Wednesday, October 3, 2012

SLO: Squashed Learning Opportunities

New York State has recently required school districts to submit updated Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plans, which are directly connected to the end of year evaluations for all teachers and building administrators. The plans, as described on the EngageNY site, are quite comprehensive and are intended to ensure that there is an effective teacher in every classroom and effective leader in every school. WOW - that sounds great to me - I'm all for effective educators in our schools working with our children... but wait, lets dig a little deeper into this whole plan.

As part of the submitted APPR plans, districts had to incorporate various Student Learning Objectives (known in these parts as SLOs) as tools to measure growth in student achievement for teachers that are not covered by state provided growth measures (i.e. - the New York State standardized ELA and Math tests in Grades 3-8). For example, every Kindergarten teacher and Physical Education teacher and Foreign Language teacher is expected to develop an SLO, implement it at the beginning of the year to establish a baseline and then administer it again at the end of the year to assess student growth. So, what exactly is the purpose of the SLO experience? To help enhance our student learning experiences? To help educators learn more about our kids in an effort to target and personalize instruction? NO - we are administering SLOs as a way to hold educators accountable for student growth - not the daily student growth that may not be as black and white as a test score - just the growth on these meaningless, disconnected and mind numbing tests!

In the few short weeks since the start of the school year, it has become crystal clear to me that SLOs do not actually stand for meaningful Student Learning Objectives, like NYS claims; instead, SLOs really stand for Squashed Learning Opportunities. Why, you ask? Well, let me share some informal data that I have gathered over the first month of school. Over a two week period, many of our children, including our precious little kindergarteners who are a mere four years old and are excited about coming to school, have sat through over 200 minutes (almost an entire school day) of testing as part of establishing the baseline related to our wonderful SLOs. While the SLOs were being administered in our school, I watched kids cry, have break downs and completely shut down because their self-esteem was devastated by the fact that they couldn't answer certain questions connected to the SLOs. Personally, I don't understand how a policy that is intended to ensure that our children are working with effective teachers can work when we aren't allowing our teachers to TEACH because all they have time to do is test, score tests and prepare for the end of year tests that the state will use to judge their effectiveness. Does that sound like LEARNING, which the "L" in SLOs supposedly stands for? NO! In fact, it sounds like testing - pure and simple TORTUROUS TESTING - NOT learning anything meaningful and important that can be synthesized and applied during real life situations - no - just TESTING!

How much testing do our children have to be subjected to until we realize that tying any educators' evaluation (which will eventually become public information) to the scores of these tests is MEANINGLESS, USELESS and INEFFECTIVE? Haven't we learned anything from the cheating scandals that have rocked public schools in Washington DC and Atlanta (and many other school districts)? Haven't we all realized that tying test scores to teacher evaluations does not work?

We are single handily squashing learning opportunities for our children because we have become consumed by this movement to hold ineffective teachers accountable based on student growth using different types of tests. Well, I am all for getting ineffective teachers out of the classroom and away from our kids but that cannot come at the expense of our kids' love for learning or at the expense of the tireless efforts of our effective teachers! I believe that the time has come for us to start a revolution - parents, educators, administrators and the entire community must come together and advocate for the rights of our children. We must fight the policies being implemented that are promoting more standardized testing and erasing the creative learning experiences for our children that foster and nurture critical thinking skills.

This plea is not about protecting teachers or principals. This plea is not about letting schools off the hook for their levels of effectiveness. This plea is not even about shying away from the challenges of enhancing and improving our public schools. NO - this is about PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN'S RIGHT TO LEARN! We must stop SQUASHING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES and empower our educational institutions to implement instructional strategies and techniques that will foster student learning and allow our teachers to teach for the sake of learning not for getting a high score on a test! From my perspective, we cannot wait another minute to start our revolution - OUR KIDS NEED US NOW!  

 

17 comments:

  1. Great post. We were just introduced to SLO's today. I will be judged by looking at my 7th grade social studies students 6th grade final exam scores and then trying to GUESS what they will get on my final exam. How can that be valid in any way? 20% of my eval score. Seriously?

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  2. Squashed Learning Opportunities - says it all! I also find it ridiculous that NYS holds teachers "accountable" for being aware of and being able to articulate what is considered developmentally appropriate for children when NYS education policy includes mandates that totally contradict that concept.It seems that students are the missing piece in Cuomo's "NY Students First".

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  3. More simple tests taking away real learning opportunities. I teach in PA and am seeing the same. On twitter many of us have been following #edreform, but I am with you, we need an #edrev. Adding more tests will not revolutionize education. Lets hold teachers accountable, but lets let the students love learning! No student loves testing.

    I share your passion and I hope we can join ideas about an education revolution.

    @MRStaubSTEM

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  4. Squashed Learning Opportunities - I love it! The hardest part for me was giving students an exam they were not ready for, having not learned the material yet. What that does is lower self esteem and increase math anxiety. Not a good way to start off the school year for our children.

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    1. Teachers are being PREVENTED from more vital assessments by APPR!!! How about assessment of each child's emotional state, psychological needs, social needs, behavior, readiness for learning, etc.. State tests don't assess any of these vital issues. Teachers... Professionally trained teachers assess the whole child every day from moment to moment. The time, energy and emphasis put on testing has crushed our ability to do our jobs.. To do what's right for children. Sad trend that needs to end.
      Mike Pekor

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  5. Awesome blog!! Students should definitely start every year off with a feeling of motivation, and thoughts of, "I CAN do this!" Hours of testing SQUASHES their motivation, want, and WILL to learn. Squashed Learning Opportunities is right!

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  6. Excellent post-- time to get the parents up to speed.

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  7. Great post! As an educator in the midst of all of this, I am truly disheartened and frustrated. This is not what good teaching is. I was much more effective when I was not stifled and constricted by all of these assessments and evaluative measures that are being implemented.

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  8. I give my children a "quiz" on the first day of school. It is all about me and they surely cannot know any of the information in the 4 questions. I then tell them that every other test I give will be easier for them because they will have learned the information before being tested. I realized while giving them the ELA and math 'Squashed Learning Opportunities' that I had told them a lie and I felt awful. This is not what we want to do to our children. Thanks for your wonderful insights, Tony.

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  9. Well said! Thanks for putting this in terms which people who aren't in the education field can understand.
    Politicians trying to implement educational reform is like a third grade teacher trying to reform the corporate tax code!

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  10. Great post! Thanks for putting what we feeling into words.

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  11. Your thoughts are so well put! I love your new version of SLO. It is so unfortunate for our children. As an educator and a mother, I stand by your thoughts.

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  12. Mweisblack@ jerichoschools.orgOctober 5, 2012 at 7:59 PM

    Wow! I am totally blown away by the power of ur blog! You are our voice and I hope it is heard nation wide! I totally agree with what u r fighting for and it is about the kids! Let's keep fighting and make our teaching optimum for the kids!

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  13. This post is enlightening, but also leads to the question - What can we do? As a parent, not an educator, what can I do to stop the endless testing of my children? After many years at our school, I know the level of excellence of our teachers and staff. I also have the utmost confidence in our administration that if there is a problem it will be handled. APPR and SLOs are not improving the quality of the education my children are receiving. They only stress them out and take valuable time away from the creativity of our professionals!

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  14. Tony, as usual you offer insight in such powerful words. I watched my students cry and get upset because they could not answer questions that were on the SLO. It upsets me that people who are not in a classroom everyday, or have direct interaction with children and educators, get to tell us what is best for our students. We all love what we do and try to pass that on to the children so they love learning. SLO's are not the way! Thanks for being our voice and supporting us.

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  15. I completely agree that it's time to start a revolution. I have never felt so frustrated, insulted, helpless, and exhausted. As an art teacher, 20% of my "grade" will be based on 11th grade English Regents scores. 20% of my grade will come from the ridiculous pre-assessments I was forced to give. I would like to point out that part of the Studio in Art assessment includes analyzing a work of art using the elements of art, one of which is color, yet the artwork is a low-quality black and white image. That's just the tip of the iceberg. I am a professional with a Masters degree, have a ton of student loan debt, and LOVE my students and my job. I have stacks containing years of positive observations. I have happy parents, I have successful students. Why am I suddenly made to feel like I am a complete idiot, unable to make the best decisions for my students? Why are we constantly forced to do more work, add more stress, more red tape, with no positive outcomes for our students or ourselves, and not given a second of time to deal with any of it - not a dollar more compensation for the extra time spent grading these assessments and trying to make sense out of them? It's ridiculous! I teach high school, and when I explained this whole "situation" and the reason for the assessments to them - because I believe they should know and understand why they are taking them - they were furious! Our kids aren't stupid! My 15 year olds had about 20 better ideas than the state of NY in terms of assessments and teacher evaluations in about 20 minutes. We need to snap out of this - something needs to be done - but I don't know how, or what to do.

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  16. As a 3rd grade teacher, my students will take their first State ELA/Math tests in the Spring. Therefore their growth (and my effectiveness) will be measured by two different tests - the district chosen standardized test given at the beginning of the school year and the State test given in the Spring. My other complaint is that SLO's encourage us to set low expectations for our students rather than having high expectations for all. Setting an SLO "too high" will negatively impact on my evaluation score if the student fails to reach it. I would never want my students or their parents to see the SLO document that I am forced to write.

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