I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

16 September 2012

How to Create Extra Testing Cycles in Kindergarten.

I finally got the information (although not the scantrons) on the required assessment for Kindergarten ELA this year.

Three assessment periods are required.  This aligns with the new trimester report cards, but it doesn't align with reality:

  1. There is no entry assessment - the first assessment period is around Thanksgiving - so teachers will need to do their own entry testing.
  2. (This means that the district will not have any good data about how children started the year and their growth from the entry baseline.  Given the disparity in preschool availability, this strikes me as either intentional leveling or just a wasted opportunity.  The district should collect entry data and disseminate it - if we really believe in equity, we should be fighting for equitable starting conditions.)
  3. Parent Teacher Conferences have been moved into November (from October), aligning with the first report card/assessment period.  However, the assessment is really going need to be done well before those conferences and the 19 November data deadline if teachers intend to have report cards ready to discuss at conferences.  Presumably teachers will do the assessment early, but three weeks makes a difference in Kindergarten - the 19 November data isn't going to be an accurate picture of the Thanksgiving break student.
Beyond these issues:
  1. The word list includes non-high frequency words that I will now have to teach.  These are words the students would read correctly in a text (using picture and context), but a word list has no context.  So this is a case of needing to teach to the test to give students a fair shot.
  2. The testing requires thrice testing higher-level phonemic awareness skills (blending and segmenting).  Testing these in November strikes me as a waste of time - I haven't taught the skill formally, so it's basically an entry assessment, and the skill is hard.
  3. The reporting form is a true Scantron and unlike the Brigance cannot encode actual information (for instance, you report how many letters a kid knows, but not which ones).  So this is an additional layer of work.
  4. The district repeatedly indicated that there would be an entry assessment.  I know a few teachers who have done limited assessment so they wouldn't duplicate district requirements.  There is no entry assessment.
  5. I know how to give these assessments, but not every school has been using Fountas and Pinnell.  I sure hope the district is planning training - and aligning with Treasures.  Among other things, Treasures teachers way fewer words (and different ones) than are on the word list.
None of these are HUGE issues, but they collectively betray a troublesome lack of planning.  The remove between district decisions and their impact on classrooms is too big, and the sense of urgency at the district level is nil.  Monday is the twentieth day of school and information is just getting to sites about the testing.  That's a problem.
School funding is down nationwide.  California is trying to pass a ballot initiative that will merely restore schools to the funding levels of a few years back.  I just read this article, which observes that Tuscon schools are struggling to protect full-day Kindergarten and turning to parents for suggestions on where to cut.  And it's not just that Rahm Emmanuel doesn't like teachers - having plundered their pension fund to cover district expenses, he still has a $1.5 billion deficit to handle (perhaps he could begin by getting Penny Pritzker and the UofC to cough up that TIF money they took or shaking down his buddies at Exelon).

Yet as funding decreases, standardized test goals keep going up.  So what if Kindergarten is a half-day, forty kid cattle call?  The Common Core standards are in, and those kids need to do better every year.  Who cares if your physical plant is falling apart?  Those kids better be scrambling toward one hundred percent proficiency.

Not that it impacts Excelon, Rahm Emmanuel, media pundits, or government officials if the funding falls and the test scores don't increase.  Clearly, an inability to do the impossible is the fault of lazy, greedy teachers on strikes of choice.  Right?

In other news, when the contract details come down, I look forward to seeing apologies from the anti-union "liberal media".  (Someone should have told the New York Times that Illinois teachers aren't actually allowed to strike about class size or classroom conditions, but I guess fact-checking is for little people).  I won't be holding my breath or anything, of course.

10 September 2012

Solidarity Matters.

So I went to the University of Chicago: a notorious home to nerds, really disturbing economic theory, classrooms sealed with lead because of radiation from experiments before the Manhattan project, and law professors who become Presidents and Supreme Court justices.

Our campus had air-conditioning, because summer in Chicago sucks.  There's nothing like walking home after last call at 2:00am and passing a time/temperature sign reporting that it's still over 100 degrees.

It is not too much to ask Chicago Public Schools to get a timetable for air-conditioning all schools.  Nor is it too much to ask that negotiated and approved wage increases be given, not taken away on suspicious economic grounds.  And compensating teachers for extra hours of classroom time seems reasonable (also?  One of the reason Chicago had "short" school days is because most schools had no recess whatsoever.  When you look at the actual instructional minutes, well, let's just say it's clear that Rahm Emmanuel's kids never went to CPS schools, because he'd complain less if he had the facts.

CTU isn't just fighting for Chicago's schools and students, though.  They're also taking on the usual suspects - charter schools, for-profit charter schools, investment bankers who want to do for public education what they did for the housing market - for all of us.

Please consider supporting their strike fund.

08 September 2012

Little Fears, Big Fears

For the last three years, I've had a Resident Teacher in my classroom.  The Resident is a student teacher, with the significant advantage of being nearly full-time.  While I have to plan for and train the Residents, it's obviously a bonus: more small-group instruction, another person to laminate things, someone to assist when a first-day Kster tantrums out.  So sometimes I worry that I don't really know how to run a classroom by myself anymore.

On Fridays, the Residents have a seminar and leave in the mid-morning.  The three Friday afternoons have been easy enough, with big craft projects after some math and language practice.  During this last one, I realized that I can still teach by myself.  It was a big relief; eventually, I imagine, the Residency program will end and I'll be on my own with twenty two four and five year olds again.

We had a major and disturbing theft at school this week, and the response from on high as yet has been that perhaps they'll upgrade the alarm/camera system...when the third third of the school bond money starts pouring.  I am so tired of waiting for this money.  Waiting on it is why we don't have functional heating in my wing of the school.  It's why we have lead pipes in the classrooms.  It's why the district is lagging on dealing with the massive mouse issue.  Sure, these things cost money.  But they also make learning and teaching more difficult.  And honestly, I have a hard time believing that the Central Office staff would be left without heat waiting for the money to come through.

05 September 2012

TWELVE school days into the year, and I still haven't been able to find out

  • what sections of the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Assessment I am supposed to give (woe betide the teachers who haven't been using it already, for they are even worse off)
  • when I will receive the recording sheets I will have to fill out for each and every child
  • when SFUSD anticipates having these assessments turned in to the Central Office.
I mean, it's not like I'm teaching anything right now, right?  This will be totally authentic beginning of the year data no matter when they bother to get materials to teachers.  October, November - whatever!*

The latest word is that we are to give ALL of the Fountas and Pinnell to ALL students, but this is so insane I have to hope I can assume it's a baseless rumor.  Why precisely I would give a spelling inventory and a phonogram reading list assessment to a child who has mastered just two or three letters is unclear - unless the purpose is "to waste instructional time while also making children feel bad".

Moreover, the entire battery is an enormous amount of assessment - at the end of the year, we're talking two weeks of heavy-duty daily assessment periods - or a week of Resident teaching while I assess every day, all day and into the after school program.  Why so long?  Because it's all individual.  And there's no math component, so I guess I should tack some time on for that.

This is really feeding a broader issue I have with non-classroom people.  I don't have the option to open my classroom on the first day of school and not be ready to go.  It is physically impossible to prepare for the year in the time for which I am paid; therefore, I give hours - this year, over a full-time week - to preparation.

Yet apparently the central office will get around to beginning of the year assessments whenever they feel like it.  Similarly, we won't be starting library or PE until the fourth week of school - books to inventory, schedules to make, materials to receive.  I can see why a week might be necessary to get up to speed, but three?  Could none of this work be done the way the teachers do it - on their own time?  And if not, why are these out-of-classroom professionals so cavalier with my time?

In the end, the whole "sense of urgency" thing school leader types talk about doesn't seem to mean anything to them personally.  They have a sense of urgency for me, but not for themselves.

*I've been doing assessment the past couple of weeks, because of that whole "data-driven instruction" thing the Reform and Accountability people believe in (although not enough to GET US ANY MATERIALS).  This means that when I get the Scantron sheets I will have the pleasure of filling them in not during assessment, but from my assessment records.  This will add a few hours to the process, not to mention being a huge waste of my productive time.  I TEACH KINDERGARTEN.  I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE NAMES ON AND LAMINATE.

01 September 2012

The Annual Count Stress

As a small school with no particular cachet (to outsiders: we think we have many exciting and unique qualities), the enrollment saga is an annual stress.  Since we're small, it doesn't take much to tip us into needing another classroom - or losing one.  And Kindergarten enrollment is always fraught.

This year, we have been nearly full or entirely full at Kindergarten since a couple of weeks before school started.  Usually we don't fill up until the first day of school, if at all.  Also, there's been less movement: I didn't have any students leave after the three-day count (when places may open up at schools families have wait-pooled).  There was also an eight-day count, and nothing happened.  Friday was ten days, so I imagine there could be some shifts this week.

Also interestingly, we must have been officially closed for enrollment at some point, because this week we got a few students who started at different schools and then transferred in.  I'm guessing that enrollment district-wide is up, so we're just riding that wave.  Or maybe it's the new-ish enrollment plan.  I'd like to think that our local rep is up, though.  I mean, we do run a tight Kindergarten program, with a lot of cool programs and opportunities not available at every school.  A number of our teachers received various awards and recognition from local and even national groups over the last couple of years.

Anyway, high enrollment is great in terms of budget and staff stability; it's less fortunate for class sizes. Speaking as a seasoned professional, there's a big difference between a class of eighteen and a class of twenty-three at the primary grades; I would prefer the smaller class to my new contract sweeteners for over-enrollment.  And our upper grades are really big this year; we cannot afford to buy them down (some schools in the District can and do, and no matter the source of their funding it is to my mind one of the biggest inequities the District enables) and quarters are pretty cramped.