. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: S-T-U-P-I-D spells…

Thursday, June 19, 2008

S-T-U-P-I-D spells…

"My District's NEW, WELL-THOUGHT-OUT, GROUNDBREAKING position on standards mastery for K-6 students…"

(Sound the trumpets, please.)

Power Standards!

Can you feel the energy already?

Power standards. Not just any old standard but the best, the strongest, the meatiest standards in the pack.

In all honesty, I quite like the theory behind Power Standards. Instead of insisting that we take every student to the mastery level in every math and language arts standard (of which there are tons) every year and then beating ourselves up because we are unsuccessful every year, we have selected several math (something like 10-15) and several English Language Arts (something like 8-12) in each grade level to be our focus throughout the year because they are heavily weighted on the California State Testing, are in an area we need to improve, and/or are mandatory for success in the coming grades. We will focus on each Power Standard intensely for about 4-6 weeks, really getting to the heart of it and allowing students numerous opportunities for exposure to it.

All this week, I have been working on a committee to select these standards and create the pacing guide for when they should be taught during the next school year. Benchmark tests given every 6-8 weeks will measure our progress teaching the standards. For those Power Standards, we are moving away from the sequential Houghton Mifflin reading and math programs we have been tied to like a dog that runs away. We'll be using lessons from it, but they probably will not be in order.

I like this! I can do this! Instead of developing thematic units around apples or fall, we could develop them around a particular standard. For example, one of the 4th grade standards is the reading standard for cause and effect. For 4-6 weeks, we can look at cause and effect in reading, writing, social studies, science, music, art, and even math. I like this! I can do this!

Of course, this will require quite a bit of legwork on the teachers' parts. We will be hunting around for cause and effect lessons to fill more than a month of instruction.

That's alright. We only have to do that for a small fraction of the total standards, so no big deal there. Breaking that task up between our grade level team members will make that so easy.

…or is it?

You see, there's still the question of what to do with the remaining standards that did not make the cut on to the Power Standards team. We still have to teach those, of course. Not to mastery, but simply as an introduction and for exposure.

Oh! Put those next to the Power Standards we think they go with on the pacing guide, you say? Ok!

But wait, won't that then make not only the Power Standards out of sequential order (no big deal) but everything we do in language arts and math out of order? Won't that mean that not only will teachers have to hunt through 14 teacher's manuals, each other's filing cabinets, and the Internet to find enough lessons to fill more than a month of teaching to mastery, they must also do that for standards that will only be taught once or twice as an introduction?

So I begin to go from grade level table to grade level table and get feedback on what other grades are thinking of this exercise in insanity. Every person I talk to is uncomfortable with what we are doing here. We are, in essence, creating a HUGE amount of work for every other teacher in our district (of which there are hundreds), and cannot understand why the remaining standards can't simply be taught in the sequential order they are found in our programs. Why make more work, right?

So, as usual, it's left to me to raise my hand and ask that question of our Director of Curriculum who's running the show. And the answer is as follows:

"Now Edna, you know that in order to teach those other standards to maste…, I mean success, we must be mindful of where they are introduced."

Am I the only one who fails to see the difference between mastery and success?

And then she throws out my favorite line of all; the line that almost drove me to end up a headline in every national newspaper:

"You know, good teachers are willing to be flexible."

Maybe I just took that the wrong way. Maybe I'm just really tired from this process? Maybe it's the wrong time of the month for me to be on this committee?

But I was a bit insulted by her backhanded accusation that I was not a good teacher or flexible.

And, moreover, where were all the masses that agreed with me about this when I was talking to them earlier? What happened to all the people who asked that I bring this up? Where are the "uh huhs "and "amens" now?

Nothing! Nothing but stony silence from my peers could be heard.

So, of course, I continue:

"So is this a suggested pacing guide for grade levels so that teachers have a bit of flexibility for when they introduce the non-power standards?"

And she replies; "Of course! Teacher can use their discretion about when to introduce the non-power standards. This guide is just a suggestion."

So I say: "Then these other standards will not be included on the benchmark tests at the same time as the Power Standard they are aligned with on the suggested pacing guide?"

And she replies: "No, they will be on the benchmarks with the Power Standards you aligned them with."

Can somebody explain to me how that makes this guide a "suggestion"? How is this a good idea?!?!?!

Anyhooo, I gotta run. One more day of committee to go and I'm about to be late.

It's been suggested we arrive by 8:00 AM, but that's merely a suggestion.


Anonymous said...

"Don't you just love suggestions" like that. Just one year after our district spent EONS of committee and teacher time mapping out the curriculum. . . they adopted a new curriculum and changed everything. Is it any wonder that teachers so often smile & nod at district office people, then shut the doors and do what they've always done? It'd be nice to get buy-in from everyone, but the more experienced teachers have been burned by buying into short-lived programs, only to have them thrown out before it's even possible to decide if they're working.

Edna Lee said...

You could not be more right!

Melissa B. said...

We've had Standards of Learning in our state for years. Can't wait 'til they graduate to Power Standards. Geesh! Do you think the pencilheads at the DOE have anything better to do? Like help us educate the Cherubs? BTW, you're invited to contribute to Take Another Look Thursday. It’s a way we teachers can stay on our toes this summer! http://scholastic-scribe.blogspot.com/2008/06/take-another-look-thursday.html

Lily said...

I just love the word "suggestion" coming from someone with so much power. When that word comes out of their mouth it is not just a "suggestion," it is a direct order. Talk about trying to be flexible. The Power Standards sound like a great idea though! It just makes me wonder if all of the other standards will just be pushed into the corner. However, I would love to see Power Standards used at my school. It would be interesting to see how well they work.

Edna Lee said...

I, too, am curious to see what teachers do with the other standards. We still must teach them. I hope that teachers don't think they can just skip them!

I am excited about the idea of Power Standards though, and look forward to focusing on them. Heck, I look forward to simply HAVING a focus for a change!