Lucy Calkins: Waste Of Time And Money!

The 2nd grade had to take their writing test this week. Since we are using Lucy Calkins, because it is the curriculum of sanction, our kids work was high scoring and incredibly shallow! Let me explain:

I have mentioned before how LC uses ridiculous terms for things that already exist in academia; things like expository text, and narratives. LC gives these forms of writing new and stoopid names; expository text becomes "how to", narratives become "small moments". So much for academic language. Of course my students know the correct terms as well, and I tried to explain that some teachers and students like to call things different names because they think it will make it easier. I said easy isn't necessarily better, and since they are students, they should learn the real terms. They agreed.

The writing assessment they had to take was a "how to". We teachers had to demonstrate how to plant a seed using cups, dirt, water, and a bean. We teachers first got together to make sure we were all going to demonstrate this seed planting the same way. 1)Put dirt in the cup 2)Make a hole with your finger, and put in the seed 3) Cover the seed with dirt and 4) Pour water over the planted seed.

The kids watched me as I did it, talking as I went along to make sure they heard each step, and heard my "transitional" words; words like "next" and "then" and "finally". They watched. They got it. No problem.

Now, they have to write their "How To" thing (we don't even know what to call it besides a "How To"). Of course most kids were able to regurgitate each step with only slight variations. Only a couple kids forgot a step or two.

Then we have the scoring rubric (inherent problem, scoring by rubric). There are 2 measures: Conventions/Mechanics and Content. C/M are things like punctuation, spelling, capitals and the like. Most kids did pretty well, but of all the mistakes in all the papers, these were the majority. For content (their work regardless of C/M mistakes) most kids did very, very well. Why? Because a fucking monkey could do it!

Now before you get all upset with my salty language, let me tell you what I think is the reason for the reworked rubric and the LC push. Since my district has not met its AYP, we got sanctioned. We had to adopt a new curriculum as part of NCLB (I dragged this truth out of the Superintendent in a faculty meeting. He did not like having to answer it truthfully). We adopted LC. If we were to show a decline in scores, LC might get blamed, as well as us. But, since LC is the sanction (IOW, the government's baby and the district's preference) the district will not allow that to happen. So, to make sure children score high, students get the kind of test I described above.

There is no thinking in the test we gave. The kids did not have to create anything, analyze anything, think about anything. They had to remember something they saw me do once, and then reproduce it. Kids have great memories. Just ask one about the TV show they just watched; they will tell you everything!

My concern is this: When the CST test comes in May, "How To" will not be there. There might be an example of expository text, but it will not be called "How to" and it will not have a little picture next to each step (which, after teacher complaints, is now not necessary, but advised). The kids will now have a worse chance of doing well on the CST which is the Holy Grail of tests in California schools. And, since teacher accountability is tied to these tests, my job is in danger! [I know evaluating a teacher based on the scores of his students is forbidden in California, but not for long, I think]

There is no teaching going on with this. Okay, maybe a decent teacher can create lessons out of this crap, but why? We must limit their intake of knowledge so they can look good on paper. I do not like it. You parents should not like it. And don't get me started on how we teachers have to score these things.

I said don't get me started!

We sit down as a grade level and read papers from another class (not our own). We then give a first set of scores, from 1-4. Each paper then has 2 scores, one for conventions/mechanics, one for content. We then pass the paper on to another teacher on the team. They read it, score it, and then look to see how close they are to the other teacher's score. If the scores are within 1 point of each other, the final score is the lower. If the scores are too divergent, a third teacher reads the paper, not looking at the other 2 scores (that have been blocked with a post-it). They then give their score, look at the other 2, and, if they are within 1 point of each other, go with the low. You go low because it makes the teacher look good when the scores go up next time (I find this dishonest, wrong, and criminal). BUT, if the scores are too divergent, we do not have plan. The district does not have a plan. There is no plan when 3 scores are too divergent!

This lack of conformity, or standardization, makes for crap statistics. But, we will submit these scores, with their inherent bugaboos, and then study the score data and use it to inform our instruction. At least that is the plan. But bad data inform nobody about nuthin'! And what the fuck do we think we are going to learn by giving 2 scores to 7-year-olds?

I can glean what my students need just by looking at all 20 words on their paper. I do not need to aggregate the data, do a chi-square and then an ANOVA to see that Johnny forgets silent "e" when regurgitating in print what he watched me do live. I can tell that he forgets to capitalize just by looking at his paper for 3 seconds.

There is no joy in this kind of work anymore. I cannot be spontaneous (well, a little, but if I get caught, I might get dinged)or deep, or even exploratory with my students. They have to learn this stuff because, well, because they have to, dammit!

We spent 2 hours reading these papers and learned nothing. I will never look at the scores I had to write in 3 places, and then on some bubble sheet the district gets. They are meaningless to me, and to most. That is why I am sure that all the testing is not so much for the kids, but for the politicians who want to be able to show they are doing something to close the achievement gap. The only problem is, they just might be widening it.

Talk to your kid's principal. Ask him/her about Lucy Calkins. Ask why academic language is discouraged. Ask how the aggregated-yet-largely-bogus data will be used. Report back to me!

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