Make Every Day Count

In Arkansas, as in many states, standardized tests are given well before the end of the school year.  This year the augmented benchmarks for grades 3 through 8 were administered April 13-17 and the “end of course exams” for geometry, algebra, and biology were given April 21-29.  Apparently the end of the course occurs 6 weeks before school breaks for the summer.

After the tests are done academic work grinds to a halt.  Instead, academic content is increasingly replaced with field days, watching movies in school, parties, etc… as the end of the year approaches.

Don’t get me wrong, field days, watching movies, parties, etc… all have their place in a healthy school environment.  It’s just odd that some educators who so often complain that testing narrows the curriculum and prevents them from pursuing the higher order instruction they really want seem at a loss about what to do when they no longer have the test bearing down on them.  One would think that they would use those last 6 to 8 weeks to find their inner Alfie Kohn.  Instead, a lot of it is used as play time.

Given how important time spent on instruction is to academic achievement, it would be great if we made full use of the academic year.  Perhaps we can push back the tests closer to the real end of the school year.  I know that grading tests, especially with open-ended items, is very slow.  But frankly open-ended items add nothing to the predictive power of standardized tests, so eliminating that would allow faster grading, later testing, and fewer wasted days.

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20 Responses to Make Every Day Count

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Until this year, Indiana had everybody beat for early tests – they give the main test at the start of September. You know, so we can see how much they learned over the summer, and ensure that test scores are never too closely linked to the teaching that produced them.

    Thankfully we’re finally about to transition to spring testing.

  2. [...] It’s the end of the school year and for those schools that haven’t let out yet some bloggers have a reminder to teachers to make sure the learning doesn’t stop. I thought I’d take [...]

  3. Hobart Milton says:

    Where is your data and research to back this claim?

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Could you be a little more specific? Which claim? And are you addressing Jay or me? As far as I can tell, neither of us has said anything that really calls for that kind of support.

  5. Hobart Milton says:

    “After the tests are done academic work grinds to a halt. Instead, academic content is increasingly replaced with field days, watching movies in school, parties, etc… as the end of the year approaches.”

    You claim this statement doesn’t call for any support??!! If you’re going to uphold your credentials as a credible researcher, then you will have some well-documented studies to back up the claim regarding academic work “grinding to a halt.”

    I’ve been at Ground Zero as a retired high school teacher and can assure you that the last week is set aside for semester exams, makeup, and a smidgen of rewards when time and funds are available. Not only do I find your conclusion insulting and demeaning, but it is fundamentally dishonest and ignorant of the facts. You don’t get students ready for exams by partying and letting everything grind to a halt.

    Yes. I have a right to demand some evidence, especially when the claim is specious and cheap. If all you’re complaining about is the very last day of school, then apparently you’re grasping at straws to build an argument for arguments sake.

    It strikes me as odd that people who place so much value on hard data to support their claims will turn around and make a claim with no data to back it up, especially when it flies in the face of experience and reality from those in the field and not in ivory towers.

  6. Richard says:

    My wife is a first grade teacher in an urban school district. She is among the handful of teachers who are still providing instruction today, on the very last day, while other teachers quit teaching weeks ago, as Dr. Greene suggests. I believe anecdotal evidence is enough to support the conclusion that many (maybe not all) teachers do slack off once the bulk of measuring their own performance has taken place (standardized tests). Many teachers, under the watchful eye of administrators, find crafty ways to slack off while keeping up appearances of actual instruction. These same teachers are the rabid members of the teacher union organizations who rant and rave to a point that public schools can no longer operate effectively, thus undercutting the mission of our public schools. It does not take a large sample and quantitative analysis to measure these outcomes. As I said, these individuals are crafty about their slacking, making the incidence of such cases hardly measurable. It happens and it is unacceptable.

  7. Hobart Milton says:

    Anecdotal evidence is not enough and researchers know this. If there is craftiness here it is in making such accusations as this without grounds to stand on. The ranting and raving I notice is the anti-teacher union bias coming from Richard. It isn’t surprising to hear someone lay these so-called troubles at the feet of the teacher union and then claim they caused it.

    No one mentions that such might occur in private or charter schools; it’s only public schools that are to blame if one follows your strange logic.

    I stand steadfast by my assertions: you have no documented studies to support this claim as an all encompassing indictment of teachers. Until you can prove your rule, all you’ve got is exceptions to make your case. Exchanging long lists of anecdotal gripes about bad teachers or anecdotal rhapsodies about good teachers is not the hallmark of a good researcher or of good research.

    I cannot speak for lower grades nor do I intend to do so. However, at the middle-school and high school level, semester exams are required and most public schools must follow a curriculuum guide for every day of the year. I have taught in 4 different school districts and at both middle and high school levels. Not once did I see a curriculuum guide or a teacher stop after standardized tests were done. What I am willing to admit, and what Richard apparently won’t, is that there remains much that I haven’t seen.

    I suspect that’s also true of whoever wrote this piece since it doesn’t cite any study to support its claims. It is just an opinion piece, not a research claim. If there is any validity to this claim, then do the decent thing and prove it is true with credible evidence from credible studies.

    It’s OK to point out specific cases where this type of behavior occurs and I hope that action is taken to change this type of conduct. It is not OK to generalize from the specific and make blanket condemnation of an entire profession. This has been and always will be faulty logic. It is the basis for stereotyping and has been the bane of mankind since the beginning of time.

    Until you come up with something credible to back this rather extraordinary claim, then there is no defense for this statement.

  8. Wow, Hobart is getting mighty righteous. How about if Hobart takes his pitch fork crowd to the source of this:

    “Parents feel it. Administrators feel it. The students and the teachers certainly feel it — something about the end of testing, the arrival of summer heat and the approaching final day of school in the city next Wednesday — once impossibly distant but suddenly tantalizingly close… Fewer days are spent on traditional classroom instruction. Instead, there are pageants, award ceremonies, pizza parties, talent shows and more activities outdoors — picnics and field trip after field trip… She said the year-end shift in tone is not only inevitable, but also beneficial. ‘Once the testing schedule is over, there is a great opportunity for doing things like field trips and more exploration of the community,’ Professor Williams said. ‘It’s a way of consolidating learning.'”

    Who wrote that? The New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/22/nyregion/22june.html?_r=1&oref=slogin .

    True, I don’t have a study to prove it, but we don’t have studies to prove every piece of every argument. To some extent we have to rely on common sense and shared experience. If you don’t accept this as common sense and it isn’t part of your experience, then fine — don’t believe the argument.

    Also, note that I didn’t say that some time spent on these activities is unproductive. I only said that we ought to move back testing so that we encourage more time spent on formal instruction.

  9. Hobart Milton says:

    Considering that testing is to measure what has been taught for the full length of the course and that April is already pressuring teachers to compress this learning into a pretty small amount of time, then to what purpose would making the tesing even earlier accomplish?

    A perusal of the article you listed actually shows several quotes from teachers about the increased opportunity for learning during this time. That you chose one small segment to represent the entire article is misleading.

    Cut the “righteous” label. And saying this is common sense doesn’t make it true or common sense either. The bottom line is that you have no proof, which you readily admit. Trying to disguise it with the mistaken notion that what you say is “common sense” would be laughable from any researcher trying to tell you something different about school vouchers or school choice, so don’t use it.

    Your main flaw is backtracking to state that testing needs to be moved back to encourage more time being spent on formal instructions. This makes no sense in the face of reality. On the Arkansas Times Blog, this entry is now being discussed. A former colleague notified me about it. Here is an excerpt from someone who called herself “inthetrenches” and it shows the serious flaw with your proposal of moving the testing date further up:

    “I spend the last 6 weeks of school doing all those things that students remember for years later–chess tournaments, a short unit on flight and a paper airplane flying contest, free creative writing, a unit on farming and pioneering that includes how to make butter and how to weave and knit. Just to name a few of the units that students come back to me years later and talk about. I spend until mid April cramming in a year’s worth of stuff–remember, the test tests over the FULL YEAR’S expected learning. I would love to see the test moved to later in the year, so that I could take the time to teach that the standards require! But, for any number of reasons–including the fact that somewhere around the end of April baseball season begins and students stay out until all hours–the folks in charge decided to put the test in mid April. I remember a few years ago they put part of the test in FEBRUARY…try to put a whole year’s worth of teaching into students’ brains by February! Yes–the pace of school slows up some in the last month–I contend that it ALWAYS did. Even in the dark ages when I was in elementary school. But–the students have worked hard–harder than most adults–all year long. Is ANYONE looking at the possible ramifications of over-stressed children who are pushed to the max all year, every year? We’re on the brink of raising a generation of children that can learn, fill in bubbles, and write short and long responses–but have absolutely no JOY in learning. Is that what we want?”

    Another flaw is that you conclude that formal instruction simply ends when standardized testing is completed. This is not the case and anyone looking at a curriculuum guide or looking directly into a classroom will discover lots of formal instruction still happening.

    The New Yok Times piece has a variety of quotes that present several different viewpoints about conducting school during the last few weeks of the last semester. In fact, I found more to suggest that learning increased during this time. (For example: “We don’t give up,” she said. “There’s a lot of learning that goes on in June. You know, four weeks is a lot of time for kids.”)

    This is a reporter’s story based on a small number of interviews she conducted and you want to pass this off as a serious report that represents what the other 99.9% of teachers believe is happening in just one part of the country. This is the flaw in your argument I mentioned earlier: going from the specific to the general.

    This argument is like a poker game. You tell me you’ve got a winning hand and I tell you that I’m going to call it. If you don’t have the cards, you’re trying to bluff. I’ve asked you to lay the cards to prove your point on the table. You showed us nothing and still want us to believe you deserve to rake in the pot.

    Excuse me for doubting your wisdom on this matter. I didn’t know it made me righteous. I just know that I’ve been “in the trenches” and worked hard to keep expectations high, both for myself and for the children I taught. I fail to see the common sense you claim to have and think you’re very out of touch with what happens in a classroom. Your suggestion that testing should be moved forward to an earlier date when such testing must cover what is supposed to be taught for that entire year is what lacks common sense.

    Instruction, whether formal or not, still remains instruction if you accomplish the goals set forth by your curriculuum guide. And according to your NY Times article, instruction seems to be even better after standardized testing — a good indication that worthwhile instruction, no matter its name or type, occurs throughout the year.

    Well, as always, I close by wishing you a pleasant evening. I strongly suggest that you take a year sabbatical and actually go out in the public schools and teach. It might give you a better grasp of the issues. I’d like to see if you would enjoy trying to teach kids most of the course by January, give the standardized test shortly thereafter, and then be held accountable for the results. That seems to be what you’re suggesting.

  10. Hobart Milton says:

    Well, it’s later and I can see I’ve misunderstood “move back testing.” In teacher lingo that means to move it back to an earlier date and further rereading of your original piece indicates otherwise. My apologies on that point.
    I still however hold you are fudging a bit about your main contention. Did you not say: “One would think that they would use those last 6 to 8 weeks to find their inner Alfie Kohn. Instead, a lot of it is used as play time.”? To support this contention, your only source was a vaguely connected article from the NY Times and the phrase “common sense.”
    A friend of mine is an architect. He delights in telling how novice architects with no field experience will come up with these beautiful drawings and plans. On paper, they look fabulous. Unfortunately, when one takes those plans out on site and tries to apply them to real construction material, the novice’s unfamiliarity with the actual mechanics of building are obvious to those who work on the construction.
    Supports that are needed are absent; materials actually measure different than they are listed; the proper relation of different materials and connections is ignored; and thousands of factors need to be understood and experienced in order to make a building fit together like it should.
    So, I’m sorry I misunderstood part of your plan. That happens and I admitted it. I just hope you can understand, coming from a common hands-on worker that some of your plan still smacks of the novice architect who only knows the work from a drawing board and not from the actual work site.
    You did claim that teachers mostly used instruction time as play time after standardized tests. You gave no credible evidence to support this claim. The evidence you cited actually offered much to counter this idea.
    Again, I offer mea culpas for misunderstanding a portion of your comments. I applaud the idea of postponing tests until a later date in the school year. You do stray far afield, however, with your conjectures about instruction time. The novice architect shows on that one.

  11. Hobart Milton says:

    “To some extent we have to rely on common sense and shared experience.”

    Interesting quote coming from a man who wrote an entire book in which he attempted to debunk a long list of commonly held “educational myths.” One man’s common sense is another man’s myth, I guess. It’s the point you kept trying to make in your book.

    And I’m sorry that you see pitchfork wielding crowds. Dr. Frankenstein had the same problem. No one is out to lynch you folks for holding onto these myths. So, you can rest easy in your castle tonight, sir. Meanwhile, I’ll start a subscription to the New York Times so I can keep up with the latest education research news.

  12. To debunk a myth you have to present systematic evidence showing that it is mistaken. In Education Myths we didn’t just identify unsubstantiated claims, we actually presented evidence showing that the claims were false. Where’s your evidence suggesting that my take (and the take of a NYT reporter, and a Columbia professor, and everyone else quoted in that article) is mistaken that formal instruction winds down toward the end of the school year?

    It is unreasonable to expect that every claim in every argument (especially on a blog) has to be backed by systematic evidence. For example, should we demand that you prove the claim that novice architects often develop great plans on paper that don’t work in practice? I could add the righteous indignation that my brother is an architect and we are inuslted that you would disparage the architectual profession in this way. I could mobilize a group of architects to post angry comments, etc…

    Of course, this would be silly, but it is preceisely what you are doing. If claims are shown to be false, they should be retracted. I would be happy to be proven wrong and to see systematic evidence that formal instruction continues unabated to the end of the school year (with a healthy sprinkling of other activities, such as field trips and award ceremonies, throughout the entire year). But the key part of that sentence is “proven.”

  13. Hobart Milton says:

    You still haven’t proven yourself to be right. You ignored the semester exams mentioned which require continued “formal” or “traditional instruction. You cannot deny that you said teachers devoted time after the standardized tests to “play” and made the inference that formal instruction ceases after that point.
    Since you insist on referring back to this lone article from the NY Times, what proof do those people give that support your claims that formal instruction ceases and play time starts?
    The burden of proof lies with you because you are the one who has made a claim. No amount of squirming can get you out of that. You yourself said it best: the key part is “proven.” If such be your belief, then where is your proof for your claim?

    Like I said, I’m calling your bluff. You still haven’t shown us anything to credibly back your claims about the drop off of formal instruction or the amount of play that replaces it.

    As to the architect story, considering I heard it from a retired architect who designed some of the major business buildings in the state, I think he did nothing more than point out a fact about a small number of his profession who thought they knew better than others how to do their job. To find an insult from this is quite a stretch. I’m sure you can recall some beginning researchers who made mistakes early on in their career.

    At best I can only disagree with your claim. It is overly simplistic, is based on scant and very limited anecdotal evidence, and has consistently ignored key points that rebut its nature (semester exams, curriculuum guides, counter-experiences, etc.).

    In your own words: it is not “proven.”

  14. Hobart Milton says:

    To help both of us, I’ve e-mailed several education experts or commentators and asked them to provide us with any data that might support your claim, to judge our arguments if they wish, and to pass along any comments or suggestions that they may have. I’ve encouraged each of them to pass along this message to others who might be interested.

    Rather than engage in further debate (we seemed to have covered all the ground we can cover on this topic until some solid facts surface), I will await answers to my inquiries and see what develops.

  15. Hobart Milton says:

    There is a logical fallacy called Argument from Ignorance
    (argumentum ad ignorantiam).

    Definition: Arguments of this form assume that since something has not been proven false, it is therefore true.
    Examples:
    1) Since you cannot prove that ghosts do not exist, they must exist.
    2) Since scientists cannot prove that global warming will occur, it probably won’t.

  16. Hobart Milton says:

    This is for Richard. The National Education Association published this piece for its members about increasing learning activities and time as the school year winds down:

    http://www.nea.org/lessons/2004/tt040607.html

    The author, Gary Hopkins, wrote:
    “The school year winds down. End-of-year testing is complete. The days grow warmer. The kids are tired and restless. What’s a teacher to do? Do you give up and concentrate on fun and games for the rest of the year? Do you attempt to accomplish some teaching right up to the last bell? Whichever approach you prefer, Education World can suggest some activities you might want to try during the last days of school.”

    I took the time to research about “learning during the last few weeks of school” and came up with a host of suggestions for keeping the children involved and many programs done by schools or districts to help cure the “Summerfluenza” as one commentator described it.

    Teachers.net also had an article on making the end of the year more positive:

    http://teachers.net/gazette/MAY02/gruber.html

    So, it’s not all play or movies at the end of the year. It’s not mean ol’ teacher unions promoting a slow down in work. It’s not vast numbers of teachers throwing their hands up in despair. It’s not a horde of students failing to be challenged. It’s not endless hours of parties going on throughout schools across the land.

    To what extent does work really and truly slack off at the end of the year? No one probably knows because no one that we’re aware of has measured it. The term traditional instruction is a bit misleading since it implies the best way to teach, no matter the situation or student.

    Here is an excerpt from a piece on instructional methods that might be of assistance:

    “Many books and research articles have documented the different ways people
    learn. People learn new material through the processing of information that was captured by visual, auditory or kinetic means. Traditional instructional methods require students to learn by listening to lectures and reading material. Usually, kinetic learning methods involve laboratory exercises, homework assignments, and design projects.
    Active and collaborative instructional methods for improving the learning process of students have been published. Students exposed to active instructional methods developed improved problem solving skills when compared to students learning in traditional learning environments.”

    So, it is rather difficult to understand why the call from Dr. Greene is only for formal instruction as if this is the only proven method of practice acceptable. It seems that teachers are ahead of Dr. Greene on this subject and have been for quite some time. Also, they are using proven methods of instruction, especially in a variety of ways that has been documented as being more effective for a broad range of learners.

    No one is denying that there is some type of malaise at the end of a school year that students and teachers must overcome. What is being contested is the allegation that nothing is being done about it and the extent of the problem. Furthermore, the suggested solution of increased formal instruction is itself questionable and already has been shown through studies on instructional methods to have limitations.

  17. Seems like Hobart is now agreeing with the claim that formal instruction winds down toward the end of the academic year. He writes: “No one is denying that there is some type of malaise at the end of a school year that students and teachers must overcome. What is being contested is the allegation that nothing is being done about it and the extent of the problem.”

    This is quite a change from his earlier, angry demands: “It strikes me as odd that people who place so much value on hard data to support their claims will turn around and make a claim with no data to back it up, especially when it flies in the face of experience and reality from those in the field and not in ivory towers.”

    What produced the switch? It wasn’t any systematic evidence. He visited the NEA web site and they suggested that “summerfluenza” is a problem and warned teachers away from the (apparently common) lure of slowing down before the end of the year. Somehow, their authority is sufficient proof for him, while from me he demands an empirical study.

  18. Hobart Milton says:

    I guess I’m just flexible enough to handle change. At least I discovered that your solution to the problem has been proven to have limitations. Also, the brunt of my disagreement with you has been over your two conjectures that “academic work grinds to a halt” and that a lot of the remaining school years is “used as play time.”

    You are misrepresenting my arguments completely and falsely in a feeble attempt to disguise your own failings in this matter. If this is an example of your reasoning ability, then you have been vastly overrated.

    The fact that the NEA website was one of several I visited and cited is only significant because YOU wish it to be so. The sites I visited also didn’t make claims about “work grinding to a halt” and “play time” like you did. Instead, they suggested ways of making this time more productive and better. Plus, many were doing this well before you came forth with your oversimplified suggestion that more formal instruction should be the solution.

    I may be a snippy old man now and then (especially when my wife wants the computer back to check on our son’s flight to Munich), but I don’t stoop to logical fallacies, misdirected arguments, or making snide “pitchfork” remarks.

    For all you have said, nothing disguises the fact that you made two claims that any teacher would find extraordinary: teaching grinds to a halt after standardized exams and it is just play time after that. Nothing can hide the fact that you haven’t taken the time to truly answer any of my conjectures or concerns.

    All you’ve done is fire cream pies in the hopes that some humor will hide how seriously flawed your reasoning and suggestions are.

    I’ve certainly lost a lot of respect for the Manhattan Institute from observations of your replies, lack of facts and awareness, and poor debating skills. At least I took the time to do a little extra research and further open my eyes to the situation. You’re still stuck on the first page of my arguments and yet to provide anything remotely like a rebuttal.

    Maybe someday someone will take the time to write a book and include a chapter on the Myth of Work Grinding to a Halt and Followed Only By Play Time. Or the Myth of Formal Instruction as the Only Solution to Educational Woes.

    BTW, the Summerfluenza stuff came from a link through one of the sites you linked us to earlier.

    Finally, you cannot escape the rigors demanded by the argument you proposed (no work, just play): in most cases the burden of proof rests on those who claim something exists (such as Bigfoot, psychic powers, universals, and sense data).

    Face it, Greene. You just tossed this off with little or no research and got caught making some statements that went overboard. If this had been something serious, you would’ve had some serious material to present to us. And done some serious work to check it out.

    You didn’t do that, however.

  19. Lisa Brown says:

    Just one data point: As a parent that helped at an elementary school one day a week, I can attest that at that school there was much more play after the tests in April.

    If I had any reason to take my child out of school in late April or May (maybe a trip to Disneyworld), I would not be the least concerned that he would be missing out on his “schooling.”

  20. [...] work, creating new sheets, filling down the date. [back]Any takers? [back]Noted here: Jay Greene’s j’accuse directed at teachers who complain that NCLB exigencies leave them with no time for fun project but [...]

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