PARRC Results?

Today is November 2nd 2015. Students in the state of Illinois took the PARCC exams during March (3 week window) and May (again a 3 week window) earlier this year. As of today, I have not seen any results from these exams other than a broad statewide generalization about how students performed on the tests. The tests were administered both online and as a paper pencil test. I have seen sources (like this one) which estimate the state of Illinois spent up to $57 million administering and grading the tests.  I have several questions: Why do we not have results?  How do we justify this kind of expense on a test where the results will have no bearing on the teaching and planning for these students’ learning activities this year?  According to some, these tests are about accountability.  Making sure that teachers are doing their jobs.  Making sure that schools are doing what they need to do for students.  Where is the accountability for the decision to spend this kind of money on a program that has had no impact on student learning?  I am not against testing.  I think it is important to benchmark a school’s performance and make comparisons.  We need to know what our students do not do well as well as what they do well, BUT the feedback HAS to be timely.  If we know there are deficiencies we make a plan to address them.  We cannot do that with results we do not have.  A test given between five and seven months ago will have little to no value now as a tool to help our students.  I hope someone is paying attention to this feedback……

Pass the Test

18335276614_4c252ab267_qI am not going to use this space to bash the PARCC Test.  To do so is counterproductive. I want to embrace a system of assessment that gives our students and teachers the feedback they need to develop a deep understanding of concepts and the ability to think critically about the world in which they live.  I want leaders and colleagues who can do those same things.  We need leadership in our country that has a deep understanding of concepts and the ability to think critically about the world where they have chosen to lead.  I have a simple proposal:  In order to take the oath of office, an elected official must at least meet the expectations as set by state in which they serve on the PARCC (at the highest level it is given) or equivalent if their state is not part of the PARCC consortium.  I think that is fair.  Our leaders need to demonstrate the same level of academic proficiency that we expect of our high school students.  Do you disagree?  Why?

Photo Courtesy of Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones’ Flickr Photostream


Where Did Those Ideas Come From?

Bebop_Drone_2015-05-17T131639+0000_(This post originally appeared on this blog over three years ago.  Now that we are preparing to open the new PHS, it is interesting to see that we managed to capture some of the best features of the schools we visited when we were researching school design.)

I am a very lucky educator.  I have the opportunity be a part of building a new school for our learning community.  What an awesome task, responsibility, and opportunity.  As part of this undertaking, I have been able to visit modern schools and not only see the physical spaces, but also observe the learning activities that occur in them.  It was so interesting hear to a lead science teacher tell us about students studying cancer cells and looking for ways to disrupt their growth. She told us how one particular student had the opportunity to work with bacteria and try to disrupt their communication patterns.  His research had progressed so far that he was able to meet with several Nobel Prize winning scientists at science exposition that he was invited to attend.  At first I was amazed that high school students were involved is this kind of research, but as it these stories sunk in, I could not help but feel that the students in my school were being robbed of these types of learning opportunities.  Should we simply say we cannot afford to put in a laboratory where this type of research can be done and leave it at that?  I am determined to find a way that our students who wish to study and research such topics can do so in a local lab.  At the very least, we must build spaces that promote active learning where Science is a verb and students can explore and discover.  Active learning must take place in all subject areas and we must seek to integrate them where we can.

The above photos were taken in Niles North High School’s state of the art STEM lab.  It is a large learning space with a corner “think tank”. This is where short, whole group learning activities take place such as a like a mini lecture or a student presentation.  The makeup of the room shows what is important–active learning.  The rest of the space is dominated by large tables, deep sinks, and a multitude of tools to experiment with.  A scientist’s dream.  We will not be able to replicate this room.  I am not so sure we would want to, but we need to see that learning spaces need to be flexible to accommodate different kinds of learning and learners.

Some of the schools we have visited have been very traditional.  The learning environments were not much different than what we have used in our school for the last 100+ years.  Rooms as boxes, filled with student desks, and a central learning focus that cast the teacher as information giver/subject expert.  Other schools have moved away from the traditional design and have spaces that suggest other models of learning.

The four photos above were take at the the Columbus Signature Academy High Tech High.  The school uses a project based approach to engage its students.  What stood out to me at this school was how the student work and the vision of students collaborating were the architectural features.  Learning studios were transparent with movable glass hallway walls, that when moved created very large learning spaces for large group instruction or presentations.  The hallways were filled with different seating configurations.  Some of them resembled restaurant booths, others were library like configurations with comfortable furniture.  Design shaping function or function shaping design….either way the way students learn in these environments reflects a social, transparent, and integrated approach that allows students to do real, meaningful work in ways they will outside of the “school” when they matriculate to other endeavors.  Exciting times indeed!

The End 1908 – 2015

orange PHSI have found myself immersed the past three years in a new school building project.  Being a part of the team that oversaw the creation of the new building has been an exhilarating experience.  I am excited about the new learning environment and the possibilities for our community.  Today was the last day of student attendance in the old building located at 309 South Main Street in Paris, IL.  I will have to say that I found myself to be very emotional as the day ended.  I guess you don’t just shut the book on 26 years in one place without feeling some kind of attachment to it.  Those feelings inspired this attempt to catch the moment.  I hope you enjoy!