Archive for the ‘Teacher Stories’ Category

Can We Take Back Assesment?

08 Dec

Teacher Stories

Submitted on December 8, 2011 by Timothy Boyle

Can you remember the last time your principal looked at data from an assessment you made? I don’t. Do you recall the last time you sat down during a half-day professional development and discussed data that didn’t come from an external testing company?  Since I started as a teacher, I can’t think of anything other than PSSAs or predictive test results being the focus of data reviews at staff meetings. It disturbs me how our students are primarily measured by federal, state and local standards using measurements that we didn’t create.

These externally created assessments have created serious problems in our schools. District leadership and administrators bully teachers and students into engaging in teaching and learning activities just for the sake of doing well on these assessments. Students tune out curriculum that is based on outputs like test scores, rather than tuning in to inputs like passion and interest. In an effort to appease the ever-menacing accountability monster, some administrators and teachers put their licenses on the line and cheat.  We get these products because assessment is no longer something we do, but rather something that is done to us. Read the rest of this entry »


Is Relentless Test Prepping a Constructive Response?

29 Nov

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Teacher Man on November 29, 2011

My principal recently made it very clear to me that the only written works produced by my 7th and 8th grade students worthy of display, are their constructed responses.  In the Philadelphia School District and in my school especially, children are regularly expected to write these limiting and repetitive responses per the direction of our central leadership.  According to my principal, it is vitally important that students score the maximum amount of points allowed for the opened-ended responses on the PSSA test. He says that students who do well on the constructed response portion of the PSSA are the ones who obtain the highest overall scores on the test.  This reasoning allows administrators like him to believe that putting enormous amounts of educational time and energy into teaching and writing constructed responses will help students achieve the highest scores possible. Read the rest of this entry »


A Classroom Activist Deals with High-Stakes Testing

22 Nov

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Serena on November 22, 2011

Teaching in Philadelphia these days at a time of high-stakes testing requires educators to think beyond our administrative leaders’ expectations of an effective teacher.  The Administrative District Teams that walk through our school buildings and classrooms are understandably anxious that students perform well on the standardized state test, but they do not ask the tough questions about how we are truly meeting the needs of our students, and whether or not authentic and deep learning is taking place.

I do not mind spending some time preparing students for the PSSA, nor do I mind looking at Predictive Test data or giving effective feedback on constructed responses, but that is only one way for me to help my students develop as learners, and the Predictive Test data is only a small part of what I use to inform my instruction.  I question the wisdom of overemphasizing the importance of these practices.  Where are we leading our schools, and what are we doing to our students and teachers, with this narrow use of data and this singular focus on test prep?  If we define effective classrooms solely with a checklist on evidence of test prep work, where is there room to nurture our students’ creativity, deepen their understanding of big concepts, honor their curiosity and questions, and help them connect their learning to real world issues?  How do teachers sustain the energy to look at individual needs in an authentic and meaningful way, when our administrative leaders divert our energy in multiple directions? Read the rest of this entry »


Scaffolding Learning… The Tee and the Pitch

18 Nov

Teacher Stories

Submitted on November 18, 2011 by Timothy Boyle

As I sat with our 4th grade teachers during a recent professional development, which introduced the Magnetism and Electricity module, I realized that I had figured out some important things about being a teacher. In my previous role as a science teacher, I had been successful. I attribute much credit to the well-crafted curricula by folks at Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley for helping me to help my students to do well in science.

During most of my time as a science teacher I created an experiential learning environment for my students. I would throw up my focus question, explain the materials and how to use them, and let the kids go. I developed some good instincts for when kids might get stuck on something, and more importantly when to let students figure something out on their own. After three years I knew when to be the tee, and when to be the pitch.

When you start playing baseball, you hit off of a tee. The tee holds the ball in place so that a hitter has a chance to practice making contact with it. We use tees because little kids need a lot of scaffolding to learn how to hit.  This won’t happen if there was a pitcher. Expecting a five year old to throw strikes to another five year old is unrealistic. Children at this age lack the motor skills and general body control needed to pitch with any consistency. Read the rest of this entry »


One Test, One Story…Is This All About The Children ?

10 Nov

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Joy of Teaching, on November 10, 2011

As a reading specialist, one of my duties is to identify students who are in need of reading intervention during the school year.  In the primary grades (K-2) this is done through teacher observation, review of student work, the student’s ability to work independently and a DIBELS benchmark assessment. However, in the upper grades (3-8) identification relies solely on the results of ONE standardized test.  The test was administered in March of the prior school year.

If a child scores below the 50th percentile, the child is determined to be eligible for intervention.  The students who score in the bottom half are then ranked from lowest score to highest score.  Those with the lowest scores are chosen to receive services by a reading specialist, math interventionist or attend an extended day program.

What I have found in reading, and important to note, is that the primary grade students who have had a thorough review of their ability are those who are in need of services.  These students have skill gaps that need filling and are easily distracted in large groups.  When they work with me, they are where they need to be to make improvement.

When they work in a small group, they have the opportunity to learn skills and strategies practice their new learning and receive immediate feedback from the reading teacher.  On the other hand, Read the rest of this entry »


“A Principal’s Thoughts About an Academic Walk Through”

07 Nov

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Frank Murphy on November 7, 2011

Taking a School Walk Through was an activity that I often engaged in as a school principal. By making regular short visits to the classrooms in my school, I accomplished a number of objectives.  Of greatest importance to me was the familiarity I acquired regarding the activities that were taking place in my teachers’ classrooms.   Additionally, the information I garnered during these visits helped me to identify the teachers who needed extra support.  It also helped me identify teachers who were capable of providing assistance to their struggling colleagues.

I started to bring teachers who were members of our school’s leadership team along with me on these walks.  This happened over a period of time, as the staff became more comfortable with the idea of other adults frequently visiting their classrooms.  When we entered a classroom, we would look for evidence of the practices we as a school team had agreed to implement school-wide.  For example, the members of our school-based walk through team would pay close attention to how often students were writing during an instructional period.  Encouraging students to use writing throughout the day as a way to make apparent their thinking, was a priority objective in our school improvement plan.  The walk through team would gather data that could be used to assess how well our school community was addressing this objective.

In making our observations, we were attempting to answer a variety of relevant questions.   Did the students use writing journals?  Did the teacher ask the students to respond in writing to important questions?  Was there an abundance of student writing on display?  Was there a writing portfolio for every student?  Did students’ writing show improvement over time?  This process was quite useful in helping us to monitor and adjust our instructional practices.  We identified what we were doing well and we pinpointed what needed to be improved.  The data we gathered was particularly useful in identifying the professional development needs of our staff.  This information also helped us to customize the type of assistance that was offered to individual teachers. Read the rest of this entry »


A Teacher’s Thoughts About an Academic Walkthrough

20 Oct

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Teacher Man on October 20, 2011

During my first year of teaching, a coworker did an incredibly kind and helpful thing for me. I was gathering myself at the end of very long day when this individual walked into my classroom and handed me a post-it note. It read, “On 10/12/2008 Sharae said ‘Mr. A. You are my favorite teacher”.

My colleague told me to stick this message to the bottom of my desk drawer and after (or during) tough days, sneak a quick peak at it whenever I needed to create some positive thoughts and feelings for myself. That note stayed in my desk drawer for the rest of that school year.  I looked at it countless times since then as it helped me to get through some difficult times.

On the eve of this year’s initial Academic Division’s school walkthrough I found myself in need of some positive energy. It has been almost 4 years to the day since I received that post-it  note. So I went back to it at the bottom of a very familiar desk drawer in order to find the energy I needed. Read the rest of this entry »


Teacher Stories

18 Oct

Teacher Stories

Notes from the Field

Submitted by Frank Murphy on October 18, 2011

In recent weeks, I have added a new post category to City School Stories.  It is titled “Teacher Stories”. Under this heading you will find the accounts of a team of teacher bloggers who work in the School District of Philadelphia.  In their posts, they will detail their daily experiences, challenges and triumphs as classroom teachers.

During the 2010-2011 school year, installments of my book, Confessions of an Urban Principal, were regularly featured on this site.  In this book, I offered an intimate view of my life as an elementary principal of an urban school.  It detailed the daily interactions and experiences I had with my students, parents and teachers.  Within this context I examined the multitude of challenges that I along with the members of my school community faced as we struggled to meet the accountability mandates prescribed by No Child Left Behind.

Hopefully the events and situations described in this book will illuminate for the reader the real challenges faced by dedicated teachers and principals across our country; challenges that cannot be described or measured by standardized test score data charts or political sound bites.

During this school year 2011-2012, the story and storytellers on this blog will expand. Read the rest of this entry »


Good Writers Will Be Smart Test-Takers

13 Oct

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on October 13, 2011

It took four years, but I finally got the hang of teaching students elementary science. It took hours of professional development, meeting some great teachers, and actually teaching, to figure it out. District finances and a leadership change left me uncertain as to what I would be teaching when I came back to school in September.

When I stopped into my home school this summer, I found out I that would indeed have a new position, test-prep teacher. As such my main area of focus would be on teaching the writing skills necessary to complete the open-ended sections of the PSSA. To get my head around this change I decided to return to what had worked for me in the past. I logged on to the PD planner. I found that the week before school started “Step Up To Writing” professional developments were being conducted. I signed up for them.

Learning from those who developed the curriculum that I would be teaching seemed like an idea that made sense to me. Right before I went to this professional development, I made the mistake of reading a blog that popped up on my Twitter feed entitled Blood Money. This piece presented a discouraging picture of the type of professional development that I was about to attend. I felt like the Step Up to Writing PD  wasn’t much different, minus the compensation, from the professional development described in the post. Read the Blood Money blog for yourself and decide how you feel about it. Read the rest of this entry »



06 Oct

Teacher Stories

Submitted by Joy of Teaching, on October 6, 2011

For many years of my career, I taught first grade.  I loved the energy and the desire to learn that came with my young students.  For many of those years, I used a basal reading series, designated by the school that only assessed my students on the end-of-unit tests that accompanied the series.  Even then I knew something wasn’t right.  I was missing something, though I wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was.

Later in my career, I decided to pursue my reading specialist certification.  At the same time, I began teaching first grade in a collaborative school that provided me the opportunity to use my reading knowledge in class with my students.  It was then that I was introduced to and began working with authentic reading assessments.  I used the QRI, DRA and a variety of real-world reading materials to observe, evaluate and plan instruction.  There were no end-of-unit tests, bubbles to fill in or true/false words to circle.  I used meaningful, engaging tasks that taught ME what it was that my students needed to learn. Read the rest of this entry »