Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Teacher, A Mathematician and A CSI Walk Into A Classroom

When I was in elementary school, we took a standardized test every year called the Stanford Achievement Test.  I later found out that all of my friends in other schools took something called the SRA, but I don't know what that stands for.

The SRAs that we took in my school where those colored cards where you read a passage and answered questions and you moved through the colors in the box.  I'm sure those weren't the same kind of SRA that my friends took because they weren't really tests.

But I loved those SRAs more than anything because I could plow through at my own pace and get stars every time I finished a level.  I loved nothing more through elementary school than charts that showed my progress. 

Big surprise that I loved them.

I also loved taking the Standford Achievement Tests.  Again, because we moved through the test at our own pace, until we reached the page with the picture of the police officer holding up his hand and saying STOP.

I'm sure that is so politically inappropriate for tests these days.  Children surely can't take tests where pictures of police officers might traumatize them and ruin their tests scores.

And then when we were done, we could read the book that we'd placed under our desks.

Basically, it was a free for all during testing and I loved doing it my way.

I know, I know, big surprise.

I swear the SRAs and possibly the standardized tests had a big influence in why I wanted to be a teacher.   I thought everyone loved learning and moving through anything that had a motivating sticker or prize at the end.

BIG SURPRISE:  not everyone cares about bribery and prizes. And not everyone thinks being allowed unlimited reading time is a reward.   SHOCKING.

When I student taught in Tennessee, there was talk  of their state tests and how they would publish teacher names with test scores in the newspaper.  There was talk of merit pay for high test scores.  But I never thought I'd have to worry about that because we didn't have state tests in Massachusetts.

Oh, but today we do.  We suffered years of MCAS to now do a combination of MCAS and PARCC, eventually to just be PARCC.  Because I teach French, theses are not tests that I have to actually give yet, but these tests completely turn our schools and education inside out and influence everything.

The biggest thing standardized testing has changed is how teachers set their goals and go through the evaluation process.  In the old days, we'd write a goal or two and they could pretty much be as lofty, concrete or creative as we wanted, as long as the evaluator approved.

Goals changed a little about 10 years ago to include how those goals might be met, but it was always vague and more like telling a story.

Evaluation until about 5 years ago consisted of scheduling a time with my principal when I could show off my amazing skills, outstanding and brilliant students and my gorgeous classroom.  They'd come in for 40 minutes, I'd hope nothing bizarre went on, they'd write it up and we'd meet and they'd check off satisfactory or unsatisfactory or whatever it was called in those days.

I enjoyed the process because I was never worried that my kids were out of control or that I might not know how to teach the material.  Plus, being a French teacher, evaluators are never really sure what I'm doing and if it's good or bad.

As long as no one was maimed and no parents called to complain, life was good.

Today's process from goals to evaluation is unrecognizable.  This is where my father will cheer and say "GOOD, it's about time there's some regulation and rules in place".

And I kind of agree.  Until it's time to go through the process.

So, today's goals must be SMART.  That stands for 5 words, the most frustrating one being the M for MEASURABLE.    Gone are the vague words in goals where you might say I "Students will be able to identify personal pronouns in French."  That was pretty specific in the dark ages.

Today, there must be some kind of tool in place that will measure just how well they are able to identify personal pronouns.  There must be pre and post tests.  There must be EVIDENCE OF GROWTH.

This is where the CSI and mathematician come in.

The entire evaluation process now is about EVIDENCE.  There are 4 major standards and then a bunch of substandards and our district chose 9 this year that everyone has to show EVIDENCE for.

So, not only do my goals have to have measurable evidence of growth, I have to do the math to make sure that whatever percentage of students did whatever I said they would and show whatever measure of growth.

If I wanted to spend my life doing math, I would have become an actuary or an accountant.

Then, I have to collect all of my EVIDENCE and upload it to a magical site and then explain it all and what it pertains to.

It all becomes a sales pitch.

As far as I'm concerned, if you are doing what you're supposed to, there isn't anything in the standards that a good teacher would have trouble demonstrating with a few hours notice.  It just becomes an issue of going through everything we've written, made or taken pictures of and putting them under the right standard.

Making us all run around our computers and classrooms looking for evidence is insane.

If I wanted to spend my life providing evidence, I would have gone into forensics.
Then our evaluator goes into the magical site and looks at our evidence and our rationales and then checks off what we did or did not meet.

Somewhere along the way, the evaluator makes unexpected visits to observe the goings on in the classroom and writes them up right on the site.  They usually ask questions that we respond to and some of that can be evidence too.

And that's it.

No more glorious 3 page write ups about how wonderful we are or are not in the classroom.  No more paragraphs about the techniques we used to keep every.single.kid glued to the task at hand.  No more pleasantries about how hard we work outside of the classroom to do other things in the building.

It's all standardized and rule bound and impersonal.

And still not really all that standardized because this evidence is really just little snapshots.  A teacher could highlight an amazing unit that went really well where there is a ton of evidence and look  really great.  But, it could be that the only really good teaching that goes on all year is during that unit because the teacher knows the material well or is really excited about it.  No one would know that because the evidence provided made it all roses.

And, if you're good at sales, and many teachers are, then you can pretty much spin anything into evidence that meets a standard.

There are just as many amazing teachers out there as there are teachers who are not quite making the grade, and something needs to be done to keep an eye on things, but this process is not the way, I don't think.

I haven't found the magical answer yet.  I've been too busy being the best teacher I can be!

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