or part-time jobs and six are starting apprenticeships in carpentry, electrical and plumbing with local unions. Thirteen grads are entering the Air Force, Army, Marines and the Navy.
One hundred are pursuing full-time study and another 47 will attend post-secondary schools and universities such as the Pennsylvania College of Technology, affiliated with Penn State University, the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, the University of Miami and Bucks County Community College.
Across Bucks and Montgomery counties, there are countless opportunities for students to explore and pursue their interests while often earning college credits. We invite parents and students to investigate how they can get a competitive advantage by enrolling in a Career and Tech Ed School. Learn more about the opportunities offered.
The teachers of Bucks and Montgomery counties have done it again! Three of them are among 12 finalists for 2020′s Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year. We’re happy to bring them to you as our #TeacherTuesdays over the next three weeks.
Leanne Jarossy, a math educator at Central Bucks High School West, and a member of the Central Bucks Education Association, has learned that in addition to teaching numbers, she also has the opportunity to impart critical skills such as communications and perseverance. Her principal, Tim Donovan, noted that she is kind, collaborative, and focuses on every student and their individual needs.
Leanne found her life’s work through two important experiences. She explained, “First, my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Perry, was so passionate and kind – I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.” And she added, “Second, my older sister, Karla was always two years ahead of me in math. She would often show me the new things from her class, which led to an interest in learning higher level math. I put the two together and found my career!
Tell us what other teachers light up their students’ worlds and we’ll feature them in a future #TeacherTuesday.
Today’s #TeacherTuesday is Kathy Rafter, the second person in the dynamic duo who was honored in the recent National Liberty Museum‘s Teacher as Hero contest. She and Cara Gimbel are both teachers in the A.C.T.I.V.E. Academy Transition Program for 18 to 21-year old students at Abington Senior High School. The curriculum helps the students to better transition from high school into an employment environment because of the important skills and connections they make as they gain confidence and develop a strong self-concept as responsible and professional citizens.
Since Kathy first became a special education teacher, she has been both inspired and honored by the opportunity to help students to realize their potential and to be a consistent part of their journey. She says, “The daily challenges that the students in the A.C.T.I.V.E. Academy face never gets in the way of their perseverance to be successful.” And she adds, “Making connections and forming partnerships within the community, and teaching students to become more independent in everyday living skills like cooking, travel training, and working in community has been extremely gratifying.”
One parent said, “I truly adore both of these wonderfully amazing women!! Thanks to them, their diligence and guidance (along with Casey Chakler), my daughter is #Arcadia bound this fall!!
What other educators are so inspired by the students who make them smile daily? Message us and we’ll feature them in an upcoming #TeacherTuesday.
Today’s focus is on Cara and we’ll highlight Kathy next week because there is so much to say about each of them! Cara, who did not attend public school as a child says, “Public schools provide so many different types of opportunities for students to excel and contribute. There is such a diverse group of young people coming together.” And she adds, “I think you learn a lot about acceptance and understanding when you attend a school that embraces everyone, regardless of where they come from or who they are.”
Cara applauds her students’ positive attitudes and increased confidence as they try new things. She says, “They get the opportunity to practice skills (independent living, vocational, travel, interpersonal) in a safe space, where they can learn from their mistakes and ask for help, without fear of failure or disappointment. I think the best way to learn is by doing.”
What other educators amaze you every day? Let us know and we’ll feature them in an upcoming #TeacherTuesday post.
It’s easy to see why George Daka received a 2019 Teacher as Hero Award from the National Liberty Museum recently. Today’s #TeacherTuesday, a member of the Bensalem Township Education Association, and an AP US History and AP Government teacher at the high school, he uses humor, points out human folly and shows his students how history often repeats itself. George also connects the past to the present in order to make the lessons relevant for his students.
He tries to create an environment where students “learn by confronting intriguing, beautiful, or important problems.” He also believes that providing “authentic tasks will challenge the students to grapple with ideas, rethink their assumptions, and examine their mental models of reality.”
His goal is to provide learners with a sense of control over their education. He wants them to work collaboratively, “believe that their work will be considered fairly and honestly, and try, fail, and receive feedback from me in advance of and separate from any summative judgment of their effort.” Relevant classroom visitors and field trips also help students to connect with the past and present in a meaningful way. You can see where he’s taken his students by googling “Where in the United States is Mr. Daka?”
What other heroes challenge and prod their students to be their best selves? Let us know and we’ll feature them in an upcoming #TeacherTuesday post.
National Liberty Museum honors 4 Bucks, Montco teachers
Educators from Bensalem, North Penn and Abington high schools received “Teacher as Hero” awards.
George Daka recalls sitting through “boring” government classes during his high school years in Philadelphia.
Years later when he joined the social studies department in the Bensalem Township School District and started teaching government, history and other classes, Daka remembered that earlier time and vowed to make his classes as interactive and engaging as possible.
He’s been successful in that endeavor, and it’s been noticed. Daka was one of four high school teachers from Bucks or Eastern Montgomery counties to recently receive “Teacher as Hero” awards from The National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. Also recognized were Abington High School special education teachers Caroline Gimbel and Kathy Rafter and North Penn High School English teacher Sakita Tinsley.
They were among 13 Philadelphia area teachers to be honored from among 77 nominations received from fellow educators, administrators, students and residents in the contest sponsored by State Farm.
“I was really surprised by the honor, absolutely taken aback by it,” said Daka, who now teaches mostly Advanced Placement government but also AP history classes at Bensalem High School.
To make those subjects come alive for students, Daka makes frequent use of things like classroom visits from local and state government officials and field trips. The idea is to not just learn about government, but see it in action and hear about how it works from those who are part of it, he said.
“I think about what can excite students, what makes government meaningful?” Daka said. “It’s actually bringing in live people who have a real relationship with government, not just notes on a page. I want students to realize their world isn’t just the four walls of the classroom. We’re a 20-minute train ride from one of the largest cities in the U.S.”
Daka has spent his entire 20-year teaching career in Bensalem.
“I don’t even look at it as work,” he said. “I enjoy coming to school every day and thinking what else can I do to help my students. It’s about giving students as many opportunities as possible. These are our next leaders, and the next people who will be teaching our kids.”
Teacher as Hero awards recognize outstanding educators who represent best practices in teaching and serve as role models to their colleagues and students, a National Liberty Museum news release stated.
“George Daka is recognized as an innovator in the classroom, taking advantage of every resource and opportunity to better the learning environment for his students and, on his own time, arranging for weekend field trips and guest speakers,” it said.
Abington High School special education teachers Gimbel and Rafter started a program four years ago that teaches job and independent living skills to students ages 18 to 21. Through various means, the program strives to make the students active and productive members of their communities, the two teachers said.
Students in the program spend four days a week at jobs and the other day going to restaurants, grocery stores and other locations, the two teachers said. The trips are meant to increase financial literacy and other life skills, they added.
The program has been challenging but very rewarding, Gimbel and Rafter said.
“It’s about meeting them where they are and making the most of what skills they have,” Rafter said. “We want them to grow in their strengths and be able to adapt to different situations and reach their maximum potential. I’m so happy to come to work every day and work with these kind, hard working and wonderful young people.”
Watching the students celebrate their successes and learn from their mistakes has been gratifying, Gimbel added.
“Our mission is to make sure these students don’t end up sitting on a couch every day,” she said. “They need to have jobs, participate in community activities and have friends.”
In addition to her English classes, North Penn’s Tinsley is also advisor to the high school’s African American Advocacy Club and the Muslim Student Association, the museum news release said.
“Her personal connections and influence with each of her students continues well past their years in her classroom,” it said.
Unbridled joy is how Tinsley describes the experience she gets from her job.
“My students are a priority in my life,” she said. “Their academic and social needs are always at the forefront of my mind when I am planning lessons and considering ancillary materials that can be connected to the curriculum that I am responsible for teaching. I am positive that engaging in discourse with their peers will lead to a sense of empathy that can be the impetus of understanding someone that does not look like them or come from a similar place.
“I love that I get to be around kids every day. I love that we get to explore literature and have awesome discussions. I love to watch them mature and gain confidence in themselves that they simply didn’t have at the start of the year; and I love to seem them become the leaders that they were born to be.”
The 13 teachers will be honored during an awards ceremony at the National Liberty Museum at 321 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia on May 11. Their awards will become part of a museum exhibit for a year, and they will also receive a family museum membership, a guided tour for one of their classes and a glass trophy.
All 13 are also in the running for Exceptional Teacher, Caring Classroom and Good Neighbor awards of $500 each. Winners of those awards will be announced at the May 11 event.