New SAT still tough for minority and low-income students

SATThe SAT is getting another makeover and the College Board touts the test will be easier and more accessible to all students.

Unveiled last week, the standardized test will now contain more “relevant” vocabulary words, fewer math topics, an optional essay and an “evidence-based” reading and writing section. The Collage Board also promised that this test will give more minority and low-income students access to free online test prep resources and fee waivers.

But going back to a 1600-point scale, making an essay optional and offering more online classes won’t solve the access problems many of these students face when trying to take the test, some experts argue.

Click to hear their perspectives in an audio piece from Annenberg Radio News:

[Read more…]

OPINION: Asking students to show teachers the way forward

imageBy Sujata Bhatt, a teacher at Grand View Elementary

I am not in the infamous LA Times database, but, as a teacher in a Title 1 Program Improvement LAUSD elementary school, I have an enormous stake in the conversation about teacher evaluation and education reform the LA Times articles have begun. My students’ stake, however, is even greater; the discussion may alter my working conditions, but it changes their futures.

At the end of the year, I ask the students in my class to write me a letter, signed or anonymous, telling me what was memorable, what was not, and how they’d improve things. It’s not a data-based, objective evaluation, but it is, nevertheless, important because it speaks to what students find meaningful in school. Here are some of their voices:

“My favorite project was the water cycle. We got to make a colauge [sic] and have fun with it. We got to make it out of newspaper, cotton, magazines, and more. We learned about precipitation, evaporation, condensation, and more.” – Odalys

“I liked acting out the Revolutionary War. It was fun because everyone got to be a character…We got to act out all the taxes King George and Parliament made. It was fun making a timeline.” – Paulina

“There were many things I liked about Room 25 this year. I like all the fun prodjects [sic] we have done. I like how you teach us on the smartboard, all kids should experience it. My favorite part of Room 25 is the tables and how you get to know your tablemates and become a team with them.” – Justin

Almost every student suggested I include more projects and experiments next year:

“What you should change is language arts to do more experiments and projects.”– Rosaisela
“You should do even more prodject [sic] with acting.” – Brahlee
“You should not work with text books next year. You should act out experiments…” – Bryan
“Make more videos and fun projects.” – Anonymous

Not one student suggested more testing. Endless testing kills the desire to learn. Here’s Andrew:

“LA [Language Arts] is the hardest because it felt like their [sic] were a sextillion test [sic]. I know that even you Ms. Bhatt are sick of these test [sic]. You are lucky because you did not have to do it [sic].”

There are some who will look at all the ‘sics’ above and see failure. The CST certainly would. I know I could have taken another half hour or more out of creative teaching each day to do additional spelling and grammar drills. Most of my students improved on the CST, but with more drilling, they certainly would have improved further. The enormously profitable test prep industry has proven that this is the case.

But what would have been lost in this scenario? Projects, experiments, videos, teambuilding, acting, collages: the forms of learning students valued. These are the forms of learning that engage their curiosities, that inspire them to stay in school and contribute their talents to the world.

As Arturo said, “We learn more by activities.” I value my students’ voices. I believe they need to be heard in this conversation. Education reform is too often instituted from the top down, and teachers and students are as low as you can go in the educational hierarchy. This must change for real change to be effected.

So, as I face a new year, should I follow the testing model or my students’ suggestions? As I like to ask my students, “What would you do?”

BIO: I’ve been teaching at Grand View Blvd. Elementary in LAUSD since 2002. It’s the only elementary school I’ve taught at (first interview and first job offer). I went into teaching after I had a child; I found I really enjoyed experiencing the world with children. I am a produced playwright (East West Players, Mixed Blood in Minneapolis, Sacramento Theater company, etc.), and I found that theater and teaching had a lot in common. They both are forms of performance and play. Teach a child through play and he or she will be open to learning almost anything.

Prior to teaching, I was an academic with a specialty in medieval history (ABD, U Michigan, 3 year post-doc at the Society of Fellows at Harvard). I didn’t enjoy teaching undergrads and found academia too isolated from social change, so I never finished my doctorate.

At Grand View, I’ve taught 1st through 5th. I usually loop with the same class for three years so that I get to know the kids and families, and create a real community.