Tuesday, August 13, 2013

State Ed Can't Learn

I went to work today at Summer School but then ended up at the offices of the school at which I work during the regular school year. It was a reminder of what goes on in my world for ten months of the year and what frustrates me so about it.

You may not have heard but I'm an "ineffective" teacher according to the rating system now in place. Many people think that the system makes sense given that students are tested at the beginning of the year and then tested again at the end and thus their growth can be measured. I challenge any of you to design a similar test of your child's ability to politely and happily clean their room. Give them a test on that material in September and then, on some random day in June, test them again. The results of that test will determine whether you get to keep the money in your bank account or give it all to me.

Okay, design the test.

Maybe you're thinking that your kid's moods are kind of complicated and thus influence the test unfairly. You might even be thinking that there's no way you can have the kid happily clean their room. And what if, on the day that you go to test them, their room is already clean or is so filthy that it takes more than a day to clean it. Besides, you're wondering, what right do I have to take your money if your kid fails such a stupid test. It's not like you can control all the variables.

Welcome to every teacher's world.

For me, that world is the world of an ineffective teacher. Of the four kids on whom I was evaluated (yep, four kids made up my entire statistical sample), the results weren't great. It doesn't matter that some of them were under the weather (so to speak) or that I had had them take the pre-test very seriously. The simple fact of the matter is that they didn't do well on that one test, they couldn't get their rooms clean and keep a smile on their faces, and so New York State can begin to move to take my job away. Oh sure, there are steps to it, but I've taken that first step.

So I went to the administrative offices, the place dispensing this wonderful stuff for the state of New York, and I watched things run very poorly. Were the admins being graded on how well they have learned, they'd be getting something worse than an ineffective rating.

I mean this thing was a clusterfuck.

But here's the thing: this doesn't mean that they are ineffective. They might be, but this is no test of that and labeling them ineffective ain't gonna do any damn good.

Instead, what would be good is if they learned from the experience and listened to the people involved in the process. That's us teachers. The best thing that admins can do is to ask us what we think might help the process along. After all, I've graded state exams for fifteen years, sometimes two and three times during the year. After doing it more than twenty times, I have some expertise in the matter.

To one administrator's credit, she asked for suggestions. I've written a memo and I'll give it to her tomorrow. We'll see what happens from there. I'm not expecting good things or bad. I'm waiting to see.

If New York State or my school system had asked me about evaluating teachers, I would have said that this new system is a pile of crap. It doesn't measure what it's supposed to measure, it penalizes creativity and encourages cheating, and it has already led to mercenary teaching in which instructors game the system in order to save their jobs.

Will I ask kids to take the pre-test seriously this coming year? I'm not saying, but my job depends on them doing better in June than they have in September.

Will I focus more on test prep than on real learning? Will I still do choice reading or focus like a laser on a couple books they can use on the tests? Will I hold discussions or practice taking multiple choice questions?

If it takes you more than a moment to figure out the answers, you live in a world I've never visited.

Tomorrow I get to go back there and then in September I'll go back for another year. I'm hoping it's my last at this school. Hell, I'm hoping it's my last in teaching. Screw all this testing and test-prep game. I'd rather write on.