Sunday, March 8, 2015

An Open Letter To My Teachers: I Am Sorry For What I am About To Do To You

First of all, you should really read "An Open Letter To My Students: I Am Sorry For What I am About To Do To You" by Mrs. Lifshitz (Sorry, I don't know her first name). That's where I lifted the title of this post, but her "Open Letter" is far more heartbreaking and well-written than this one will be. Her post is a direct apology to her students because she knows she has no choice but to administer the PARCC, and she is fearful about how it might affect them. She writes:

"So please forgive me. Please know that by giving you these tests I feel as if I am an accomplice in something that feels dirty and wrong. Please know that I value you more than this test. Please know that you are more than this test. And please know that as soon as this week is over, we will get back to our regularly scheduled learning."

I am just writing to apologize for the utter mess some of your classes will be this week, and again during the week of April 27.  As Mrs. Lifshitz observes, I too am an accomplice in something that's wrong and that may seriously disrupt your students' learning.

Anyway,  I've been getting a few questions about why we scheduled the PARCC the way we did. I actually suggested 3 or 4 different schedules, and trust me: they were all awful. Just so you know, here are a few things we had to consider:

  • Testing all 5 units at once would take at least two days, and to pull it off we would probably have to cancel all other classes like during the PSAE. Also remember we have to do all of this again the week of April 27, so that would be 4 total lost days of instruction for all students.
  • Some schools did this, but we didn't want to cancel this many days of school. 
  • Enough has been said about the difficulty level of the test, so we weren't comfortable with subjecting students to multiple tests in a day anyway.  
  • Even if we did want students to take more than one of the units per day, the time we have to allow per unit was very long. If we want to test during a normal school day, that would mean possibly extending testing into the lunch periods. Once that happens, things get a little tricky for the cafeteria. 
  • We are testing all online. Because this test is such an unknown in terms of our infrastructure, we were not comfortable with having all of the students test at once. That's why students are split into a morning group and an afternoon group. 
  • We also had to make a decision on the testing structure first semester- before we knew how the online testing system really worked and before we received any of the testing manuals. 

Although Freshman level classes will definitely be a mess these testing days, most other classes can function normally and school can continue. It's not ideal, but there really isn't an ideal solution with this test. We went with what we felt was the least awful option, but we'll certainly re-evaluate once the dust settles.

I've also received a question about what Freshman classes are supposed to do during these days. For example, your class roster is going to be a complete crapshoot if you're teaching Physical Science, Global Studies, English 1, Algebra 1, Health, Digital Literacy, PE 9/10, etc, etc. Click here to find the most updated student testing schedule

Frankly, I don't have any great answers, other than we are in a unique position because teachers have spent 3 years building digital tools and resources to use with students. So, you could build a ton of asynchronous assignments for your students: a discussion board through OpenClass, a set of questions students answer on a YouTube video via EdPuzzle. Actually, the #slowchat212 Twitter discussion generated a lot of ideas about "Virtual Learning Days." In other words, if the regular school day is interrupted due to extreme cold, snow, an earthquake, power outage, or standardized testing, we can still find ways to engage students in our curriculum.

However, there is no doubt that this testing is going to break the flow of instruction. Please be aware of this, and please be understanding of your Freshman students during the week of testing. It may not be the best week to assign a major project or assignment. Although I've obviously been very critical of this whole process, I'd caution us about how we speak to students about the test overall. I think we'd always like them to try their best, no matter what the task is. If the issue comes up, please just encourage them to give it their best shot. 

So once again, I'm sorry for having to do this to you and your students. I'm hoping that once this is all over, a more reasonable discussion with the State Board of Education and Department of Education can take place.

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