Thursday, January 30, 2014

MAP scores, RIT bands, Lexiles, and other nonsense

I have finally evaluated all the planning reports from my endorsement students. This report is the first submission for the semester, focuses on their implementation of library research they conducted last semester, and will be followed by two rounds of preliminary reports prior to the final submission. The topics students have chosen are interesting and grounded in their own teaching contexts. All in all, I am happy with their submissions . . . but surprised about the number of students who want to rely on MAP and RIT and Lexile scores as their only source of data - as the only way to gauge whether their implementation plan is effective. I shouldn’t be, though. One of the things that depresses me is the loss of autonomy and respect that classroom teachers are experiencing. They don’t seem to trust their own professional judgment anymore – and they should. What does a particular MAP score mean, really? Teachers can tell you so much more about what students can do and what they need more help with based on their own formative assessments. And don’t get me started on Lexile scores – particularly as they are used to bludgeon young readers (as in: students can’t read outside their Lexile range).

Readability (measured in Lexiles) takes two major things into account: word length (reasoning that long words are harder to read) and sentence length (reasoning that longer sentences are harder to read). But in reality, if you take a long, complex sentence and shorten it into two sentences, what frequently happens is you take a sentence with an explicit connection and end up with two sentences with an implicit connection that requires inferences in order to comprehend the sentence. I am not aware of any readability formula that takes the considerateness of text and the reader’s prior knowledge into account. These two elements are crucial in determining how difficult a text might be for a particular student. I remember years ago, when I was teaching the clinic course at Clemson, we had a young 5th grader who was failing reading. We administered an Informal Reading Inventory to her and she did fine – read on level. We were puzzled and asked her to bring some of the school texts she was reading. They were awful – very inconsiderate – no wonder she was having difficulty with the school texts! In addition, the assignment was simply to read and then answer the questions at the end of the story. No introduction, no discussion, nothing. Her reading ability was being measured at school using inconsiderate text on unfamiliar topics. Reading ability is a measure of how well a person reads. Does anyone know what “fourth grade reading” looks or sounds like? Reading ability is rarely measured on the same metric as readability of text. So readability formulas may have a role to play in teachers’ instructional planning, but to use the results of reading tests to determine a particular Lexile a student is allowed to read makes me crazy.

OK – I’ve gotten off on a tangent again. Seriously, though, if this country is to improve student learning (and sometimes I wonder if that is the goal we have – seem like politicians and the general public equate test scores with learning – a big mistake), we have to change what we are doing. Currently, we are preparing students perfectly for the world of 1950 - but we live in the 21st century. Raising test scores on multiple choice standardized tests with one and only one right answer for each question will not prepare students to the world of the 21st century.

Friday, January 03, 2014

New Year - New Course - New Beginnings

Here it is, 2014 - and I am amazed that I have not taken advantage of this blog very often since I no longer teach methods courses. My new position at Wyoming has meant that I have primarily taught research courses to doctoral students, but I'm beginning to teach endorsement courses for inservice teachers, not quite methods, but close. I can say that my long absence from this blog has cost me as a professional educator - although I've made notes/ reflections electronically over the past couple of years, I have not done so on any kind of regular basis and they are not in one place (i.e., this Blog), but are scattered, filed away in electronic folders in Dropbox. I think that if I had kept up this blog, it would have made me a better professor - but I didn't, so that's that. I can, however, remedy that!

I remember my second semester, when I was teaching through compressed video (a format I hate) and ran into technical difficulties on a regular basis. What a nightmare! During the course, I made adjustments to avoid small group breakouts (which seemed particularly problematic) and opted instead for giving students time to complete think writes and then share them with the class. That helped a bit, but did not entirely solve the problem of lack of student engagement I felt as a professor. My ultimate response was to switch to completely online courses, and add some small group Google Hangout sessions, which seems to be better suited to how I teach. In any case, I am teaching an implementation course this semester, almost a methods course - it's the kind of course I most like to teach. Perhaps because I am first and foremost a teacher at heart. I've made some changes in assignments, and I am hoping they will make a difference for students as they develop their reflective stance. I am requiring them to keep a professional journal in the Learning Management System (LMS) we are using - I hope that they might find it so useful that they'll begin to keep a Professional Journal on their own. For now, and for those students in my class that might take the time to actually read my Blog postings, I want to think about the course before we actually get started.

I have a couple of students registered that did not take the first course, so I need to figure out what they might do for their culminating project. This might actually be an opportunity to make the two courses (EDCI 5770 and 5775) less "joined at the hip." Perhaps I can have them try the ideas we discuss - choose 3-4 of them and document through their journals how it goes. Then they might do a mini-review of the research on one of them that they find most helpful in their instruction. That would be a tall order, but perhaps it would enable folks who did not take the first course be able to complete a similar project to students who did take the courses in the specified order. In any case, I need to do something this semester as we are transitioning to this sequence of courses. I need to send these folks an email to this effect - and then get on with the course.