Apr 29, 2009

Juking the Stats

Last year, I was OTF poster boy, working tirelessly to close the achievement gap. And results were good. As a school, we showed notable gains on CST geometry scores. I was happy.

I'm less confident this year. I don't feel my kids are prepared. In fact, overall, I feel less of a teacher as I was last year. Word on the street is that 2nd year is miles easier than the first, yet the lows I experienced this year were lower and longer than last. I find myself looking to year 3 more and more. What improvements can I make? How can I be better prepared? How can I fix things? I find myself merely waiting on these next 5 weeks to pass as opposed to getting a job done.

I'm beginning to question my purpose here. I feel like summer institute bred me to close the achievement gap, which is something I believe in. Wholeheartedly. But "closing the achievement gap" manifests itself in the form of "improving test scores" and I'm sick of it. Rarely do I attend a faculty meeting or enter an edu-debate w/ a colleague w/out the mention of test scores and I tire. Rarely do I hear news of education and work towards "progress" without it being linked to standardized tests.

API, AYP, funding, merit-based pay, student placement - so much of it hinges on how our kids do on these tests. Tests that don't matter to students (I've talked about this in the past), tests that matter too much to teachers. If we want to fundamentally change the education system for the better, we need to fundamentally change how that happens and how it's measured.

Granted, I have NO answers. I do want my kids to do well on these tests b/c I want them to feel successful, I want them to prove they've learned something this year, but I don't want my teaching to be driven solely by reaching higher test scores. The purpose of my existence as a teacher is shifting - I want to go beyond the curriculum and beyod these tests. I begin the transition from year 2 and year 3 with this in mind.


adriana said...

Test scores...I think they are hogwash (soaked in swine virus). My opinion and those of many teachers and educators of all levels clearly have no merit in the minds of those who designed this system.

Regardless of why I don't like the tests, the results of these tests really do affect our students. Whether it be their self-esteem, parents' real estate values, school's infrastructural stability. And to clarify the last one, our school is in the middle of restructuring for not meeting our AYP's in Program Improvement Year 4, i.e. we didn't do well enough on our tests. So we can't ignore the tests.

All this aside, as teachers we need to prioritize the type of lessons we would like our students to learn. I attend to the state standards to a certain degree, however, I will not teach to the tests. There is too much valuable information in my subject (biology) to only focus on the curriculum California dictates to teach.

Students in places like the Bay Area and NYC have so many different educational needs. I am not just a life science teacher. I am a nutritionist. I am a therapist. I am a college adviser. I am an English teacher. I am a civil rights activist. I am a role model and mentor. My students need me to be so many different things. I cannot take hours out of my day to do all this, but I can incorporate their different needs into my units and classroom design.

For me being an effective teacher, doesn't mean raising test scores. It means helping move students forward from where they are at and furthering their development as a person. In order to do this, I've got to consider all of their needs, tests and all.

danielle duong said...

well articulated mr. g

Kristine Dahl said...

I struggle with the same thoughts and am often brought down by the weight of standardized tests on my shoulders.

My mentor comforts me by shifting my focus to the progress my students have made from September to June. Take for example a change of attitude towards math, a new found appreciation for math, or greater self confidence in his/her abilities. School is not about the tests for students, and it shouldn't be about the tests for teachers.