Thursday, June 2, 2011

It takes a village....

Well, until the test scores come in and then it's every person for themselves. That has been the story at my school this week. We are the proud owners (yes, sarcasm both implied and stated) of the lowest test scores in the district. Well, correct that, my team has the lowest scores, they get slightly better as the grades increase. Our 7th grade team has the best in the district. Wonder what they are doing upstairs.

Now, I could make a million excuses for why this is the case. It could be that we have two teachers on our team who literally phone it in. It could be that we followed the pacing guide provided by the district to the letter. It could be that the kids are a super immature batch. It could be that I gave up my class for 5 weeks to a student teacher who didn't have skills much higher than a 3rd grader. Yes, I could play the blame game all day. But I won't.

Because that isn't going to change the scores one bit. They are done, finished, over. They are horrible. They are embarrassing yes, but feeling bad about them isn't going to change anything. So no matter how many different ways my principal shows them to me, explains the ramifications of them to me, and put together comparison power point presentations complete with graphs for me, I can't change them. Do you want me to feel like a failure? Great, you win, because I do, but all I can do now is move forward from here and plan what to do about it next year.

Therein lies the problem of course. Because I honestly don't know what exactly to do different. There are so many tweaks I can do to try and improve them. But then how will I know what worked? I can go back to assigning nightly homework on concepts they are supposed to already know to keep skills fresh. I can chuck the pacing guide and teach what I know is on the test. But then isn't that just teaching to the test?

Didn't I just spend the past two year researching and buying into the whole "proficiency model" in which an assessment is just one snapshot in time. Kids get multiple tries and many different formats to show proficiency. I have designed assessments for just this purpose to give my kids the best possible option for learning concepts and demonstrating proficiency. But now I'm supposed to put all that aside because we live in the world of high stakes testing. Thanks NCLB for that.

It's all about "the test" and "the test" makes people nervous, and edgy, and unkind to each other. All the things I don't tolerate in my classroom appeared in the staff lunch room today. Accusations..blame..questions.."why are your scores so low." "Is it the kids or is it the teacher?" Is this what we are coming to? Seriously? This is the best hope we have for our children? Teaching them to pass a test? Yeah cause that is what life is all about. Regurgitating answers on a multiple choice test. We don't need any of those problem solving skills! Forget learning to work with each other. As long as you can pass the test then I'm successful as an educator, and you're a shining star in this system.

As I said to my colleague in the lunch room today as insults were being tossed around, I don't mind holding high standards for my students and myself. In fact I expect it, both from them and from me. But I need systems in place to support the education of these children I've been trusted with. I can't do it alone. It takes a village after least that is what I thought I signed on for.

If this is the direction that we are headed I don't think I can do this job for much longer. I want my students to be successful, and I believe that if I teach them the standards set out for their grade level, they should pass the test. Unless they don't, and some won't. I'm excited for the opportunity to tell them that the progress they've made this year is meaningless. Who cares that you can read fluently now, or that you've mastered the art of long division. Who cares that you learned about the life cycle of a butterfly or how to write poetry that made your mom cry.

Yes, you learned to solve problems with your peers in ways that didn't involve your fists (unless it was to throw out a rock, paper or scissors) or your mean words. Fine and dandy kids, but that stuff just doesn't belong in the classroom anymore. Nope, it's high stake testing season.

So much for developing a love of learning in my children. I'm pretty sure that this year was the last I'll be hearing from parents at conference time that this is the first year their child has loved school. Kids want to come to our class because they feel safe and successful. Well, while they are safe, it turns out the successful part, well...not so much. Bummer kids. I'm really sorry about that.

Let's all raise a glass and toast to progress. Cheers to the testing machine, like a dangling chad, it's multiple choice! It should be pretty damn fun when these are the adults who are supposed to be running the country when we get old. Good fucking luck!

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