I thank my lucky stars every day that I teach at a school where individual differences are embraced and encouraged. We strive for excellence in as many areas as we can. But how would we do this without relying on PATs to tell us this valuable information? We don’t even use number grades…or letter grades…how could this possibly occur?

I’ll tell you how – communication and collaboration. When I first joined my school four years ago, they were on a journey to more accurately measure student learning. It started with having clear targets for students to work toward, rubrics for common assessments and more information about formative assessment.
What happened was organic and magical. Our new teaching practices clearly told us that our assessment practices did not match our reporting practices, so – yep, we changed them.

Report cards were revamped and revamped and revamped… (yes, this annoyed many people) and we were continuously defending our system of assessment and learning to many who did not grow up with this kind of learning environment.

I left for a few years to expand my repertoire (18 years in elementary and middle school left me curious to see what it would be like to teach at high school and university) and although I loved my 2 years in the wild, I am so glad to be back! Some of the same students I taught in grade 6 are now in grade 9 and I get to be their teacher again. They are still as fun and smart as they were a few years ago…maybe even funner (sic) and smarter! My return has assured me that all of that hard work a few years ago was worth it – we are seeing some amazing things.

How did we do it? First of all, our team (and it truly is a team) had honest conversations about how we could help our students be the best they could be. It meant changing many of our professional practices and taking some risks. We realized that our students needed more literacy support and the PATs didn’t give us any data that would help us because by the time we got the data, the students were in different classrooms with different teachers and we didn’t even have the assessments in hand to analyze these results. Yes, we had the results, but we were missing the teachable moment – what exactly were they struggling with and how could we reach each them.

We formed a Literacy Steering Committe and started throwing around ideas. We quickly realized we really didn’t know the patterns of learning within our school population. In a school of over 600 kids, the thought of handling massive amounts of data was a little intimidating. We decided to choose some tools that would give us benchmark data at the beginning of each year. Our AISI Lead Teacher was on board (as usual!) and she added her expertise in assessment and collaboration to the mix. We decided to use the following tools to look for patterns:
1. Spelling – Morrison-McCall Spelling Test (to look for spelling and writing issues)
2. Reading- Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests (Canadian Edition) – Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension Subtests

We trained our humanities team to administer the tests to keep consistency. They submitted their data to me and I entered the scores into a spread sheet. (600 students x 3 test scores – you do the math). After my eyes uncrossed from looking at numbers, we colour-coded the data to flag which students were above, at and below grade level. We created a profile for each student so at a glance, everyone involved with the student could see some basic literacy information. Wonder why that students struggles with problem solving in math? Oh…he is reading is significantly below grade level and maybe needs some supports. Hmm….

I left the school the next year and the team continued to collect the data, record it and analyze it by looking for discrepancies and digging deeper where required. The homeroom teachers started “plunking in the data” on a master spread sheet on the teacher server and the conversations continued.

This fall, we have taken our little plan a little bit further. We now have data of every student in the school (from last spring) and new students can be tested on arrival. Google Docs makes sharing this data much easier and we spent some of our PL day organizing and analyzing the data as well as creating an action plan for our students. We meet as a grade team once a week to discuss housekeeping and emerging issues, but we also meet twice a month to talk about how our kids are doing, what is working and what is not.

Students that are below grade level are being assessed with informal reading assessments (QRI, Jerry Johns,…) to dig deeper into their issues and learning plans are developed. The entire school spends the first 15 minutes of the day together in a reading block – silent reading, strategizing or working with kids to set goals. Yes, our kids know what levels they are at and they use that data to inform their decisions. Not bad for a bunch of teenagers, huh?

By the way-we did look at the PAT results at our recent PL day, but we didn’t need to spend a lot of time because we had one-on-one data instead of grade data. We quickly looked at the kind of questions that our kids seemed to have problems with and thought of ways we could give them more opportunity for practice. But again, those students were long gone to the high school, so we really couldn’t work with them any more.

Student data is shared with parents at Parent-Teacher Conferences or well, anytime, they want to. They just have to ask their kids! My parents know that they can email me or set up an appointment any time and they can see for themselves what’s going down in my class. I just finished meeting with all the parents of children who need IPPs for the year so we could write the goals and accommodations for their child TOGETHER. Funny, not one of them asked me to look at their child’s PAT scores, but they sure wanted to see all of the other data, checklists and anecdotal records we have kept over the years. We have built a culture of trust, caring and professionalism that makes our school a is the fabulous place to work.

Wouldn’t it have saved us a lot of time and energy if Alberta Education developed the benchmark assessments so we didn’t have to research and use commercial tests? Yes, but the adventure is in the journey, not the destination, and I learned so much during that journey, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. However, a system such as this would be extremely helpful to teachers and parents and would make a great alternative to the current system of using PATs for information about children.

I have never said I was against standardized testing – just the misuse of them. I strongly believe that the PATs are a misuse of a standardized test and our children, parents and teachers deserve better.

I could write on and on, but I’ll save those for other posts. I hope this helps some people see that teachers are the best places to go if you want to know how your kids are doing. Don’t ask the Fraser Institute-ask the professionals. They really know your kids.

Til next time,
Tracey

Hey everyone,

I am back at school and excited for another fabulous year (this makes 21, but who’s counting??). As an avid supporter of the use of electronic devices in the classroom, I have always encouraged students to use them for educational purposes. However, some of my colleagues and parents are not as comfortable with their use and I don’t blame them. There is so much to know and isn’t it just one more distraction?? I set out on a mission to put some guidelines in place so we can all have common agreements to their use and/or misuse.

Step one: Talk to the kids. If they feel these devices would enhance their learning environment, then let them come up with some guidelines! Below is what we came up with after searching online for other policies and having some great discussions together.

Some of these points were part of the guidelines these same students developed 3 years ago when I taught them in grade 6 and were adapted accordingly. 3 years ago, they had wanted to bring in their own laptops, but there were no guidelines so we wrote our own and submitted them to administration for consideration.

  1. The Personal Electronic Device Use Form must be signed by students and parents and returned to student’s homeroom teacher before devices are to be used at school.
  2. All guidelines must be followed as per the Rocky View Schools Responsible Use Agreement TS04. This agreement was signed as part of the registration package that was sent home at the beginning of the year.
  3. All devices must have current up to date virus protection to reduce the spread of viruses on our school network.
  4. Students must use the wifi settings on their devices. Using 3G or other networks are not safe in our school community. Using 3G can also lead to excessive charges on the student’s cell bill, therefore is discouraged.
  5. Only sites and applications that enhance educational activities should be accessed during school hours.
  6. Devices should be not accessed (screens down on laptops, phones out of view) while someone is talking or presenting unless you are taking notes relevant to the presentation.
  7. Place devices in plain view of teachers to show that you are embracing them as an educational tool.
  8. Teachers will need to have access to any programs/applications/files on your device. Students need to be prepared to justify their choices. Any misuse of devices will involve actions which may include confiscation of device and/or loss of privileges.
  9. Misuse of devices that involve the safety and privacy of others will be dealt with by administration.
  10. Devices should be kept in a place where they are safe from harm and are not a hazard to others. The school is not responsible for lost, stolen or damaged devices.
  11. Charge devices at home as much as possible. If necessary, a power cord can be used in an emergency.
  12. Students, parents and teachers need to be aware of the Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship. More info can be found in this package or on the front page of the school website.
  13. As always, good manners and judgment are required.

Step Two: Present guidelines to teachers at the next staff meeting and solicit feedback.

Step Three: Present guidelines to parents and solicit feedback – parent/teacher interviews are coming soon and all teachers have blogs to share info as well.

Step Four: Let the games begin!

As always, I am looking forward to feedback from my online friends. Feel free to comment below or send me an email at traceybowes@gmail.com.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Tracey

 

 

Hello everyone!

Yes, it is that time of year again. Registration for all of those great spring activities, Spring Break (mine isn’t until April 22 :() and of course, those ridiculous Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs). For those of you that have followed me for a while and were involved with Motion 503, my dislike of PATs will be no surprise. I really believe that they are not an effective way to assess kids and are a colossal waste of money. My stand has been that I am not against standardized tests (I use them all the time to help teachers, students and parents develop effective learning plans), I am against the MISUSE of standardized tests.

Below is a copy of the letter that I sent to my child’s principal and cc’d it to the classroom teacher, the superintendent of schools, my MLA and the Minister of Education. Please feel free to copy and paste as much of it as you would like if this is something you would like to do as well. Email me (traceybowes@gmail.com) if you would like a MS word copy of it.  I have xxxx’d out some of the names for privacy reasons. FYI- I already discussed the PATs with my children’s principal and teacher ahead of time so they will not be surprised to get this letter.

I have spent the last 5 years trying to find a way to get my message across – PATs are not an effective or necessary way to assess children. Our government will not listen to me as an educator – maybe they will listen to me as a parent?? Please spread the word – our children deserve the best education and PATs should not be part of the plan!!

Cheers,

Tracey

122 xxxxxx Rd

Okotoks, AB T1S XXX

2011-04-02

XXXXXX, Principal

Big Rock School

33 Hunters Gate

Okotoks, AB T1S 2A4

Dear XXXXX:

As spring arrives, so do the boxes from Alberta Education containing the Provincial Achievement Tests. As an educator for the last 20 years, I have watched with dismay the misuse and ineffectiveness of these assessments. What began as a useful approach to bringing all Alberta’s students onto the same playing field and educating stakeholders about aligning instruction with curricular outcomes, has sadly gone down a destructive path.

In 2009, many education stakeholders lobbied for Motion 503 to be passed in the Alberta Legislature and that motion has essentially been ignored. It is now time for these same education stakeholders to take matters into our own hands. As an educator, I am legislated to administer the PATs to my students. As a parent, I choose NOT to have my child participate in the PAT exams this year.

I believe in public education. I believe in my children’s teachers and my children’s school. I believe that their teachers are the best people to report their strengths and weaknesses. I believe that our teachers and local school personnel are the best informed to tell me what my children know. A PAT is not only unnecessary; it is a waste of taxpayer’s money. I trust that my children’s teachers will tell me what my children know and therefore have no need for them to take any Provincial Achievement Tests this year. Please mark my child as absent for any tests that will be written this year and we will meet together to decide the logistics of them not writing the exams.

Thank you for educating my children. Any time I have had questions or concerns about my children’s education I have been treated with utmost respect and as an equal partner in their education. I appreciate your respect with this concern as well.

Yours in education,

Tracey Bowes, BEd

Parent to Kenzie and Jackson

Cc:

xxxxxxx, Gr. 6 Teacher, Big Rock School

xxxxx, Superintendent of Schools, Foothills School Division

Dave Hancock, Minister of Education

George Groenveld, MLA, Highwood Constituency

Hello everyone!

I have been away from the blog for a while as I have been busily working with a fantastic group of Albertans to expand the Alberta Party Education Policy. At the Alberta Party Policy Convention in November 2010, a set of policy directions were developed from the feedback of the many Albertans that participated in Big Listen discussions. These preliminary policies were passed by our party membership and then the fun began! Policy committees in the 5 major discussion areas were developed (health, education, economy, democratic renewal and environment) and we began the collaborative process of expanding these policy directions. For more info about the Alberta Party, check out our website at http://www.albertaparty.ca or email me at traceybowes@gmail.com.

After many discussions, twitter conversations, coffee chats, emails, conference calls and blog posts, the education policy committee is ready to put our expanded policies forward for the next set of feedback and consultation. The final policies will be brought before the membership for ratification at a future date.

I will post them in bite-size chunks every few days. Feel free to write in the comments section, email me at traceybowes@gmail.com or contact me on twitter (@tbowes) to let us know your opinions and ideas. So, without further adieu, here is a draft of what we are looking at for the Assessment and Accountability (K-12) section of the Alberta Party Education Policy!

Yours in education,

Tracey Bowes, BEd Leader, Alberta Party Education Policy Team

Note: “Assessment and Accountability” is the third point in an overarching policy, hence the 3.

3.Assessing our students and system in a cost-efficient, reliable and useful way.

Students are assessed to enhance instruction (assessment for learning), to reflect on learning developments (assessment as learning) as well as to aid in reporting of progress (assessment of learning). Each school will be required to locally develop an assessment plan that is relevant for their school population. Sample assessment protocols will be provided by the Ministry, but local input is allowed and encouraged. Minimum requirements will be outlined.

– Provincial Achievement Tests  are neither a reliable way of reporting achievement nor a useful assessment to demonstrate student learning. Provincial Achievement Tests will be discontinued at the grade 3 level. Statistically valid samples at grade 6 and 9 will enhance system inefficiencies while being more economically feasible.

– Many educational outcomes can be assessed at the end of schooling through diploma exams, but these tests do not necessarily provide a thorough measure of student achievement. In light of recent research in the field of assessment, we feel that these diploma exams should carry a weight that is lower than the present structure. Diploma Exams should account for 25% of a student’s final mark instead of the 50% weighting that is presently in effect.

-Diagnostic assessments will be developed, initially at the grade 3 level, to assist educators and parents in educational programming. These assessments will be developed at other grade levels on a yearly basis.

– All learners in the learning community need to continuously focus on growth and excellence. This includes all students and school staff. A template for use will be provided, but local input to the template is allowed and encouraged to suit local conditions. Minimum requirements will be outlined. These growth plans need to be monitored and assessed at least two times per year. Learners who are not meeting minimum expectations will need further assessment and guidance. A quality education system is only achieved with learners who are committed to their own personal and academic growth.

Hey everyone,

Over the next few weeks, members of the Alberta Party Education Policy Committee will be continuing to solicit feedback from Albertans and a lot of the discussions tend to focus around the K-12 system. We can’t forget about our post-secondary education policies as well! Although it is not my area of expertise, we have members of our committee that have extensive experience in the post-secondary world and I will gladly forward any feedback to them as well as to the committee as a whole.

We will be looking at the education policy directions that we already have in place (click here to see them) and will be choosing a few policies to explore in further depth for our platform.

Please leave comments below or email me at traceybowes@gmail.com. I can also be found on twitter @tbowes. Your ideas are important to me and to the Alberta Party!

Til next time,

Tracey

Hey everyone,

What a busy couple of months it has been! I am in the process of wrapping up 2 of the classes that I am teaching at MRU and have decided to return to the k-12 classroom in January, as well! I am going to be the learning support teacher for a rural school back in Rocky View Schools every morning and then will continue to teach one of my MRU classes on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. (Yes, I am still writing that cabaret show “Life… According to Musicals”. Hopefully it will hit the stage in April!!)

With one of my classes at MRU, I have been developing an outcome-based framework for teaching multiple levels of math in the classroom at a time. I am teaching 4 levels of math at once in my MRU class and will be teaching 3 levels at a time in my learning support room at Indus. Using a workshop-based approach, the students all work toward specific outcomes at the levels they need while being enriched with the experiences of students of other levels as well. Why not share it with other educators so they can try it out as well? I will be presenting at the Edmonton Teacher’s Convention in March and hopefully my info will be as exciting for others as it has been for me.

I am thrilled to be working as a Co-Leader with the Alberta Party Education Policy Development Committee! At Big Listens held earlier this year, we gathered a lot of ideas and information about the education that people feel would be best for Albertans. Our policy directions (education, environment, democratic engagement, energy and health care) that were developed based on those conversations can be found here.  Now it is time to decide which of these education directions we want to develop into more detailed policy.

As an educator for 20 years, I will be putting most of my energy into the policies that reflect k-12 education, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear about your ideas about all levels of education! (early intervention, higher ed…) We have leaders from all levels of education working with us, so please share your feedback!

Please comment in the comment space below or feel free to email me at traceybowes@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you and share your insights with our committee.

Til next time,

Tracey

Hey everyone,

The election is over, and I found myself wondering where my next efforts should be directed. Of course, my family is still number one in my books, and my classes at MRU are amazing, but I am only teaching parttime so I do have some time allowed to explore my passions. Researching and networking with others on my Twitter PLN and in person is almost a fulltime job in itself, but I needed a place to direct this energy!

Lo and behold, I got a call last week from Michael Walters, the provincial organizer for the newly formed Alberta Party to see if I was interested in hosting an online Big Listen regarding education policy for their party. Public disclosure: I am not renewing my membership for the Progressive Conservative Party (I really think they should take the progressive part out of the title, but I digress…) and am now a card carrying member of the Alberta Party. I said yes!

The Alberta Party represents everything I believe in how politics should be run. They were formed by a group of people who could not find a place to fit in the current political party structure within Alberta. Past members from many political parties are represented as well as people from a wide range of ages, backgrounds and interests. All members have one thing in common – they are progressive in thinking and progressive in their actions! 

A small group joined together to start a framework for the party. A leader was chosen, Edwin Erickson, an organizer was hired, Michael Walters and a few weeks ago a board was chosen. If you check out the AB Party team here, you may recognize some of the team members from other progressive political campaigns including Chima Ndkemdirim who was the campaign director for Naheed Nenshi’s successful mayoral bid in Calgary! The basic philosophy of the party was developed and its actions would be based on the Six Key Values of the Alberta Party.

The Alberta Party believes in hearing what people want (and don’t want) in their government and writing their platform  based on those issues. Kind of refreshing, isn’t it? Big Listen events were organized around the province that were informal and in locations that people felt comfortable. Some members hosted in their homes and some Big Listen Events were held in small meeting rooms (I loved that a guy brought a case of beer to the meeting that I was at. If I would have known that it was going to be this laid back, I would have brought my box of wine!). In these meetings, ideas came forth that would eventually be synthesized into future policy topics:

  1. Economy
  2. Environment
  3. Education
  4. Health Care
  5. Democratic Renewal and Meaningful Citizen Engagement

The next step for the ABP is to have the next round of Big Listens to hear what people think about each of the topics above. All of that info will be synthesized into policy drafts, that will then be brought to the next round of  Big Listens and so on… Grassroots ideas become policy – I like it!! To see the process that the Alberta Party is following, refer to their website for more details.

Some Big Listens are being held over the next weeks, including one that I am hosting on Wed, Oct. 27  from 7:00-9:00 pm regarding education (of course)! This Big Listen will be online using gotomeeting.com. There are many people around the province that might not be able to get to a Big Listen meeting in person, but they could join us by computer or by phone! Just drop me an email at traceybowes@gmail.com and I will send you more info. For info about other events, click here.

I am so excited to start this new adventure toward helping a political party write its policy. How often do we get a chance to create something that we truly believe in and will affect the way our province is run? From previous interactions and research into this party, I am pretty sure that I will agree with the policies developed. If by some chance, the feedback from these events provides an education platform that I can’t support, then I will have to find another party that has a platform I can support. At least I was part of the democratic process that help develop it!

I am so grateful to Michael, the provincial organizer, for opening the window and inviting me to take the next step in my political journey. With the door being closed after Monday night’s election, it was getting kind of musty in here!!

Til next time,

Tracey