March 7, 2014 in EDU 33692
As a warmup, open the cwe Excel file, and answer the following questions as comments to this post:
- Which school has the best students?
- With the Monday seating chart handout, explain why I arranged the students the way I did.
- What math skills have the students already mastered? Which ones do I need to reteach?
Last class, we learned about using ERIC to find meaningful online educational materials. In order to justify using these materials in the classroom, rather than Kaplan or Princeton Review test prep books, it’s important to use our “standards alignment” skills to ensure that we’re not veering away from NYS mandated content. Today, we will focus on producing assessments that are individualized (based upon prior assessments) and similar to the standardized test prep binders rife throughout our schools.
A preliminary question: how reliable are current standardized tests in assessing student skills?
Let’s start with the object of assessment in New York, the Regents exam. Almost every year, test questions have to be thrown out due to poor item question design. Even when the test givers get the questions right, the Regents assessment can still lack rigor in guaranteeing student answers actually reflect mastery of the content area. Longitudinally, an 81% in one year can turn into an 18% in the next year. A school given an A rating in 2010, ended up with a D rating in 2011. Even the purpose of the Regents, to define the requirements necessary to receive a high school diploma, is circumvented by hundreds of students every year.
Predictably, the number of cases of students cheating on the Regents has tripled under Bloomburg. At Stuyvesant High, one of the crown jewels of the NYC public education system, students are using their smart phones to get over on tests. In the spirit of national security, the Regents responded by beefing up security at test sites. But these responses are short sighted. “Do as I say, not as I do,” never works. Children learn from the adults closest to them, and evidence of adults cheating is rife within our school system.
Busted: Erasure Evidence
The only way a student can drop from the 99th percentile to the 30th percentile in one year is by adults juking his stats. 1,250 accusations of test tampering or grade changing have been filed during a decade of Bloomburg’s education visions. Erasures are the most common claim of juking the numbers, and that activity can only happen behinds closed doors in rooms where only adults are present. Erasing wrong answers to manipulate a school’s stats is a national epidemic: cases in Pennsylvania, Atlanta, and Florida have been reported. Even Michelle Rhee got caught up in an erasure scandal. Test prep companies like Princeton Review aren’t any better than the schools, cheating students and schools out of millions of dollars.
It would be easy to do what is always done in education debacles: blame the teachers. But cheating runs all the way up the chain of command. A year ago, a principal was fired for juking student attendance to keep her stats high. Other schools have been kicking kids out to other “underperforming” schools to maintain a 95% graduation rate. Charter schools can even cheat on who gets admitted to their schools (and what does it mean when our children’s education is determined by a spin on a lottery wheel?) Other charter schools view their teachers as little more than janitors collecting garbage.
And the highest levels of education management in the city? I’ve got only one thing to say: Cathy Black.
Getting Bloomburg to provide information about anything, like how two of his buddies were able to scam $6.5 million from our schools, is next to impossible. But when the first evaluations of elementary school teachers (but not charter schools!) came online last year, he couldn’t move fast enough to hand them over to the newspapers. The expected result, bullying the teachers at the bottom of the list.
If you’ve gotten anything from this post, it should be that a list of 12,170 names and numbers, although objective-looking, likely offers little material to provide insight for teachers seeking to improve their profession. How did those numbers get there? By the same people guilty of the crimes listed above. The very same numbers were considered to be so skewed as to terminate a bonus program created to reward high-performing educators.
Finally, just this week, the College Board announced a massive overall of the SAT exam, tacitly admitting that the exemplar of standardized tests has next to nothing to do with accurately measuring a student’s ability to succeed in college. If we can’t trust the publishing houses to get the test right, politicians to effectively manage their communities’ school boards, or even principals, teachers and students not to cheat on them — how can we ever know that the exams students take are accurately measuring what they know?
Keepin’ It In House
The simple answer: keep it in house. In the past two Practicums, I’ve offered you links to real student spreadsheet data. You will generate rich, student specific data everytiime you teach a class. Why reinvent the wheel by contracting millions if not billions of dollars to outside corporate junkets to make our students’ tests for us? We can do it better — we know our students, and by using item analysis, we can narrowly tailor class assessments to focus on each student’s known deficiencies. A few computer skills can make this recentering of assessment accountability a reality.
Let’s see how we can individualize students assignments using Microsoft Word’s mail merge function. Mail merge is usually used to add personal information to a form letter, usually as an advertisement to buy something. But mail merge is extremely helpful at designing class assignments in a way that prevents copying and cheating. Let’s look at two files, one Excel and and one Word, and see how we can produce unique assignments quickly, for every student in a class.
Let’s look at the student data first. The spreadsheet has a list of student names and some words and numbers associated with a homework computer assignment where each student has unique instructions on how to format some text, and unique numbers they will use to create a timesheet spreadsheet. You could just hand out copies of the spreadsheet, but linking the Excel data to a Word mail merge document makes the instructions much more readable and understandable.
After opening the Word file (and enabling editing), click on the ‘Mailings’ tab, click on the ‘Mail Merge’ button, and click on the ‘Step by Step Mail Merge Wizard’.
If Word didn’t ask you to relink the Excel student data file when you opened it up, on Step 3 of the Mail Merge Wizard,, you can click on ‘Select a different list’ to reconnect the data.
Once the Excel and Word files are linked together, you can click through the Wizard steps, and voila! You have a page for each student with individual instructions. Using this technique allows you to prevent copying/cheating, and by making your edits in the spreadsheet, you have more control over how the class assignments will be differentiated.
More importantly, using your Excel student data spreadsheet to review past scores makes it easy to determine what each student’s next assignment should be. But what about actual tests?
Paste Linking Excel Data into PowerPoint Slides
This technique does not embed an Excel spreadsheet into PowerPoint, instead if you double click on the image, it will open up Excel, and then you can make whatever edits to the data you desire. When you ‘Paste Special’, click on the ‘Paste Link’ button, and click OK. Now you have a PowerPoint slide with an Excel graph that you can open up in Excel to edit.
Let’s look at an example of how this works. Open up the Excel and PowerPoint files below.
In this example, PowerPoint links have to be manually reconfigured by selecting the File | Info screen and clicking on the ‘Open File location’ link on the bottom right corner of the page. This will take too long for the class, so I’m just going to illustrate the result of paste linking Excel data into PowerPoint slides.
First, let’s look at the Excel spreadsheet. The first tab, ‘fractions’ shows a way to allow Excel to calculate the sum, difference and products of mixed numbers. This only works for ruler fractions, however (1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16). Still, it beats having to figure them out for yourself. More importantly, by linking these numbers to a PowerPoint slide, worksheets can be quickly generated, and, most importantly, with just a few changes to the spreadsheet, completely different assessments (and answer sheets) can be generated so to narrowly tailor each worksheet to a specific student’s needs. Also, have Version A, B and C tests makes it next to impossible to cheat. Finally, Excel is a paragon of making math activities simple for a teacher trying to juggle the needs of 30 students at the same time.
Divesting yourself of the power to assess your students and leaving it in the hands of outside corporations leads to no good. Using technology in the classroom can help you take back what was once ours: assessing our students in meaningful, accurate ways. Specifically, mail merge and paste link techniques can help you produce individualized, data-driven assessments easily, and in a way that no outside business can hold a candle to.
- Design a class assignment like the mail merge example that has at least 5 personalized fields.
- Create a Word document for this assignment with blanks where the Excel fields can be linked.
- Create an Excel spreadsheet similar to the mail merge example. Fill in the cells with names and personalized numbers and words. Have at least 5 students in the class.
- In our next class, I will help you link the Word and Excel files together.