link back to CSEE's home page

A Somber Meditation on the “High Holy Days of Testing”

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on April 15, 2013


Schools throughout our country have entered a most special time of the academic year. An air of solemnity, severity, stricture, sobriety, and “something of profoundly great import going on” is palpable and permeating.   Why is this time different from all other times in the school year? For the vast majority of K-12 public schools throughout the land, we have begun the most important “high holy days of testing”. High stakes testing has begun in earnest and those stakes are much higher than ever before (as is evident from recent noteworthy events). The next few weeks will see well-heeled routines discarded, any sense of new content or learning put on hold, and rigor replace vigor in every facet of the school day. 

This week’s deluge of testing, as has been the case for most years since NCLB and Race to the Top made sure that standardized testing occupied a primary spot in school accountability, comes after a lengthy preparation period. Almost a Lenten-like vigil accompanies the weeks (and even months) that lead up to actual tests.  And the tradition of “giving up” things certainly occurs as well. Schools sacrifice many different “niceties” to ready themselves for testing.   Some of the things that need to be curtailed or denied might be recess, creative expression, “fun”, higher order thinking activities, social emotional growth, service-learning, the arts, civic educational opportunities and a promotion of student voice.

This vigil for the “high holy days of testing” will also include the requisite (and highly ritualized!) preparations. All bulletin boards must be shrouded. All books or classroom resources that might give an unfair advantage must be removed. Any computers or other electronic devices need to be disabled. Every potentially distracting form of stimulation (including children’s displayed artwork) has to be expunged. And we will begin hearing the almost mantric expressions in the days leading up to tests: “Get a good night’s sleep”. “Eat a healthy breakfast”. “Don’t stress”. “You can do it”.

[Read more…]

Research Roundup

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on November 12, 2015

Restorative justice has been put to the test in Oakland Unified schools and the results are incredibly positive. Oakland Unified faces some unique challenges as one of California’s largest school districts. The district’s students are one-third African American and more than seventy percent are low-income. Expulsion and suspension rates were high. Restorative justice programs within the schools, as well as “circle time” following flare-ups and conflicts, have yielded encouraging statistics. The percentage of students suspended in Oakland Unified District’s schools have dropped by half, from 34 percent for the 2011-2012 academic year, to 14 percent in the following two academic years.  Additionally, chronic absenteeism has decreased while graduation rates have increased. In spite of the hopeful data that shows schools are moving in the right direction, there is still major work to be done. Teacher retention is low and turnover is high; many educators have yet to embrace the restorative justice approach and the work that it entails inside, as well as outside of the classroom. Schools are continuing to keep the dialogue open and build in more reflective circle time for students. However, there is still much more open dialogue needed with teachers and staff to set them up for success as they embrace this new approach to discipline.

When educators take the time to share data with families in different formats it forms a strong partnership that can help support student learning.  The Harvard Family Research Project has researched three ways that schools can effectively share data, including: promoting connections among /between people, ideas, and settings, putting data into context to help families understand and make sense of the data, and support data as an ongoing process through parent teacher and curriculum nights.

“Getting kids to show up”.  That was principal, Mark Gaither’s goal at an elementary school where most students were chronically absent. Chronic absence is “missing more than 10 percent of the school year—two days a month”. Researcher, Robert Balfanz, studies absenteeism and says that it’s something that is over looked in school improvement.  When students are absent they are more likely to “fall behind, and eventually, drop out”. Principal Gaither admits that there are many different reasons as to why students are absent (e.g illness, family problems, etc.) but he says the biggest component is parents.  Each week he opens the library and the school to parents for them to visit and get comfortable inside the school building.  He says that he has been able to build relationships and parents feel as though he may “be able to do something to help”. 

Research Roundup

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on September 17, 2015

Teachers and leadership teams are faced with the challenge of setting up students for success in school, while acknowledging that they leave school and return to oftentimes challenging and disruptive home environments. Principal Nauiokas credits Mott Haven Academy’s strength in training her teachers on how to recognize and respond to trauma, as well as watching for signs of psychological and/ or behavioral problems. The charter school’s social worker, Gabriella Cassandra, teaches a weekly class on social emotional skills so students can learn how to cope and express their feelings. The staff’s emphasis on “making students feel good at school” has yielded great results. Their students not only report feeling safe, free, and “ready to learn”; they have also been scoring higher than the citywide average on their state math and reading tests.


Safety is both a subjective feeling, whether or not a student feels a sense of security and protection from harm, as well as a tangible quality manifested in the external environment in and around the school building. A point of contention revolves around the standardization, or rather lack thereof, in lockdown protocols and defensive measures within schools. The leadership and safety team at Notre Dame Regional High School is placing emphasis on a proactive approach. The formation of “Discovery Teams” allows students to meet with school personnel every two weeks and discuss problems, in addition to brainstorming solutions. This system of “institutional checks and balances” allows the safety and leadership team to keep students physically safe in their external environment while simultaneously fostering a sense of internal security.



Schools across the nation are taking a proactive and positive, rather than a punitive approach to discipline. Zero-tolerance policies are being dismantled in favor of restorative practices that seek to address student misbehavior by offering the opportunity to make amends, strengthening bonds with families and the community, as well as doling out praise for positive behavior. In addition to widespread out of school time as a result of suspensions and expulsions, Zero-Tolerance policies fail to protect vulnerable student populations that are more susceptible to bullying and harassment, such as LGBT students, youth of color, and students with disabilities. Minor infractions are met with harsh discipline that does little, if not anything, to adequately redress student behavior. 

Research Roundup

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on April 14, 2015

In order to decrease expulsions and suspensions, Chicago public schools are using restorative practices, such as, “Culture of Calm” to solve disciplinary problems. Staff expect students to “talk it out” with another student or adult he/she trusts; both the students and staff who are in charge of “the peace room” are trained in restorative practices.  


The term “bullying” is always evolving.  Schools are now widening their policies and enabling school administrators to act on cyber bullying that happens outside school walls. Now leadership can “take action — both in discipline and restorative measures."


Black male students aren’t the only ones who are disciplined at a higher rate than their white male counterparts. Female black students are also facing harsher discipline practices.


Are girls better readers than boys?  Recent research from Brown University provides three main insights 1) Gaps have always existed and they may now be closing, 2. It’s a global problem, and 3. Enjoyment of reading has nothing to do with it.

Teaching “Myself”

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on May 05, 2013


In many of my teacher/staff-training workshops, I like to start with a protocol that I describe as “The Twilight Zone Supermarket Experience” (I’m realizing that very quickly I am dating myself with my cultural allusions and soon will have to accept the fact that many in my audience won’t have a clue to what I am referring!).  I ask the assembled participant’s to project themselves into the future fifteen to twenty years.  They are wheeling a grocery cart through the aisles when they hear their name called out from behind them.  An excited former student approaches and says “Wow, you taught me twenty years ago.  These are the things I remember about you and your class….”.  I then ask them to quickly jot down what they think their legacy is to their students; the things for which they will be remembered.  In the many years of guiding this activity, I have never gotten back that open statement with comments such as:.

“Wow, I really remember that you used to teach an amazing test-prep”.

“You were terrific at lining us up in size order and keeping us quiet”.

“You always, always, always had your objectives written on the board.”

“You taught a mean drill to make us remember the Pythagorean Theorem”.

“You always had a way of making sure that the subject matter you taught was way more important than anything that might have been going on in our lives”.

“When kids misbehaved in your class, you never hesitated to let them know who was in charge and quickly enforce the rules with zero-tolerance for excuses”.

[Read more…]

Page 3 of 4 pages  < 1 2 3 4 >