Hearts and Minds
Reading Doug at Borderland is always an 'up'--even when he's discussing definitely downward things. This end-of-year reflection is from June 4, 2011. When teachers at at Doug's school-- on the edge of being targeted for turnaround status--were asked asked to say what they planned to do to improve studentsĂ˘€™ scores, this teacher's answer made me cheer.
It sounds bad. YetĂ˘€Â¦
Our average rate of proficient-level test scores for sixth grade consistently exceeds the district and statewide rates;
So, unofficially at this point, we may be nothing more than just another example of school policy roadkill, a perhaps-unintended casualty of what amounts to little more than a numbers game, and weĂ˘€™re left to wonder what will happen to us under our new special status Ă˘€“ a status that nearly all schools will eventually attain as the demand for 100% passing rates by 2014 draws ever nearer. Hoping that none of those mandated Ă˘€śalternative governanceĂ˘€ť measures will kick in, we know that sentiment in Alaska runs from cool to openly hostile toward federal interventions in just about any area you look at. So weĂ˘€™ll wait and see.
As for me, I am done caring about reformist nonsense. At a staff meeting earlier this year we were discussing our Aims. Web Data Boards put up around the room to show how many students in each grade level are below proficient, at risk, or proficient based on how well they handled an oral one-minute timed reading. To me, this was a disgusting display of a brain-dead method to evaluate reading. We were asked to say what we planned to do to improve our studentsĂ˘€™ scores. Since the data showed lots of kids scoring Ă˘€śbelow proficientĂ˘€ť in first and second grade and very few in that category by the time they got to sixth, I observed that the trend was positive, and that at least as far as word-calling skills go, we seem to be doing all right. Teachers at each grade level announced what they planned to do, like focus on comprehension, vocabulary, decoding Ă˘€“ the usual. When it was my turn, I said IĂ˘€™d be going with the happiness plan. WhatĂ˘€™s that? ItĂ˘€™s getting the kids to enjoy reading so that they do it on their own. How does it work? Easy. Give them choices and time to read every day, and then celebrate their accomplishments. I got a round of applause. Kind of sad, really, when I think about what that might mean.
People say that testing narrows the curriculum. Pressure to make the cut does worse than that; kids with the greatest needs tend to get trampled. Diane Ravitch points out that the one sure way to succeed in this environment is to stop enrolling poor kids, or kids with language limitations, homeless kids, or those with learning disabilities:
Being scapegoated for not being miracle workers, teachers and teacher unions should remind these critics that there is no excuse for child poverty, now running close to 21% in the U.S. If poor kids donĂ˘€™t do well in school, then letĂ˘€™s address the real problem and take care of them. Knowing that sick kids donĂ˘€™t do well in athletics do we blame coaches for not making them winners? People would ridicule the idea.
Ignoring what we know about the effects of poverty on families and children creates the impression that schools are somehow the cause of a social condition rooted in economic policy. William Mathis, director of the National Education Policy Center, explains the harm done to kids and to all of us when reformers shine the light only on schools and leave the greater void in darkness:
IĂ˘€™ve seen enough Ă˘€śdataĂ˘€ť. Next year my classroom is going to be about creativity, projects, and having fun with ideas. The way I look at it now, every year may be my last, and I donĂ˘€™t want to go out playing a numbers game that was rigged against me and my students from the start. Rigidly applied standards will fail the kids; thatĂ˘€™s not my job.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.