Friday, November 2, 2012

Yes, we are also over assessing and over tracking the neediest special ed students. Now I need someone better at math to prove it.

I spent most of my post-storm day at work without students getting ahead with lessons and student portfolios and that kind of thing, and in the middle of it all, I got kind of paranoid and felt I had to justify some instructional decisions which led me to create and solve a couple of math problems - perfect for the week of Halloween since math is a bit scary to me.

Some background:
In our school, we have an expensive new copier that does all kinds of great stuff like color copies, but is not made for endurance and durability. Since our site works exclusively with 6 alternate assessment classes, we use a ciriculum that is on-line and is heavy on the cutting and pasting since a lot of  the students can't write.
So, a lot of copying. Also, we didn't have regular letter sized paper for a month or so. SO the copier jammed so much that it was deemed from ON HIGH that only the secretary can make copies, submit them in advance, please. (Our secretary is a lovely hard working woman who literally RUNS up and down the hallways every day to get the other things she needs to do done, it's unfair)

Then we ran out of toner, likely due to some backlog in the copying due to the aforementioned problems.And are low on paper. So now our unit coordinator has to look over the copies we would like to make and has veto power. Clearly we're making too many copies, and it's getting to be expensive and a hassle....


In our school we do student portfolios that track IEP goal progress, which is fine and good. Classroom teachers must create 2 reading, 2 writing, and 2 math goals per student on IEPS and track them in a portfolio with evidence, and work products are the STRONGLY PREFERRED  method. Oh, and we also have to track 2 other IEP goals in this portfolio - we create our own, or track something from, say, counseling or OT/ PT. That's 8 IEP goals each I have to gather evidence for a month.

These providers, along with the cluster teachers do their own portfolios of each student, so I don't get the point of that, but am beyond pointing out the redundancy. But I digress.

So I did these math problems:
12 kids x  goals each to track + 8 pieces of homework/ week x 12 kids:
Per month it's 96  for classwork + 384 homework = 480.

and really the 96 is supposed to be more, since we're just supposed to be taking samples of classwork - and I gotta make pictures and things for the kids who can't write to cut and paste, so we're looking at a ream a month, if not more. I can  only make a few things double sided, what with all the things that need cutting and gluing.

That's a fine how - do- you- do, huh?

Then think about their science/art/speech/OT/PT/ gym portfolios

I shiver to think about how much more paper the NYS Alternate Assessment will eat up, and then those citywide task "bundles" which AA students are not exempt from. 

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. Or rather, not seeing either as they'll all be in files in public schools.

And then add in the special ed social/ emotional factor - none of these kids can sit through doing a worksheet independently, or even sit for more than a minute or two without blood, sweat, tears, flying furniture, eating their work, etc. 

I haven't even mentioned, nor thought about til this very moment, the time consuming assessments I'm required to do. Two benchmarking kind of things that take about hour each, (I'm lowballing it) twice a year (12 kids x 2 hours x twice a year = 48) and a pre and post unit test that our curriculum requires every month (15 minutes per student x 12 =180 minutes twice a month is 360 minutes...6 hours/ month)

Is it even mathematically possible to get all this done? 

Can someone out there crunch numbers for me?

Take into account the time assessing/ benchmarking above. If I spend 5 minutes with each student working on their piece of evidence for their portfolio (96 a month) how much time is that?
Compare that to how much time I have in class. School is from 8:20 to 3:10. We have 7 periods that are 50 minutes long, with 5 minutes in between. 1 period is taken up with an intructional breakfast (95% free / reduced meals) and the kids do need that amount of time to eat, get settled, etc. There's a lunch period. I have one prep period and one admin period a day - let;s say I use my admin period to do this work, but take the prep period to, well prep.

Also, cost of paper/ toner/ secretary's time/ unit coordinator's time reviewing and vetoing copies?

Monday, August 27, 2012

What I have to do vs what I want to do

I work in a special ed district, D75, in NYC that encompasses all 5 boroughs, that serves the neediest students.  There are a number of stand alone buildings and a lot of off-sites - a floor here or there in a community school that are co-located. (Which gets just as weird as charter / public school co-locations, I'm sure) This school year, my site is moving to brand new campus: I'm told it's a nice building, Smartboards in every room, etc. So I suspect at least my classroom will have at least a fresh coat of paint. Tomorrow, the teachers and unit coodinator will meet there to check out the place and start unpacking. I got an email today asking for a brief meeting with everyone in order to discuss goals for the following year.

This is the time of year that I'm most idealistic and gung ho - and it usually lasts until I arrive for the first - day -of- school - for - teachers PD and receive a laundry list of ridiculous hair-splitting tasks. Then I lose my enthusiasm. But, I'll save that for another post.

Now that I've been at this for 6 years, my idealism and gung-ho edness has become decidedly less idealistc and gung - ho. The gap between what I want to do / feel is best for the students and what I have to do to make it look like the children "is learning" is becoming much wider. All over the country, this disconnect is infuriating teachers - and I think that us special ed teachers are feeling it the most. In particular, those that teach the students who have the most severe cognitive limitations.

But in the spirit of a new year, and for posterity's sake, here is the best balance between what I have to do and how I'm going to reconcile that with what I believe is best for the students

Have to: Use the language of common core in student IEPs at grade level, in 2 reading, 2 writing, and 2 math standards
Will do: Utilize the option to create short term objectives to create more developmentally appropriate goals that will also teach living skills
Example: Most of the students I teach can't count very well, but I am supposed to teach fractions. I will create real world examples of fraction use: measuring while cooking, 4 quarters make up a dollar, etc 

Have to:  Document progress in common core standards in student portfolios
Will do: Document the level of independence a student achieves within that goal - reassess the goal as needed
Example: Johnny counts out that 4 quarters are in a dollar with full assistance, a little help,or independently. If he can do the task independently within a few months, or it doesn't seem like he's getting it, then the goal will be re-assessed

Have to: Document student progress is 2 other optional areas other than the 6 discusssed above for each student
Will do: Optional area #1 will be a "reading" log. Optional area #2 will be a target behavior log
Example:  Since most of the students are non readers, the log will incorporate how long a student can, say, attend  to a read aloud in a small/ large group, if they can point to targeted sight words, if they looked at it with a friend,. did they discuss and comprehend the pictures? Students can chart the books they've "read" and  get a prize for every 10 or so. This will, I believe, get them excited about and interested in books and give me ideas about what their strengths and needs are. 

Have to:  Not teach spelling or multiplication or any of that stuff by memorization or rote
Will do: Just do it anyway.  The students I teach really need to sing the alphabet and practice counting by rote and all that stuff. . I will be sure that I note on IEPs that students need frequent opportunities for repetition and practice. Keep a number of my textbooks from grad school around to back me up on that.
Example: "Hi Mister or Miss Quality Reviewer - if you refer to the IEP you will see that the student benefits from frequent opportunities for repetition and practice, if you look at this book...." 

Have to:  Make an aesthically pleasing classroom that looks cute and teacher-y and is functional -
Will do: Put books in bins on the bookshelves, hang some posters, also be sure to write in IEPS which students benefit from an environment with few visual and auditory distractions. 
Example: Most of my students benefit from a place that has few visual and auditory distractions - I write that in most IEPS. 

Have to: Make sure anything and everything looks good enough for "visitors" to not "question" (I'm quoting my administrators from the last Quality Review)
Will do: Make sure anything and everything is user friendly for the students and adults that are in the classroom daily. Be ready to explain those decisions.  Put them in the IEPs - Offer opportunities for large, small group activities, write the rules of those  and display them in the classroom so a "visitor" who might ask a "question" will see that it does happen
Example: Poster titled, "Group Activity Rules" with stuff like "keep hands feet to yourself" on it. 

Any other ideas out there?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hello, Mr. Plop!: What are we gonna do about "those gays?"

Hi there, the 5 people who read this! Wait,  4....and a special hello to my mommy!

   I have been following most of the important education news all summer, and am interested - but  not exactly eager- to see how all that bullshit will play out in the world of special ed.

   But for this post, I'm going off on a tangent - I'm going  to talk about another big problem we have in the public schools in NY State:
the gays.

    The teacher gays, I mean.

    What are we going to do?

     My closest work colleague, Mr. Plop,  is also a personal friend. He went and got all married  to some other gay dude, Mr. Pap, this summer. The Plop / Pap union is... GET THIS - completely legal and legit, and they even had an actual CHRISTIAN minister to perform the ceremony. People went to  the wedding and even were happy about it - including their entire families,  some southerners, myself,  and Mr. Plops's mom is his mom AND southern!

    People bought Pottery Barn gift cards to this thing.

    Seriously, what're are we gonna do?

    What if, in the natural course of conversation, someone, maybe even me,  inadvertantly refers to Mr. Plop's husband as "Mr. Plop's husband?" and not "Mr. Pap," or "wife?" What if we forget to play the pronoun game and then -  someone's parent finds out that the Misters Plop and Pap have engaged in a completely legal and legit act of blatant love, gayness, a true commitment to become just as boring as every other married couple and are judged unfairly? Or perhaps even an administrator who is feeling pressure from parents?

    I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it could really happen.

    What are we going to do?

     Except stand with them of course.





Friday, May 18, 2012

The Men Who Stare at Coat Hooks

Today, the teachers in my school had to turn in student portfolios for review. In the grand tradition of education, there's been a lot of fuss about binders, plastic sleeves, and tab dividers; some fairly vague expectations about what sort of data we should have in there laid out that have been changed several times over the school year; and no examples provided.

 Now, most teachers worth their salt can come up with a system to track the progress of their students in a way that makes sense to teachers, parents, and the kids. Special ed teachers face a bit more of a hurtle due to the small steps their students need to take to master something.

 That can be hard to do with a child who has been working on a skill for several years - like identifying letters. A lot of that stuff is hard to put on paper: For example, a kid can trace or copy the letter C until the cows come home, produce some sort of worksheet with a big lteer C on it and place pictures of a cat and such on it - but does that really prove they know it? What if I showed them a C and a G on a flashcard and they found the C, but what if they couldn't make the distinction with magnetic letters? Or what if I always held the C in my right hand?

 You probably get the picture. What I decided to do was create a series of checklists for my alternate assessment special ed kids, note exactly HOW I asked them to identify the letter (flashcard, written on paper) whether they did it expressively (student saying, "That's a C") or receptively (Teacher asking, "Find the C) how much assistance did they require, etc. I choose a day once a month to "test" them on a task, record the method, if they met IEP criteria, how much adult prompting was needed, and so forth. Changing up the method will tell me if the really know what this is or have just memorized something; and going from, say, helping the student point to the C hand over hand and and giving a verbal prompt "c like cat" is HUGE for my kids.

 However, I was dismayed to see that my student portfolios were extremely thin compared to the others turned in. Although I had the tab dividers and sleeves and of course examples of student work for the things they could actually do on paper, I'd been nervous all day. I knew I could "speak to" my decisions about the checklists, I had a feeling that it might not cut the mustard and that in the grand tradition of education - the size, weight and lack of quantity would be considered more than what quality of these checklists.

 This is the part where I need to mention that I think most of the administrators in D75 understand and care about how difficult it can be to prove progress with special ed kids. I think many of them have "argued" with the powers that be about the very issues I've mentioned above. I think they are losing more and more of these battles. I think the consensus coming from On High is "Figure it out. We'll let you know if it looks good." And I was freaking out today, just KNOWING I'd have to have an awkward conversation about my portfolios, state my piece, and then do it the way "they" want anyway.

 So a knock at my door came about 2pm today. I waved the principal in. She didn't come in. I opened the door. She was standing there with a 4 men in suits and two women in business casuals. I invited them in. They gave me a blank look. The principal said, "We'll be in in a second." I just KNEW it - some sort of mock Quality Review. I was in for it.

 I went back to work for 15 minutes, they entered. I extended my hand, "Hi, I'm Miss RIm." They gave me a blank look. No one said anything. I had no idea who they were. They came into the room, stared at the students' coat cubby, calculated how many hooks were there, had a debate over whether or not students could or should have a hook for a coat AND a bookbag, or what. They opened closets. They turned the water in the sink on and off. They muttered and whispered. Then someone said, "Well, we can always add another row of coat hooks. Or probably 2 more."

 Then they left. The Men Who Stare at Coat Hooks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

PS- the kids hit us. When are we going top talk about MY kids, PartIII

Special ed teachers have the challenge of teaching academics to a wide variety of students with disabilities and abilities. In District 75, all the schools are specialized schools. That means in order for a student to be placed there, they have had to exhibit physical, behavioral, or academic deficits so severe that they cannot be supported in another type of special ed classroom. The special ed teachers in D75, therefore, not only have to implement "rigorous" academic instruction, but also plans for instruction in behavior, social skills, activities of daily living, even toilet training. It's a lot of work,. a lot of trial and error, and a lot of just thinking to make a plan that addresses all these areas for 6,8, or 12 students that's do-able. Especially when the kids hit us. Or scratch us. Or push us, or throw chairs at us. Or other students. Or punch out the glass in a window. Sometimes the student may not understand what they are doing, but sometimes they do. And hit a teacher intentionally. Or scratch one intentionally, Or push one, or throw chairs at one intentionally. Or call a teacher a "fucking cunt" intentionally. Sometimes there's a gray area where a teacher can't quite figure out if it's intentional or not. But we get hit. Often. And from what I've been reading lately, there's been an awful lot of 911 calls from community schools who do not have the supports in place for an out of control student. Often the student is taken to the emergency room but is not admitted and in school the next day. Maybe after several incidents the student may be transferred to a D75 school, but I'll tell you what - we don't have the supports either. The way the system is set up, it's becoming increasingly difficult for teachers and schools in general to keep staff members from getting hit. We are not supposed to restrain a child, so what are we to do when they beat us and smash their fist through glass - all the while calling us names that even make a person who calls herself "Miss RIM" blush? And even if we could "just hold him down for like a 1/2 hour" like a parent suggested to me once, how are the other students in the class supposed to get the rigorous, highly effective instruction I have to develop and deliver in order to keep my job? No one says this. No one outside education acknowledges that we go to work knowing that students verbally and physically abuse each other and the staff. Bill Gates doesn't go to work and get smacked. If that happened to Geoffory Canada at the Harlem Children's Zone or Eva Moskowitz at Success Academies, the student, oops, pardon me, "scholar" would receive demerits and be "counseled out"....(then be "our problem") If some kid called Michelle Rhee a "fucking cunt", they'd get tape over their mouth. What gives? With all the hullabaloo starting a big national conversation about education, let's have this conversation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When ARE we going to talk about my kids?...Part 2

Today I decided to support the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing. I support the resolution because I feel the same way most teachers do about high stakes testing. I also wanted to take a moment to describe how the testing culture trickles down into classrooms that serve students with more pronounced cognitive know, my kids. My kids have to complete a NYS Alternate Assessment Datafolio. Each grade level has "alternate level grade indicators." (AGLI) Teachers choose 2 ELA, 2 Math and for some grades Social Studies and/ or Science in elementary school. In high school, it's all subjects. We can chose discrete trial samples, video evidence or work samples to prove progress in each AGLI. There is a handy manual about 1000 pages long with samples of tasks. Sounds reasonable so far, right? Unfortunately, it never seems to go as simply as it should. First of all, most AA teachers will tell you that working most children to complete a worksheet is like pulling teeth. Gathering video evidence requires parents of the student AND their peers to sign and return a consent form. That's harder than you think. Using work samples is the most simple way to complete a datafolio. Secondly, one can't just take a few samples of work the students are already doing. Teachers have to be sure that each work sample has directions written on it in the exact same language as the state. And of course, sometimes the language is nebulous. "SHow you can distinguish fact from opinion by selecting and identifying statements of fact and opinion from a fact based text." True story - a coach told me that the fact based text I chose for this one wasn't good enough, because the fact based text I used wasn't cited. The facts I was trying to get the student to identify were: A weatherperson tell us the weather. They will tell us if it will be hot or cold. I had to design a new task. Also - teachers are charged with scoring these pieces of work with a % of answers that are correct AND a level of independence. The levels of independence are from 0 to 100. What does an independence level of 47% mean vs. 54%? And yes, they do "count" on a school's report card and stuff. WHen the datafolios are sent to the state, students scores can be thrown out if a teacher misnumbers the pages or even if a student makes an errant mark on the page that a teacher didn't write "student made errant mark" and does not initial it. The scorers do not have access to the students IEPs or any other evaluations. So, if I choose simple AGLIs without weird language, give the kids work that's easy for them and they can do independently, give them a fresh sheet if they doodle on it, and number the pages correctly....they get 4s. Or, I could give them difficult work and do it hand over hand and then they get a 4 for correct answers and a 1 for independence? Or I could just lie. Or even do it myself - we can give them tasks that are cutting and gluing. Then I look like a highly effective teacher and maybe get a bonus! Not only is this process really easy to skew, it's more a test of the teacher's ability to dot bureaucratic i's and cross bureaucratic t's. Finally, it's also gigantic time consuming, money sucking, tree-killing pain in the ass.