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Greg McVerry

Counting Things and Making Things That Count and #AERA15 reflection

@emamjohnson trust me. I like counting things and making things that count. Runs deep in the DNA #AERA15 — Greg McVerry (@jgmac1106) April 18, 2015 Had a

6 min read

Had a wonderful conversation with Emily Johnson about assessment at AERA. I am glad to see Twitter pick up at AERA and want to engage in academic discourse. Twitter at AERA looks more like a broadcast channel and not a backchannel.

I did not want to come off as someone who has a fear of numbers. I like counting things. Even if I do (try)a qualititative study I will end up counting codes. I will then want to tweak the learning space to see if I can cause a statistical difference in those codes. 

The conversation began with Emily sharing out a slide from Daniel Willingham. I agree  with Willingham that content knowledge = comprehension. I also agree with he and  Robert Pondiscio that reading assessment makes very little sense after basic decoding skills

There are some universal comprehension skills that can and should be taught. Yet the effect sizes of these lessons wane as readers develop greater proficiency. They also rarely transfer to other texts. Michael Fagella-Luby likes to point out that these strategy instruction is critical to special education students. He is right, but strategy instruction should not be the crux of our reading programs.

I spent my doctoral career designinging reading assessemtns. I had to design and validate seven different measures for my dissertation alone. I don't hate testing. I just think some things essential to schools can't be assessed.

We know reading motivation is a strong predictor of comprehension. Yet the word only appears once in the Common Core State Standards? Why? It is hard to measure.

Even more important is the love of the word. I want the students I teach to have a passion for playing with prose. I want them to have a library of reactionary gifs they can post on topics that matter to them.

I am not sure this is an outcome that can be measured.

My other issue is what happens when you take Willingham's and Pondiscio's position to its ultimate logical conclusion? If content knowledge matters most than someone has to decide what knowledge. No government agency should be in the business of deciding a universal canon of knowledge. We already ignore the counter narrative of People of Color in our schools. We suppress stories of the oppressed. We already ignore the diverse multiliteracies of today's youth. Having a government decide what we need to know is no democracy I want to live in.

I agree here with James Paul Gee that students have islands of knowledge. A very young child maybe able to understand a complex text about Minecraft or about baseball. This is regardless of lexile level but governed by discourses.

Here Emily and I disagreed a little (I think. It is very easy to misconstrue positions and intentions on Twitter). I just do not think the assessment regime schools have lived under since NCLB passage (or since Nation At Risk has been published) have been good for schools. If NAEP scores have been so steady in the era of accountability based reform why are we still wasting billions, possibly trillions, on the same path? Isn't replication the first step in ed research? Don't we have enough evidence that testing does little for schools? Could those billions being used on the bad math of VAM and teacher evaluation be better spent?

So how could we do reading assessment?

What if teachers had a competency based approach to comprehension assessment? I see it somewhat in schools. They have taken the CCSS grade level expectations and made report cards, but schools get these wrong. They often have a four point scale ending in 4, exceeding grade level. My issue, since CCSS are end of the year expectations what are you doing for the child who meets or exceeds this expectation on their report card half way through the year? What about the child who finished last year with meeting the GLE based competency? Why did you move on to the next year? Based on the assessment data we are wasting their time.

These are just some quick thoughts, but I was thinking about , reading comprehension, and the common core. A digital badge is a visual representation of the data behind the image. What if a teacher picked a series of GLE from the CSS and created a learning pathway that could be represented by a badge? The CCSS were never meant to be taught in isolation anyway. 

Teachers could then require the student to reflect on their growth along this pathway. The teacher could also collect and analyze evidence of student growth by tagging evidence in work products or student dialogue and text moves during the work process.

Then the students could be assessed on the vocabulary that matters in the discipline. They could complete concept maps pre and post to measure knowledge growth. These two assessments I am sure would go a long way in predicting how students would comprehend a text in any given disicipline. 

In terms of the harder things to measure: passion, engagement, etc., I do not think they can be counted but they could be cultivated. If you figure out how just let me know.

Greg McVerry

Opt-Out in NY: Now a Civic Duty not just a Parental Right #edreform

I used to believe opt-out was a parental right. I now see it as a civic responsibility in New York. What is underway is a direct

3 min read

I used to believe opt-out was a parental right. I now see it as a civic responsibility in New York.

What is underway is a direct attack on public education under the guise of raising standards.

I have no real problem with the CCSS, especially when states like NY addressed many of the short comings, through customization. It is the destructive effects of accountability reform that parents and teachers must resist.

What Cuomo is doing by using artificially constructed cut scores “aligned” to college readiness is creating a standard that is impossible to reach using math that every single educational research organization has come out as saying leads to error. This is creating the narrative that scores are low becuase schools are bad. Schools are bad because teachers suck. Therefore lets close down public education and privatize schools.

Teachers need to be evaluated. I would expect nothing less in any job. It is more critical, in fields such as education, when you get job protection under union contract. It cost districts hundereds fo thousands of dollars to hire and retain teachers. You want to ensure your community investment,

What Cuomo did to teacher evaluation, however, is criminal. Basic evaluations on 50% of growth on test is the first problem. As stated these methods are scientifically unsound. Since you cannot get anything but an ineffective if the  students  do not show “growth” the test scores count for a 100% and not the already too high 50%.

Then when he makes it impossible for teachers to present other evidence to establish their effectiveness the governor compounds the problem. Look at the list of evidence not allowed in teacher evaluations: lesson plans, goals, student surveys, etc. These are tools other plans use to balance the shoddy science of growth measures.

Then you get to the outside evaluators (disclosure: I work with districts in teacher evaluation and serve as an outside evaluator). Outside evaluators do score with higher reliability but the cost in Cuomo’s plan will cripple small districts. I also would never use a single point observation. A better role for third party is to serve as a quality check on principals and evaluatore. If a small sample of teachers is selected across the scale, rather than every teacher cost can be held in check and teachers get protected from the inherent bias in administrator evaluations.

Then you get to the fact that this edreform was baked into a “budget” deal. Cowardice representatives felt compelled to vote because schools would have been decimated without the funds.

Is it time for the fight to end? No. This is just the beginning. We need to fight the war on common sense. We need to fight the war Albany has declared on public education.

From Lady Liberty to the Lakes rRgions we must shout battle cries of, “Opt-Out.” We need these tests to fail if we want public education to succeed.

Greg McVerry

How We Misrepresent the School Security Guard

The school to prison pipeline is a common trope in edreform circles. Both sides, those who favor accountability based reform and those who favor community

2 min read

The school to prison pipeline is a common trope in edreform circles. Both sides, those who favor accountability based reform and those who favor community based reform, use statistics of recidivism and incarceration to their own gain.

An often cited symbol is the school security guard. They are described as brooding figures who will themeselves throw students in cuffs and send them upstate.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

We, usually folks far removed from the complexities and challenges of urban education, do not understand the role of the school security guard. They are often the front line of both mental health and student services.

In almost every urban school I have worked with the security guards are deeply intwined in the socio-emotional development and well being of kids. Students often turn to the security gaurds before teachers and counselors.

Security gaurds have shared narrative. They know where the neighborhoods, and the imaginary yet real lines between them. These staff members know the staggering amount of trauma too many students in urban schools have faced.

In many ways, much deeper than skin tone, security gaurds look more like the students than the teachers ever will. Often security gaurds are a multi-generational constant. They are the first contact parents and students have almost every day. Security gaurds are where students turn when the feel threatened, hurt, or betrayed. 

So next time you walk through the metal detectors (that's still a pretty scary symbol) and go to sign in at a school say thanks to the security gaurd and offer to shake her hand.


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