One last thanks to America’s domestic heroes

The opportunity to blog, read articles, and read other peoples’, blogs over the past few months open my mind up to many of the unnoticed and unrecognized struggles that families of soldiers face.  While I understood that having a loved one overseas was not an ease thing to deal with, I did not understand the complex emotions involved in this separation.  Throughout my blog, I talked about many struggles the soldiers’ families go through, but a few main topics caught my mind.  Amongst these topics are deployment and its effect on families as well as the significance of e-mail and letter exchanges between soldiers and their families.

Throughout the semester I blogged numerous times about the effect of deployment on families.  Whether this deployment results in hurried marriages, the absence of a father for his child’s birth, or simply saying goodbye to kids and wives in order to fight overseas, it is never an easy departure.  After reading personal stories, whether in articles or blogs, I now understand these families’ pain better.  With this sense of empathy,  I question, Are enough services provided to families of soldier’s to work through this difficult time in their lives.  These men and women, waiting at home, wake up everyday wondering and worrying about how their loved one is doing overseas.  At the same time, wives and children continue on with their lives and give up the opportunity to share experiences with their soldiers.

So, again, I ask myself, does society provide enough services to these men and women to help them get through their loved ones deployment.  In a sense I believe they do.  Communication is not cut off between families and their soldiers, and in some cases they talk on a daily basis.  Still, like stated in a blog that I read, there is still a longing for human contact.  Communication is made available for some units and numerous services are provided to families of soldiers back at home.  These services include support groups, aid groups for soldiers, and so on.  But, the more I listen to the voices of family members, the more obvious it becomes; although services and aid are provided to these family members, only one cure exists, and that is to have their soldier back.  Thus, the only solution to this pain and longing is the return of soldiers.

The war in Iraq has been going on for about 8 years now.  I remember the beginning of it when I was in 7th grade.  I am now a senior in college and still, troops occupy the deserts of the middle East.  I know I sound a bit like a beauty queen trying the win my crown, but I wish that one day world peace could be obtained.  Unrealistic right?  While we live in a world of violence, hatred and war, I have not lost complete faith in the human race.  The same species that created war, also created things such as the Red Cross, Make a Wish Foundation, and dare I say Extreme Home Makeover.  Therefore, humans are capable of goodness and compassion for one another.  Just think about it, if people took all of their negative energy and channeled it into positive energy, imagine the goodness that would exist in this world.  I know that this is a rather optimistic and somewhat naive way of thinking, but in a world of pessimism, someone needs to stay optimistic. 

Therefore, blogging about the effect of war on families gave me a new perspective on war struggles that I never had.  These people are soldiers who sacrifice, fight, and give the most precious gift to their countries. While many wish for world peace, the truth remains that we currently live in a state of war and violence.   So, as long as war exists and people continue to fight with one another, remember those domestic soldiers sitting at home waiting for their soldier to return.  They are the heroes behind the scene whom sacrifice their love and comfort for thier country.

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Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 4:13 am  Leave a Comment  

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Published in: on December 2, 2008 at 2:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Writing to Understand: My Concluding Thoughts

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Joan Didion

 

The significance of thoughtful writing should never go underestimated.  Over the last few months my mind has been opened up to new ideas and new issues.  Through reading and writing I have come to know more about the world of education the controversies in this field.  Through writing about the ideas and research of others, I have developed my own thoughts about the standardized testing controversy.  While I have never been an advocate for standardized testing, I now understand exactly why I do not agree with high stake tests.  Through writing and critical thinking I am now able to explain and understand my opinion.   As stated by Joan Didion “I write to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.  Over the past  few months I did just this.  I found meaning in reading, writing and studying the different ideas regarding standardized testing.  Therefore, I am now able to understand what these tests mean to me.

 

The research and philosophies that have been developed about standardized testing are rich with controversy and experimentation.  To be blunt, society does not know what to think about these high stake tests.  Are they good or are they bad?  Do they help or do they hurt?  While there are differing opinions about these examinations, there are some things that cannot go unacknowledged.  Through reading blogs and looking through various articles I have been exposed to the devastating effects that standardized tests have on schools and students.  Amongst some of these important factors are…

 

        ·       Standardized tests do not emphasize critical thinking skills in the classroom

·         High stake tests force teachers to teach the test in their classrooms.  This means that creativity, discovery, and exploration are all important learning tools that are being ignored.

·        The success and failure of a school, teacher, and student isbased on these tests.  Money goes to the group who performs the best.  Therefore, schools that need money to help re-boost the curriculum and obtain  resources for students are being deprived.  Standardized tests dig “failing schools” into a deeper hole and offer little relief for students.

·         High stake tests widen the achievement gap between minorities.  Minority groups struggle with these tests for a variety of reasons and instead of receiving help they are placed in low tracked classrooms that do not challenge them.

 

 Between the labels that these tests place on students and the tests’ influence on the nationwide curriculum, I have come to realize that standardized tests are not an asset to education.  Instead they hinder the confidence and individuality of students.  Through blogging and reading, my eyes have been opened up to the negative effects that standardized tests have on the education system.

 

So the question remains, what is the alternative?  This is the question that I have been struggling with all semester.  While I am not sure that I have an answer, I certainly have formed some ideas about alternative ways to measure the abilities of students.  For example, by evaluating students based on grades, projects and achievements, the focus will be placed on the student and not a number on a text-booklet.  I also think that the money schools receive should be based on the schools needs and not a test score.  This way students who are struggling will not be pushed aside.  These students will receive the resources and services that they need in order to succeed.  In general, I believe that these tests are an inaccurate form of evaluation and the success of a school should be based on alternative forms of assessment.   

 

All of the information that I wrote about in my blogs is obtained from RSS feeds in Google Reader.  I had never been exposed to RSS technology before this class and I am surprised at how helpful it is.  I am able to filter all of my articles from the web and have articles that I am interested in sent to me.   This saves me a lot of time surfing the web and I am able to obtain information that I probably would not have found without the RSS subscriptions. I am a huge fan of RSS technology and plan to use it for future courses and research.

 

I would like to end by thanking everyone for sharing comments and ideas with me about my blog.  People’s comments give me new ideas and allow be to travel down new avenues of research and thinking.  I am thankful to have had the opportunity to exchange ideas with everyone who has read and commented on my blog.  The best form to learning is through discussion and dialogue, and I feel that I have learned a great deal from the ideas of others.  With that said I am thankful to have learned more standardized testing and I hope to continue to write, read and learn more about the world of education. 

Published in: on November 30, 2008 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Colleges Introduce an Alternative

While standardized tests consume the K-12 curriculum as well as college entrance requirements, there is still opposition to the implication of these tests.  In fact, several colleges across the country do not require college entrance exams for acceptance into the college.  Instead, these colleges look to grades, projects, and extra-circular activities to decide which students are best fit for their school.  This alternative to standardized testing offers hope that these tests will not be the primary source of academic success in America.

In Alissa Groeninger’s article “Colleges consider dropping SAT/ ACT, University still sees need” she explains ways in which colleges are moving away from standardized testing and moving towards other forms of evolution.  In Groeninger’s article she explains that several colleges across the country are looking to grades and extra-curricular activities to determine admission into their colleges.  She quotes the assistant director at Worchestor College when he states,

“Students submitted Eagle Scout and science fair projects, among other representations of their capabilities.”

Groeninger reflects on this statement whe she suggests,

“Worchester has a hands-on curriculum, which is why the admissions department is allowing potential students to demonstrate their active learning abilities.”

Overall, colleges nationwide understand the significance of hands on learning and exploration.  This is something that a standardized test cannot identify.  Therefore colleges are looking at the projects and accomplishment of a student instead of a score on a multiple choice exam.  

While Colleges across the county do not require standardized tests for admission, big Universities still give primary focus to these tests.  Universities base these test scores on how well a student will do in college.  They believe that a test score is an accurate determinant of a student’s intelligence.  Therefore, while smaller colleges across the country see a child’s education as more than a test score, the big universities still give primary focus to these tests.

I feel as though small colleges that don’t require standardized test for admissions are on the right track.  A student’s knowledge goes beyond a simple test score and I think that by looking at the actual student small colleges are able to see this.  Small colleges look at students as individuals instead of a number.  They come to know accomplishments, critical thinking abilities, as well as the potential of their applicants.  On the other hand, big universities do not attempt to find out important details about a student that go beyond a standardized test.  While I support alternative ways of evaluation, I also understand that big universities do not have the time to get to know their students like smaller colleges do.  Although this is true, I do not think that standardized tests are the answer to this issue.  Instead I think that a medium needs to be reached and universities need to give more emphasis to the other aspects that define a student’s education. If Universities start focusing on the individual instead of a test score than maybe, just maybe the influence of standardized tests will lessen.         

Colleges consider dropping SAT/ ACT, University still sees need

By:  Alissa Groeninger

20, October, 2008

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Published in: on November 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm  Comments (1)  

There are Two Sides to Every Issue

As I was reviewing the blogs that I have written thus far, I noticed a trend that all of my posts follow.  While it is no secret that I do no support standardized testing for various reasons, I think that that it is important to explore both sides to an issue. Therefore, despite my disapproval of standardized tests and what they stand for, I am going to explore the affirmative side of high stake tests.  With that said, I would like to present you with an article from the Chicago Tribune.

In Tara Malone’s article “Illinois test scores show split results” she presents compelling statistics that suggest students from all backgrounds are doing well on these tests.  Unlike previous tests, standardized tests are now free of biases and are structured in a way that all students can succeed.  In Malone’s article she states,

“More Illinois students passed state exams this year even as a larger, more diverse group of students were tested.”

Many of the students being tested are ESL students who speak English as a second language.  Despite the language barrier that many of these students face they are able to improve and pass state issued standardized tests.  In fact based on the statistics presented in the article,

Elementary school students passed 79.1 percent of the state reading, math and science exams they took last spring, up slightly from 78.7 percent a year ago.”

While this percentage increase does not seem like a lot, the percentage increase is with an additional 59,000 students taking the test.  Therefore, based on the test score increase and the drastic inflation of students, it can be suggested that the biases and inconstancies of these tests are starting to lessen.  Malone’s article offers compelling statistics that need to be weighed and considered. 

I am very intrigued by this article and the argument that Malone makes in it.  Although I think that Malone makes a great point in that strides are being taken to make standardized tests fair and consistent, the issues of standardized testing go beyond accuracy.  The real problems can be found in the way that teachers construct their curriculum in order to ensure quality performance on these tests. When the focus of student learning is to “teach the test” then all joy and exploration is taken out of learning.  Students are not given the chance to think critically and are taught to conform to the regulations of a test.  I guess what I am trying to say is that the problems that standardized test inflict go beyond bias and inconsistencies.  The real issue is what the education system is taking away from kids.  The right to exploration, discovery, and challenge should not be ignored.  Therefore, while it can be suggested that strides are being taken to eliminate biases from these tests, there are many other issues that are being ignored.          

Illinois Test Scores Show Split Results

By:  Tara Malone, Chicago Tribune reporter

18, September, 2008

Full Article

Published in: on November 30, 2008 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Standardized Testing and Economic Division in America

What are standardized tests actually measuring?  Are they measuring the competence and critical thinking level of a student, or are they simply another way to divide the rich and the poor?  These are some hard questions to ask.  When it comes to standardized testing society desires to see it as a clean, clear, and non-bias form of evaluation.  While this idea sounds beautiful, it is a myth that needs to be broken.

As I was searching the web the other day, I came across a very compelling blog that immediately caught my attention.  In this blog, “Standardized Testing Demystified”, the author confronts some pressing and controversial concerns about standardized testing.  The author boldly questions the idea of whether or not standardized testing really matters.  He goes on to suggest that standardized testing is a mere measurement of what social class an individual is born into and is an inaccurate measurement of student intelligence.  In his blog he states…

“If we compare and contrast the testing scores for affluent and non-affluent districts, the affluent schools would show higher scores.”

As the author’s blog continues, he strengthens his argument by supplying his reader with information from fairtest.org.  While his blog is flooded with great information regarding this issue, there are a few key factors that I feel should be highlighted.  The main argument that is made in this blog is that low-income students are drastically damaged by standardized tests.  Because of lack of resources, poor living conditions, and many other reasons, the majority of these students do not perform well on standardized tests.  Not to mention that there are biases written within the tests based on language and culture. Therefore, based on these low test scores, students are given a less challenging curriculum, are placed in low tracked classrooms, and some are even assigned to special education classrooms.  These decisions are all based on a simple standardized test that may not even measure the capabilities of these children.

So the question remains, is there a better form of evaluation for than standardized tests?  According to this blog there are.  The blog argues that

“Better methods of evaluating student needs and progress already exist. Good observational checklists used by trained teachers are more helpful than any screening test. Assessment based on student performance on real learning tasks is more useful and accurate for measuring achievement – and provides more information – than multiple-choice achievement tests.”  

I do have to admit, this blog really got me fired up.  I think that the author makes a very powerful argument that is worth looking into and understanding.  America is in a rut right now. There is a clear division between rich and poor and it does not seem to be getting any better. I also believe that the only way to break this division is through education and equal opportunities. Unfortunately, as long as standardized testing is heavily weighted things will not change.  With standardized testing come judgments and placements on an individual.  A test score determines the quality of education that a student will receive throughout his middle school and high school years. Therefore, as long as poor students continue to do poorly on these tests, it is going to be difficult to break the cycle.  If you ask me, it is time for schools systems to make a change.  The harm that standardized tests inflict on students needs to be recognized and dealt with.  It is time to break the bondages of rich and poor and create equal educational opportunities for all.  

Standardized Testing Demystified

1, September, 2008

Full Article

Published in: on November 14, 2008 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Teaching the Test: What this Means for the Secondary Writing Curriculum

Most people who are in the educational field or who are aspiring to one day become an educator have heard about the concept of “teaching the test.”  While this idea is often thrown around amongst educators and administers, I can’t help but question what this actually means for schools.  Does “teaching the test” negatively impact all curriculums across the board? And specifically, how does this effect the ways in which writing is taught in the secondary classroom?

In Paul Thomas’s article “The Negative Impact of Testing Writing Skills,” he attempts to answer some of these questions.  In his article, Thomas argues that standardized tests are incapable of accurately testing the writing skills of students.  He suggests that,

“Standardized commercial tests provide narrow data on student ability and learning and distorted data on school and statewide education quality.”  

  He also brings to attention that what is taught in a high school writing classroom is in direct correlation with the skills that are needed to do well on a standardized writing test.

It is difficult to disagree with Thomas’s proposal that what is tested is what is taught.  Most schools across the country strive to do well on these tests in order to obtain money from the government and maintain a decent reputation.  Therefore, if schools are teaching students what they need to know to succeed on standardized tests, what exactly is being taught?  

In Thomas’s article he states that students must learn the structure of the five paragraph essay in order to do well on these tests.  Therefore, schools are teaching students how to write a topic sentence, how to structure and introduction as well as how to write the body paragraphs and the conclusion of an essay.  Students are taught one way to write and are rarely asked to think authentically and creatively.  Thomas illustrates this concept by stating,

“State assessment of writing has revitalized the traditional five-paragraph essay at the expense of authentic expression.”

I think that Thomas is right on with his argument.  As stated in his article, writing is an art just like music and theatre.  These forms of expression cannot be assed by a standardized test and it is ludicrous to even attempt it.  One of the most important traits that a memorable writer has is authenticity within his piece.  A skilled writer is able to write with a voice and feel as sense of ownership to the work that he has created.  By structuring high school curriculums to focus their attention on standardized testing and the five-paragraph essay, students will never learn the art of writing.  Instead they will see writing as a mechanical process that is impersonal and ordinary.  Therefore, I will confidentially say that I agree with Thomas in the fact that standardized writing tests block students from growing as a writer.  Writing is about exploration, ownership, and individuality.  I believe that this originality can only be obtained by thinking outside of the box and exploring new avenues of writing!  

“The Negative Impact of Testing Writing Skills”

By:  Paul Thomas

20, October, 2008

Full Article 

Published in: on October 21, 2008 at 1:35 am  Comments (4)  

Non-Bias Testing: Does it Exist?

At the beginning of the 20th century standardized tests were created to ensure that success was based on a person’s abilities rather than his social status.  The original purpose of standardized tests was noble and helped to ensure an opportunistic America.  While in the beginning standardized testing served a purpose in creating an equal America, today the tables have turned.

According to James Kunen’s article, The Test of Their Lives, high-stake states have taken on a very significant role in the education of students.  Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, students are bombarded with these high-stake tests.  Hundreds of standardized tests are designed to measure everything from the qualifications of a school to what college a student should attend.  Amongst many of these tests is the TAAS which is a test that all students from Texas must take before exiting high school.  This test acts as a factor that decides which students receive a high school diploma.

While this test is not the sole decider for graduation rates, it plays an important role in the future of Texas graduates.  According to Kunen, while most standardized tests have been stripped of biases within the context of the test, inequalities still exist.  In 1997 results showed that 7% of Hispanic and Black seniors did not pass the state TAAS while only 2% of the white population failed.  So the question is what does this mean?  Well, Kunen suggests that,

“Low TAAS scores, for example, have not been shown to correlate with the inability to do a particular job”

He goes on to explain that standardized tests neglect the abilities of students to work cooperatively as well as think creatively.

As I was reading this article I began to reflect on the types of schools in which low test scores are reported.  Typically, a low functioning school is not supplied with the proper materials or teachers.  Traditionally these schools rest in the inner cities where the majority of the population is minorities.  Therefore, I began to wonder if there is a correlation between low test scores and inadequate educational services for minorities.  Money goes to the schools that perform the best on standardized test and when inner city schools are not reaching the par, they fall further behind.  Kunen’s article brings up a compelling issue about the inconsistencies in standardized tests results.  I believe that this is something that needs to be considered and questioned.  There is not doubt that inequalities exist.  The statistics support it.  Therefore, steps need to be taken in order to change these results.  I believe that qualified educators as well as adequate services need to be given to all schools in order to tighten the gap between the performances of whites and minorities on high-stake tests.   

“The Test of Their Lives”

By:  James S. Kunen

20 October 2008

Full Article   

Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Shakespeare in the Secondary Classroom

I think that it is safe to say that the study of William Shakespeare and his work is one of the most dreaded units by high school students.  Even when students are able to overcome the language barrier, many are unable to pick up on the satire and complex plots that many of his plays have.  I know this because I was once that student.  I remember sitting at my desk and dozing off while my classmates painfully struggled through reading the text of Shakespeare’s plays. His work seemed irrelevant to everything in my life and whenever I had to read it I would always ask, why?

Therefore, since I am studying to be and English teacher I have been experimenting with ways in which to approach Shakespeare in the secondary classroom. In several of my classes at Grand Valley I have been given suggestions on on how to teach Shakespeare.  While many of these suggestions are interesting and practical, it was not until I listened to Steven Greenblatt’s lecture that I learned some great ways to teach Shakespeare. 

Steven Greenblatt is a professor at Harvard University who has deep rooted knowledge about Shakespeare.  When Greenblatt came to Grand Valley to speak, he spoke to the audience about his recent project regarding Shakespeare’s play “Cardenio”.  Greenblatt took this play and rewrote it with a modern touch.  He used modern scenery, modern names, and modern clothing to re-create Shakespeare’s lost play.  When Greenblatt spoke about the strategies he used when transforming the characters he said,

“Listen to the voice of the characters and transcribe what they say”

While he transferred everything into modern culture, Greenblatt was still able keep with the original plot and story.  He also made sure not to take away from Shakespeare’s original vision for humor and drama within the piece.

While Greenblatt did not create this play for a high school classroom, I believe that this approach is something that teachers should consider.  Just think about it, a Shakespeare play turned into something that kids find interesting and can relate to.  By asking students to re-write a Shakespeare play into a modern production, they may begin to see a connection between Shakespeare and their own lives.  They may beging to recognize that love, friendship, and revenge are all emotions that are relevant in both time periods.  Ideally, through this project students will begin to understand the complexity and excitement that exists in Shakespeare’s plays.  Hopefully, students will feel a sense of ownership to the piece and enjoy studying Shakespeare.

So often students are asked to sit at a desk and listen to a teacher speak about something that they have no interest in.  Rarely are they given the chance to explore a topic for themselves and find personal meaning in it.  Instead they are told what to see and how to see it.  I think that by taking Greenblatt’s approach to interpreting Shakespeare, students are given a chance to explore and enjoy his work.  Exploration is something that gets lost in education too easily.  Therefore, allow students to make their own interpretations, draw conclusions, and establish personal connections.  Who knows, the results could be astonishing.   

Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 12:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Standardized Tests Scores Make False Conclusions

In an age where standardized tests are consuming the educational system and students competence is based on an A, B, C, or D answer, it is fair to question the purpose of these tests.  What are they measuring?  Are they providing students with a unique educational experience? Are standardized tests teaching students information that they can apply to the future?  These are all questions that are highly debated amongst several education scholars.

In a recent article published in “The Seattle Times,” author Kent Hickory offers his stance on standardized testing.  In the article he suggests that standardized tests are preventing students from thinking about information on a critical level.  He goes on to suggest that,

 We are ignoring the miracle of learning deep reading, thoughtful writing, analysis and reflection, and focusing our attention only on its trappings.”

Based on a national study, results indicate that while students are scoring high in critical thinking areas, standardized test questions are not structured in a way that promote critical thinking.

Along with this argument that standardized tests hinder higher level thinking, Hickey goes on to suggest that standardized tests are an inaccurate measument of a student’s abilities.  He believes that it is impossible to measure a students’ quality of education from a simple standardized test.  In fact, Hickey proposes that,

“What these tests really measure, therefore, is how well students are primed for a test, not how well they think.”

As I was reading through this article I became very intrigued by Hickey’s claims.  I too believe that standardized tests are not an accurate measurement of a student’s intellectual ability.  I also agree with Hickey in the fact that these same tests do not challenge students to think at a critical level.

To suggest that a simple test is an accurate measurement of a child’s ability to think, reason, and draw conclusions is absurd and unrealistic.  While some conclusions can be made by looking at a student’s test scores, intellectual ability is not one of them.  There are so many factors that constitute a child’s education such as writing abilities, ability to think through a problem and draw conclusions, as well as a child’s ability to read material and analyze it on a critical level.  While some standardized test focus on these abilities, a timed 3 hr test cannot even begin to measure what a child truly understands.  It takes one-on-one interactions between students and teachers as well as constant exposure to a student’s journey through learning to fully understand a student’s level of thinking.  When a child is being measured based on these factors then realistic conclusion can be drawn.

With that said, I will confidently say that standardized tests are a false measurement of intellectual abilities.  A test is not capable of measuring student knowledge in an accurate way.  Standardized tests are simply an easy way to place labels on children without putting the effort into understand their thinking processes.         

Education? What sort of thing is that?

By:  Kent Hickey

16 September 2008

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Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 1:02 am  Comments (2)