BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

May 8, 2010
by blogwalker
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Waiting ’till testing is over’ – 3 questions and a quote

I certainly understand the pressure teachers and administrators at low-performing schools are under right now to raise test scores. Not surprisingly, not all teachers respond to test-prep mandates in the same way.  Many believe in the power of months of drill to improve scores, and will, accordingly, consider allowing students time for a technology-related project only  “when testing is over.”  A few brave teachers, however, integrate technology throughout the year, across the curriculum, believing that student engagement, collaboration, and creativity will boost standardized test scores.

Considering the above and knowing that the state of California is proposing to redirect EETT/ARRA funding from classrooms and, instead, add the funding to the pot of money that has already gone into over a decade of developing the CALPADS project (state’s student data system), I have a couple of questions on my mind. The questions jumped out at me this morning as I as a clicked on a Tweet from Kent Manning, which led me into his View from Here blog:

Question #1: Are students recipients of information or creators of information? – Thank you, Kent, for uploading and sharing this short gem from Marco Torres!

Question #2: Are we building on students’ strengths or weaknesses? – What if we (teachers, sites, districts, states) acted on middle school teacher Paul Blogush’s suggestion and began teaching to students’ strengths?

Question #3: What if you give a child a tool…? – First grade teacher Kathy Cassidy makes visible (and accessible) what students as producers looks like in a primary classroom.

While I do not question the value of educators having access to student data, I do wonder if extending CALPADS to the proposed PreK-20 program will actually improve teaching and learning in our state.  Will the program address the important distinctions/divides/gaps between students as consumers and students as producers? How about student strengths vs. weaknesses?

I’ll end with a quote gleaned from a conversation with CUE director Mike Lawrence, following this week’s visits to the State Assembly: “Weighing the baby does not make the baby  healthier.”

May 4, 2010
by blogwalker
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California’s Great ‘Bait and Switch’ Trick

saveedtechI’m headed to the Capitol this morning to fight for our EETT ARRA funding. CUE director Mike Lawrence sums up the issue in a sentence: “California directed schools and districts across the state to spend millions to support Educational Technology, then failed to distribute the over $72M in stimulus funds to pay for it!”

Having seen first-hand the positive ways the meaningful (beyond multiple-choice) integration of technology into the curriculum can impact teaching and learning in my district’s EETT classrooms, I have a few thoughts to share with our Assembly members:

Honorable Members of This Subcommittee:

My name is Gail Desler.  I am a technology support teacher for the Elk Grove Unified School District. I am here to today to urge you to honor the primary goal of the EETT ARRA grant:

“to improve student achievement of the state content standards and technology literacy in grades four through eight with expanded access to technology, electronic resources, professional development, and enhanced communications.”

In EETT Rounds 1, 2, and 4, the Elk Grove USD met and exceeded performance goals, with students in grades 7 and 8 at all 5 targeted middle schools showing substantial growth on California Standardized Tests (CSTs) in the academic area of English/Language Arts. As for technology proficiency, students and their teachers also exceeded performance objectives.

We are currently in our second year of EETT Round 7, this time working with grades 4 and 5 at three elementary sites.  Two have been classified as Title 1 for a number of years; the third school more than meets the requirement for free and reduced lunch and awaits reclassification.

I recognize that, when looking at student achievement, the State restricts its definition to standardized test scores.  Last year, all three EETT 4th grades improved their CST scores in English/Language Arts – and showed huge gains in technology proficiency.  At David Reese Elementary School, for example, 4th graders showed a 6-point gain in English/Language Arts (which included the 4th grade writing sample) over the previous school year and substantial gains in their abilities to use information technology.

Regardless of the EETT Round, thanks to the on-going assessments of our external evaluators, the explanation is clear and simple: the gains in student test scores can be attributed to the fact that EETT funding is being used as intended – providing students with access to digital literacy tools and providing teachers with the training to effectively integrate those tools into the English Language Arts curriculum.

Through a partnership with the Area 3 Writing Project (local affiliate of the National Writing Project), teachers receive professional development on  best practices for improving  literacy, with the recognition that new definitions for literacy no longer distinguish between literacy in general and technology literacy in particular.

At a time when low test scores have locked many Title 1 schools into a daily grind of students working in isolation on multiple-choice/fill-in-the-blanks test prep, I have watched our EETT sites use the training, support, and tools to unlock higher order thinking skills, allowing students to engage in complex tasks that foster collaboration and creativity, much like their counterparts at more affluent school sites. I have witnessed what can happen when EETT funding gets feet walks into classrooms.

I invite you to visit Elk Grove’s EETT sites so that you too can see first-hand how the technology and training are providing an at-risk student population with opportunities to expand and learn beyond the confines of ‘basic’ or ‘proficient,’ beyond the walls of the classroom, and beyond the margins of their surrounding communities.

California should seek alternative funding for the CALPADS program and not take away from this already established and effective program. On behalf of the Elk Grove USD and all the districts that have applied, I implore you to stop holding EETT ARRA dollars hostage and to immediately release the funding – while there is still time to ensure that teachers will receive the professional development needed to bridge unacceptable achievement gaps and digital divides.  Using the EETT ARRA money to provide students with better access to information technologies and teachers with the training on how to use those information technologies makes a key difference in our schools—not just in improving CST scores but also in increasing students’ and teachers’ abilities to use 21st-century literacy tools.

I’m told it’s basically a done deal: the Assembly will take the EETT money from the classroom and use it to fund the P-20 data-gathering program Calpads.  Already knowing that yet one more program for measuring academic acheivement is not likely to directly benefit students, I think it’s worth our time and effort to fight for a program that is making a difference, especially in our Title 1 schools.

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