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Alma Intermediate School February Letter to Parents

Click to open the newsletter or read my short, personal history of testing below.

News Alma Intermediate 0215

From the Principal: A short history of testing….

Looking at testing and accountability is like seeing a long arc across a number of years. I remember taking standardized tests as an elementary school student.  We never received any results from these tests and usually didn’t even know they were going to occur.

When I was a teacher, the Minimum Performance Tests (MPT) were given.  I was offended that my students could only show minimum levels of learning on this test. We found that results from the MPT didn’t mean much since most students could do all of the tasks.  Some teachers prepared for these tests by teaching everyone at minimum levels. Not good.

In my early days as a principal, we gave  the Iowa , and later the Standford tests. These were challenging and gave us good information about the learning of our students. These tests also gave us national comparisons of our students’ learning.  Very good!

About sixteen years ago the state began to administer the Benchmark Exam. This test was very challenging but gave us good information about our students’ learning.  We used the results of these tests in our student-led conferences, and our students had a good understanding of their past performance on this assessment.  They also had a good understanding of their goal for the future on this test.

During the first few years of Benchmark testing, students scored low because of the new format and showing learning in ways that were more challenging than in the past.  The Benchmark required students in grades 3-8 to give written responses to high-level questions and prompts in reading and math. We made adjustments in our teaching and some adjustments were made in how the Benchmark was administered. The Benchmark Exam became a good assessment over time.

We are now at the point of another change in how we test students. Students are being prepared to take the tests on a computer over content that is at a higher level of difficulty than ever in the past.

With change comes stress. As adults, we’ve felt stress due to change, but our challenge is to assist our students in dealing with change while managing the stress they might feel. Teachers have attempted to prepare students for the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) while continuing to provide a well-rounded learning experience for students. Taking this set of assessments will be a learning experience for students, parents, and teachers.

This test will probably change in the future, but high-stakes testing will not go away. When I read the learning standards of our state, these are things that I want my children to be able to do.  But, I want them tested fairly and equitably. Testing that is beneficial for students will require change and improvement over time as we saw with the Benchmark Exam.  Also required will be changes in how we as teachers and parents prepare our students.

Our governor is putting together a task force to study our state’s curriculum and how we test our students. This is a good idea and I’ll share input based on what we learn while watching our students test this year.

My hope is that we will see improvements in how we test our students while holding to standards of learning that we all want our children to achieve. Let’s give our children encouragement and let them know that we’re proud of their work. Regardless of how our children are tested, we want them to do their best and be able to show their learning.

Poor News Reporting Abounds

I never do this but tonight’s newscast sent me through the roof.  I fired off the following message and sent it to the station management.  I don’t have a dog in the fight where this news story is concerned but I do have concerns with the looseness we accept in news reporting related to scandals, especially involving school teachers.  So here’s my response:

Interesting newscast this evening…

A dad in a neighboring town says a high school teacher sent inappropriate text messages to his daughter.  This may or may not be true.   We don’t know because we’ve not seen any evidence.  We only know that there is an investigation underway, which there should be.  The school won’t comment because to comment publicly on a personnel matter is against the law at this point.

I know you’d probably think there’s more to this story but that’s it…. No facts (other than there is an investigation), just a parent’s statement reported as news during primetime.

A real news report might have stated that there have been allegations but it hasn’t been determined if they are founded since there is an investigation underway.  No one would be named since it’s just one dad’s statement with no other evidence offered.

A real news report might list the proper steps expected of the school district facing these types of allegations and then assure the public that they would give a future report updating what actions were taken by the district.

If these allegations are true, an ethics violation would be submitted to the Arkansas Department of Education Ethics Board.  The teacher would appear before the board for a hearing.  If evidence is determined to be creditable, the resulting punishments could extend to fines and revoking the teacher’s license.   Law enforcement would determine if criminal charges should be filed.

Now that’s a news story and it only takes a minute or two to share real information that holds educators accountable while protecting against character assassination in the event that the teacher is innocent or is the victim of a terrible hoax.

My problem with this television station is that we skipped a lot of steps that you would expect a professional news gathering organization to take.   We jumped right to the dad’s side of the story and left it there.  The station comes off looking like tabloid news.

I certainly hope the teacher is guilty of sending these text messages because, if he is not, then we’ve witnessed a terrible injustice on this man.  If I were a lawyer, I would be contacting this teacher in hopes that he’s innocent so I could file a slander lawsuit.  If he is guilty of this then proper due process should be taken to correct the situation and a creditable news organization would be expected to follow up and see that proper steps are taken.

I like this TV station (especially the weather reporting) and want to keep watching but I don’t appreciate thin news reporting, especially when we play fast and loose with the reputations of local citizens.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t know anyone involved in this situation.  I just want accurate news.

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