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A Team Player

I am one of the “Test Pilots” in Ann Bradley’s article about the new assessments being developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards [May/June]. I disagree with the unnamed reader who thought the assessments were inappropriate and criticized the board for misrepresenting its intentions [“Letters,” August]. I ask the reader to consider the following points.

It took six years for the national board to develop the assessments that the letter writer and I helped field test this past school year. Along the way, the board gathered some of the greatest minds in modern education to help with the planning. Surely we can trust their judgments as to the integrity and appropriateness of the assessments. The national board was established to create a professional review by one’s peers in order to determine true excellence in teaching. The assessments are not, as the letter writer suggests, “another public relations game under the guise of educational reform.”

The recently administered assessments were not meant to be perfect. It was a field test. The author of the critical letter needs to remember his function—to complete the assessments and offer constructive feedback. More than half of the national board members are practicing classroom teachers, just like the author and me. We are all on the same side, working toward the betterment of teaching.

I agree that the assessments currently over emphasize writing. Writing is easy to use for such assessments because it is physical evidence of thinking, and it can be scored according to standardized criteria. Teachers who don’t write a lot, or for whom writing is not the easiest mode of expression, may not perform well. But the board used other perspectives, as well. Generalist candidates submitted videotaped lessons and a daily journal of their decisions and actions over a period of several weeks. They also created a professional portfolio of their career developments and professional contributions. All of these together come close to the direct observation and discussion the letter writer called for.

Sure, there are other assessment options. I know from talking with national board president Jim Kelly that they were considered. But limited financial and personnel resources created logistical challenges. It would be next to impossible to send teams of experts into candidates’ classrooms for three weeks at a time. I trust the integrity of the national board. I’m sure their research and discussion of assessment options produced valid indicators of a teacher’s practice that were “standardizable” and manageable.

I’m grateful for the assessment experience. In brief, there are five things it helped me see about my teaching practice: First, collaboration with colleagues is vital to successful teaching. Second, I need to set aside regular and structured time for reflection. Third, I am a teacher of middle school students, not of my particular subject; I need to build interdisciplinary connections in my classroom. Fourth, I need to remain aware of current educational research and utilize it in my classroom. Finally, alternative assessments give me a clearer picture of my students than traditional assessments.

The assessments created by the national board are evolving. We need to nurture them and direct them, not tear them apart and belittle their significance. These early field tests are changing the course of teacher assessment and teaching. We’re lucky to be part of the dialogue.

Rick Wormeli
Herndon Middle School
Herndon, Va.

Positive Steps

Thank you for drawing attention in your August issue to the Los Angeles gay and lesbian prom [“Current Events”] and the continued plight of rural American students [“Research”].

I remember reading Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age as a 14-year-old student in a rural school. The author bemoaned the fact that students in his all black Boston school were offered no art classes. Thus, one promising young girl’s only opportunity to take such classes was at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I wondered then whether Kozol realized that for many rural students there are not only no art classes but also no nearby museums; most are at least 30 miles away. How can anyone complain that they have to take a bus or a subway to a museum in order to take an art class? I was angry. From where I stood, the girl didn’t have it all that bad. Now, 20 years later, I teach English at a rural high school. We happen to have an excellent art department, but I am still dismayed at how difficult it is to convince most Americans that educational opportunities for rural students lag well behind those for their urban counterparts. Your story is a step in the right direction.

The same sex prom represents another such step. If there’s anything that angers me more than the educational inequality between urban and rural areas, it is the way homosexuals are spoken of—and in some cases treated—in our schools. Affording gay and lesbian students the opportunity for happy, productive social lives is of vital importance to their futures. We can only hope that someday soon same sex couples will be so welcome at their own schools’ proms that separate events won’t be necessary.

Penny Culliton
Mascenic Regional High School
New Ipswich, N.H.

Another View

When Phil Wood wrote in your August issue that he probably was not calm enough to write coherently [“Letters”], he spoke the truth. Incoherent people like him, writing and speaking from an emotional base, have impeded progress in mathematics education for more than 60 years.

I, too, read “A New Equation,” by Steve Leinwand, in the May/June issue. He was not suggesting that we abandon teaching students to understand number operations, only the rote memorization of algorithms. Leinwand criticized an overemphasis of filling in rows and rows of incomplete computation forms that differ from each other only in the particular digits found in them. This is done at the expense of creating an understanding of mathematics, solving mathematical problems, and applying mathematics.

Calling a highly respected mathematics education specialist like Steve Leinwand insane and dangerous is itself damaging and the height of stupidity.

A. Dean Hendrickson
Duluth, Minn.

Band Aids

In the article “Teaching by the Books” [May/June], teacher Timothy Hamilton was using the poem “Band Aids,” by Shel Silverstein, during a math lesson. The 2nd graders were to estimate the number of Band Aids mentioned in the poem. One child answered 89. According to the article, “most of the students giggled” when they heard the answer. The teacher then adds up the numbers on the board and declares 35 to be the correct number. The problem is that the correct answer is 70. While there were 35 Band Aids placed on body parts, the poet adds, “in case I might need ‘em/I have a box full of thirty five more.”

The teacher missed a golden opportunity to give the child a good dose of self-esteem and a chance to say, “He who laughs last laughs best.”

Maybe we as teachers shouldn’t be so quick to assume we know the answer. Maybe if we ask the kid with the off the wall answer, “Why’d you say that?” there would be some logic to it. We won’t know if we don’t ask.

Dorita Rosewitz
Whittier, Calif.

Get Radical

I guess it takes a real radical to begin making a difference in education. It intrigues me how Bill Ayers, formerly wanted by the FBI for his involvement with the Weathermen, has turned the corner to contribute instead of terrorize [“The Evolution of a Revolutionary,” March]. Luckily, he’s been wise enough to learn from his preschoolers that constructive methods of change are what make the difference.

This article was inspiring to me as a teacher and should be a wakeup call to teachers of teachers. Very often, teacher education programs are stagnant and disconnected from teacher candidates. This is unacceptable. Teachers need to enter the profession charged with enthusiasm and passion. It sounds like the new teachers Ayers is sending forth can’t help but be motivated and ignited to reach children and excite them about learning.

Educational theory is important but must be rooted in practical experience. Student centered instruction, which is impressed upon all student teachers, should be modeled at the teacher education level if this pre-credential experience is to be meaningful. If this does not happen, the preparation program is merely a series of hoops the candidates must jump through in order to satisfy mandated requirements.

Bill Ayers’ cause is well-chosen. There is a true need for change in our educational system, and being a professor of education allows him to set the stage for the teachers of the 1990s and beyond. Maybe the lesson of the Ayers experience is, in fact, to be radical, not complacent and not accepting of the status quo. Ayers like instruction is needed at every level of education.

Doriann O’Toole
Napa, Calif.

Vol. 06, Issue 01, Pages 4-7

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