Friday, September 14, 2007

The Classroom

The Classroom should be a version of "The Office" but set in public schools.

Just got back from Sam's Club and Office Max. I dropped about $75 on office supplies for my classroom. I got towels and markers for my dry-erase boards, pencils and erasers for the upcoming ISTEP test, pens, and brightly-colored copy paper. Just another donation to the school system. Yes, it's tax deductible to a point, but Magi and I both drop more than we are allowed to deduct by several hundred dollars.

On the other hand, we almost didn't get our first full paycheck of the year today. There was an error in processing direct deposits which was partially resolved by the end of the day. Magi and I got our pay because of the bank we use, but some other teachers didn't. Because of the way the school system keeps starting the school year earlier and earlier and the way the contract says that we are limited in the number of pays we can receive in a calendar year, they had to pay us a half-pay two weeks after we started, the other half of which they deferred until the first week of January, when we will receive one-and-a-half pays. Make sense to you? Think of it this way. You work through a week of vacation now, and we'll compensate you for it in four months or so. Sound fair to you? Welcome to education.

So why does the school system keep starting us earlier each year? Well, it's simple. No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires students to make Adequate Yearly Progress over the year before. For our school, that means that our seventh and eighth graders need to perform better than the seventh and eighth graders did last year on Indiana's standardized test, which is called ISTEP. Since the test is given at the same time each year, it behooves the school system to start the students learning earlier and earlier to give them more and more time to prepare for the test. Eventually at this rate school will start in mid-December and get get out right around the end of September, so that students have had an entire year to prepare. I've always thought that fall would be a great time for a vacation. It's the off-season at Disney World!

Now let's look at that Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) again. We're not assessing students where they are when they arrive and then measuring where they are when they leave. We're not even assessing the seventh graders of last year and comparing them with their performance in eighth grade this year. We're comparing last year's seventh graders with this year's seventh graders. If you're into baseball, that's like a manager moving his rookie shortstop to another position and bringing a new rookie in to play shortstop and comparing the two rookie seasons to see if progress has been made. Every year he has to bring in a new rookie shortstop and each one has to play better than the last or he's in danger of losing his job. Oh, and there's no draft. He has to play whoever shows up.

To understand this law at its most ridiculous, you have to understand cells. There are cells determined by ethnicity, gender, language proficiency, special needs, and socio-economic status. If any one of these cells fail to make AYP the entire school fails. The most important cell is language proficiency, because therein lies the irony. Students who are not proficient in English are still expected to take and pass a test that is English. If some of those students manage to become proficient in English they are moved out of that cell, leaving only those students who are, you guessed it, not proficient in English. According to this law, all students must pass the standardized test by 2014. I have a feeling that at our school will fall at least one cell short.

I have no problem with accountability. But I would like a common assessment that takes the measure of a student where they are and then compares it to where we are able to bring that same student. Either that or make it so that students cannot pass each grade until they pass the previous grade's standardized test. We have kids who have never passed a grade-level test. If they can't pass third grade, they put them in fourth grade. If they can't pass that, well, fifth grade would be a nice change of scenery, etc. We have kids in eighth grade who can't multiply 8 and 7 consistently but we are expected to teach them how to collect and analyze data using quartiles, as well as to solve systems of linear equations.

When is Hollywood going to make a show or a movie about schools that reflects the actual folly of what we are trying to do? It's more farcical than the comedies that have already been made. Maybe that's the problem; no one would believe it.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Jim, I hear you. I think those end-of-grade testings don't work if you are comparing them to the previous year's numbers. You need to have some kind of target level PERIOD and have the children reach that. Pass it then you pass. Fail to reach it and you repeat the grade. We're setting up a generation that won't know how to operate in the real world.