Friday, May 13, 2011

Servant Leadership instead of Leading the Servile

I am, how shall I say, fairly close to this situation.  It seems we read about this kind of thing a lot.  At least a couple of districts nearby are having issues of similar sorts in which people are unhappy with the administration.  I believe this stems from a failure of leadership, which derives from the fact that leaders too often think they're drivers, instead of servants.

What we need is more servant leadership.  In education we are always talking about stakeholders--the individuals who have roles, responsibilities and needs, to be met or undertaken in and through the organization.  In the case of schools, the first stakeholders are the students (and, by proxy, their parents).  Everything we do is supposed to be in service to the goals and needs of those families.  

Now, of course, teachers and administrators have a certain set of 'needs,' too, but the only one that really seems relevant is the need to have reasonable working conditions and expectations.  

But all too often, especially with new administrations, it seems like folks think they have something more at stake.  As if they have a bigger stake than they do.  A new superintendent, say, comes in with a lot of big ideas about the best way to do things, and wants to make things work well on his/her watch, to either validate the wisdom of his/her leadership, or show worthiness for even greater leadership responsibility, or both.

The needs of the primary stakeholders may or may not be well-served by this reordering of an administration's priorities, and you might end up with an inversion of the right orientation to the organization's work.

Think of the very opposite of a new administration 'brining in all its own new people,' as so many seem to do.  Why couldn't an administration say to parents, "You chair the committee, along with teachers (the next up the line from students and parents), to pick the new principal.  It's my job as administrator to serve that new principal (by providing guidance, help, support, resources, etc.) succeed in service to you.  Since I am to be his/her servant-leader, I can work with whomever you pick."

I am not saying you'll get a better principal, necessarily, but I do wonder why we assume such a route is to be rejected out of hand, and instead continue to accept that trusting oneself is somehow superior to and more reliable than working with others in a trustworthy way.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Test Results...what to do with them.

Our standardized testing is over.  With not much to do for a couple hours for several days, I got to thinking.
What have our results been like lately, and how would we evaluate the teachers' performance based on these scores?

So, the last two years' scores. 

Level 3 and 4 constitute 'passing.'  Level 1 and 2 are 'not meeting standard.'
The Overall at Standard percentage, then, is the sum total of Levels 3 and 4.

Move to the right for the performance of the 2010 8th graders when they were in 7th and 6th grade.
In other words, each table consists of the results for the same group of students, across the years.
PMS is my school, which consists of two language arts teachers in both 7th and 8th grades, 4 (they do LA-SocStud combinations) in 6th grade.

PMS %  (State %)
2010 8th grade testers
8th grade results
7th grade reading results
7th grade writing results
6th grade results
Overall at Standard
82.8  (69.4)
74.2  (59.3)
82.5  (69.8)
84.9  (68.9)
Level 4
51.2  (43.1)
38.1  (27.2)
37.1  (25.1)
40.2  (25.6)
Level 3
31.5  (25.6)
36.1  (31.2)
45.4  (43.8)
44.7  (42.1)
Level 2
17.2  (18.8)
23.2  (29.1)
17.5  (18.0)
14.0  (23.1)
Level 1
13.3  (10.7)
2.6    (10.2)
5.2    (10.1)
1.1    (7.2)

PMS %  (State %)
2009 8th grade testers
8th grade results
7th grade reading results
7th grade writing results
6th grade results
Overall at Standard
79.6  (67.5)
73.2  (63.1)
77.8  (70.0)
74.2  (68.0)
Level 4
48.4  (34.3)
40.4  (34.3)
22.2  (24.3)
26.3  (25.9)
Level 3
31.1  (32.5)
32.8  (27.9)
55.6  (44.8)
47.9  (41.0)
Level 2
14.2  (21.1)
20.2  (26.5)
18.2  (19.2)
20.5  (24.0)
Level 1
5.3  (9.8)
5.1    (9.4)
3.0    (9.3)
5.3    (6.9)

I still don't know what to read in these figures.  It's great that we're above our state average.  I don't know how much that has to do with me, or any other teacher, though.
(Note that most of the time we're also lowering than the state average on the 'not passing' scores.)

I was also pleased to see higher numbers passing at Level 4.  Then again, I don't know if anybody has talked of making that a measure of teacher performance.  What about 2010 in 8th grade?  High Level 4 pass rate, but also higher than the state on Level 1 scores.  Is that good, bad, or what?

What do we do with 7th grade, which tests on two language arts related subjects?  Do we evaluate their test outcomes differently?

I hope this becomes clearer, and more open, than the test development process.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Not so Standardized Test

For the 3rd year in a row our standardized state test has varied in some significant way (or two).

3 tests ago, we had a 6-day (2 for math, 2 for science, 2 for reading) paper/pencil test. Last time, under a new state superintendent, the test switched names and design. Not sure how, of course, since I can't look at the tests and their creation and content are closely guarded secrets. We also did the reading online. This year, we're down to a 3-day test (1 for each), back to paper and pencil for all tests.

So, we're taking the 'still standardizing' tests, or the 'in transition to new formats, but not changing the standardization of content--as far as you know' tests.

I don't hear a lot about the maintenance of test validity in this aspect. I guess we're just supposed to assume it's all right.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Civics Test may not capture what we're hoping for

Well, more data...this time that our students are pathetic in civics, too.

I wondered, so I wandered through the "report card" web site.

I came across this sample question.

The following question refers to the statement below.

The Second World War marked the most substantial change ever in the context in which United States foreign policy is made. The world that emerged after the war had fundamentally changed in economic, political, and military ways. These changes made the world a more dangerous place, and altered the demands placed on foreign policy.

The statement calls the world after the Second World War "a more dangerous place." What specific change could one cite to support this claim?

  1. The rise of the European Union (EU)
  2. The signing of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT)
  3. The decline of German military power
  4. The development and spread of nuclear weapons

The real difficulty here is that depending on your conceptual and philosophical views you might argue any of these. This is why my graduate political science advisor joked that the social sciences are the really hard sciences.

1. One could argue, for instance, that the EU only exists because of the American security umbrella over it, and the EU's rapid rise reorganized Western Europe into a potent power faster than it would otherwise have done, thereby threatening the Soviet Union, and making the world a less safe place.

2. Some might also argue that the increase in free trade (GATT) actually makes collaboration among the big and dominant economies easier, thereby making the world less safe for those smaller, developing countries. Indeed, dozens of millions of Third Worlders were killed in the years after WWII, so their world was less safe.

3. In slightly different contexts, some have indeed argued that a country of Germany's stature needs to have the military capacity commensurate with its size and importance. To withhold that from them risks their anger, not unlike the 1920s.

I'm not persuaded by the first and the third. The second is true.

4. But so is the fourth (in this case) anti-argument. Many analysts argue that the presence of nuclear weapons actually made the world more stable--the dominant powers were much more cautious with each other because of their ability to mutually destroy each other, though they were perfectly willing to undertake violence in the developing world.

So, what's the 'right' answer? I know they're looking for #4, but I'm looking for a student who can sophisticatedly render and evaluate the competing claims, not just one who reasons the same way as the test authors.

By the way, I saw plenty of questions that generated the same concern, to my mind.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Test Exhaustion...and we haven't even started yet

My mother would never believe it, but I feel like I have nothing more to say. I read education articles or blogs here, there and everywhere, and I get more convinced that these 'issues' will be with us...until they're not. Why they'll go away will have little to do with wiser or cooler heads'll likely just shift almost imperceptibly, until we realize a big change has overtaken us.

Okay...I just thought of something. We start our standardized testing tomorrow, so, like most other teachers, I've been practicing with a few 'released items'--sample test passages and questions that were rejected for final inclusion on the real test.

The other day, we did this one about a blind artist. (If you really want to look at it, you have to go pretty deep into the's after all the instructions and several other passages.)

One of the short answer questions is this:

Explain how Michael became an award winning artist. Include two details from the selection in your answer.

The teacher booklet goes on to explain what respondents might put in their answers:

Text-based details may include, but are not limited to:

A. His mother was a potter / he helped her fix her clay

B. Playing with clay as a child

C. “I knew that what I wanted to do was be an artist someday.”

D. Making small animals in hospital after blindness/Vietnam, continued to


E. Sculptures were photographed by newspapers

F. I get a picture in my mind / make his memories come to life

G. Inspires / leads sculpture workshops

H. Sculptures can be seen in museums/public buildings/Vatican /White House

I. People collect his work

Now, it doesn't matter which two items a test-taker lists in his/her answer. All items are equal, even those--like H, I, and maybe E and G--which don't really 'explain how he became an award-winning artist.'

H and I seem more the consequence of his becoming an award-winning artist, not an explanation of how he became one. I guess 'how he became' does not mean causality. I would have thought it did. But, by their answers, I gather they really mean something more like the event sequence of his rising to 'award-winning artist status.'

I hope this passage and questions got rejected for this flaccidity. I hope it wasn't something else, and that we really are (mis)testing comprehension with items like this.