Saturday, April 26, 2008

This comment appeared in the Albuquerque (NM) Journal.

On Thursday, March 23, 2006, Elisa Garcia, APS mid-school teacher wrote:

It is that time of year again when all Albuquerque Public Schools should have finished mandatory state testing to determine if their school has made adequate yearly progress.

Sadly, many schools will not reach their goal, and others will join the ranks of schools that have no chance to change their probationary status. Many will point their fingers at the teachers when in fact they should be pointing their fingers at APS.

I work at a school that is on probation, and no matter how hard my fellow teachers and I work, we will not reach our goal of meeting AYP. Why? How are we to make AYP when we are administering a test to sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students who come to us with an average reading and math level of third grade? What can be done about this? Here are a few suggestions for APS:

1. APS must begin to hold students accountable for their academic success. If a student fails, hold them back, no social promotion and no exceptions.

2. There should be mandatory after-school and summer reading programs for elementary students who are failing, have failed, or need extra support because they are English-language learners or they have learning disabilities.

3. No regular education student should be allowed to enter middle or high school reading any less then one grade level behind where they should be.

4. We must raise expectations for all students, especially special education students. Every year I have more and more students enter my classroom with modifications for education. Many of these students can function at a much higher level but do not because they know that in this current system they are not required to do so.

5. We must require mandatory tutoring in middle and high school for students that are failing any class. Academics should come before any other after-school activity.

6. We should attach a grade to the Criterion based Reference Test (CRT). Too often teachers hear, "Why should we try on this test? It's not for a grade!" Which is true— the only ones who worry about how the students do are the teachers and those who place a value on this test.

And finally, all students and their parents should be held accountable for student behavior to reduce discipline problems and in turn reduce repeat offenses. APS is afraid of lawsuits, but truly, if anything in education is going to change, APS needs to get tough and raise its expectations for students in its district.

I expect any student who walks into my class to do their best and to work hard. If they fail, it is their fault, not mine. I do my part by creating interesting and challenging activities, and I expect my students to do their part and apply themselves. Students earn their grades just like adults earn their paychecks. Nothing worthwhile in life is without hard work!

This comment appeared in the Albuquerque (NM) Journal.

On June 20, 2006, mid-school teacher Nancy Brown wrote:

As a middle school teacher, I can predict to a high degree which of my sixth-grade students will not get a high school diploma -- students who get all or mostly F’s on their report cards.

By the time they reach high school, they will have fallen behind in their academic and study skills. They are choosing to be left behind. Students generally are not retained in middle school. Indeed, for a student to be retained, complicated and convoluted process involving standardized test scores is use in the Albuquerque Public Schools. Report-card grades don’t count.

A student can fail all classes and be promoted in school. I presently have several students who received solid F’s on their third-quarter report cards. They don’t care. Their parents don’t care. They and their parents know that they will move on to the next grade regardless of their GPA. There is no incentive for them to do their work or even behave in class.

Middle schools need to be accredited. In this way, grades will matter because students will have to earn credits to go on to the next grade. This will cost money, but it will be well worth it.

This comment appeared in the Albuquerque (NM) Journal.

On February 5, 2008, Ken Anderson wrote:

My school, Creative Education Preparatory institute #1, tends to attract students who have not succeeded elsewhere, and a very common problem with many is a lack of fundamental math skills going back to the early elementary grades.

I am a math teacher, and I'm talking about an inability to perform multiplication, division, addition and subtraction with any kind of consistent accuracy. There is in many cases a complete lack of knowledge of fractions, percents, ratios, word problems, etc. The average layman not affiliated with a school system, I'm sure, has no idea how pervasive, sad, and frightening this problem is.

The number one problem is that most students have become apprehensive about anything at all that involves numbers as they have not had opportunities over the years to develop and hone their mental skills. Why? Calculator usage, primarily. They have been taught that it is OK to depend on calculators to do the simplest tasks. Adding eight-plus-five for many is a task for a calculator to handle as is subtracting 10 from 22 or multiplying seven times seven -- all problems that come easily to people of other generations. Many of these kids have actually devolved to the point where they have no confidence in their own brains.

I try to totally wean my students from all calculator usage, and an integral part of that is continually stressing the importance of knowing the multiplication tables.

Let me say this in the strongest way I can -- knowing these tables up to 10 times 10 (and preferably up to 12 times 12) -- is a critically important part of existence in a civilized society. It is a necessary precursor to understanding fractions. The two subjects together (multiplication and fractions) are necessary precursors to high school math and beyond.

Common sense tells me that calculator usage is a severe detriment to improving ones brain. I suspect that Everyday Math and similar approaches will eventually be discarded in favor of truly rigorous curricula. Instead of "same-old", "timeless" might be a better word.

This appeared in the Albuquerque (NM) Journal.

On February 20, 2008, several Middle School students in Albuquerque responded to an article
titled "All work, No play", on the Public Schools’ plan to require students who score poorly on state tests to take remedial coursework in lieu of an elective. Here are three typical responses (out of eight total)

Are teacher read this article on Monday and I and other kids in are class wasn’t very happy about it. We heard that we had to pass the ABS in eEighth grade or that we had to get a extra class and they toke out are elective. I didn’t like that they toke out are elective because I heard that there was really good electives in High School. It would be different with out electives because some people go to school just for their electives and if they take that out there will be more drop outs then before. I think that you Shouldn’t take out are electives: R.T.

The “All work, no play” artical was a pice of crap. What is your problem? As a high school students we deserve to have your elictives we do not deserve to have them taken away from us. I disagree with your oppion. If students dont have there electives we will have to reason to come to school. And if kids start not coming to school it will be your fault. T.P.

Your story on “All work, no play.” This idea of yours is not such a good plan. Its unfair because schools can be very hard on us kids we need a class to be not so hard on us. Classes are already hard enough as it is already I mean espesialy the homework.

If we have to do even more we are in trouble and so will our grades. Electives are a needed class in my opinion. Just imagin schools with no electives kids will just go crazy. All of this will effect so much like our families, grades, and well our lives. So im asking you please please don’t go with that plan it just isn’t a very good idea.

Just think if yuou were a kid again what would you want? Comeing from a kid myself belive me this wont help us, if anything it will get us more confused haveing to do like two math clases if we don’t get such a good grade on that part of the test.

So once again please consider not doing this because is is so no fair. P.R.

Blogger comments:

These letters provide a wonderful example of student ability to express ideas, construct sentences, and spell. Here is the response from the Superintendent of the School District. Clearly she realizes that the school system is not teaching English. But instead of explaining how teaching is to be improved, she says that teachers are expected to cover up the problem

February 21, 2008

Dear APS Community Member,

I was troubled by a page of letters from middle school students that was published in the Albuquerque Journal yesterday. Their content didn't bother me; indeed, we ultimately want our students to be able to think critically and express themselves. What I found unsettling is that the letters appeared to be in "first draft" form.

We need to set the expectation by showing our students examples of strong writing and working with them to improve. The final draft must exhibit their best effort of reaching the standard for writing expected at their grade level. They will be carried by the confidence that comes from knowing they have done the job well.

Teachers are expected to oversee and, where necessary, correct students' work before publication. When students engage in a writing exercise such as writing letters to the editor, in order for it to be a truly valuable learning experience, the writing process must be followed to its completion with a first draft, followed by review and proofreading, followed by a second draft with perhaps more editing, and finally, production of a final draft for publication.

Linda Sink, Interim Superintendent
Albuquerque Public Schools

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