Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Remediating the Remediators

Rockville Centre Principal Carol Burris has a whole series of pieces in the Washington Post, one better than the next. In her latest, she examines the odd formulas for figuring whether or not students need remediation. One is perhaps better than the next, but none appear to be anything worth jumping up and down about. Then she says this:

 Two studies found that student GPAs were a far more accurate predictor—reducing severe placement errors by about half. Another study of remediation found that nearly 25 percent (math) and over 33 percent (English) of remedial course placements in one urban system were “severe under-placements” due to the COMPASS test. In short, lots of kids get placed into remediation who really do not need it.

Teacher judgments are more accurate than the various standardized test-based formulas that were dreamed up by the various geniuses who dream up such things. And this is valid even now, in an era where teachers are pressured to pass as many kids as possible in order to avoid the draconian high stakes attached to student failure.

There's an underlying belief that we are dishonest, that we are worthless, that our judgment is clouded, and that belief is underlined by the stupid Regents-induced law stating we can't grade our own students on standardized tests. Clearly I will just pass everyone for no reason, and consider myself a genius for having done so. And so will you, of course. We are all worthless dogs. The law says so.

Sometimes when we complain about the junk science evaluation system, UFT leaders say, "But it's the law!" The implication of that, of course, is that it's the Ten Commandments, it's written in stone, and it will never, ever be changed. They forget, of course, that they had a part in writing the law. Will that law be on the books forever? Will the law that implies we're all a bunch of crooks be on the books forever?

More importantly, if we're all so crooked that they need to hire banjo players from Kentucky to grade tests for 8 bucks an hour, how did any of us get hired in the first place?

Here's the point--the test-writing geniuses are not geniuses after all. We're not geniuses either, but we are teachers. We do know our students. We know their strong points and weak points. We know where they need help, and when to leave them alone. And despite our not being geniuses, we're not vain enough to design one test for every kid in the state, the country, or the world and say, "Anyone who fails this test is not good enough, and anyone who passes is."

I'm a public school parent. I assumed all my kid's teachers to be good unless I had reason to believe otherwise. On those rare occasions, I called the school, talked to people, and worked out whatever needed to be worked out. Sometimes I was right, and sometimes I wasn't. But I went and found out. I don't expect teachers to be perfect. I don't expect them to be geniuses. I expect them to be reasonable.

And reason is the one thing I never seem to find in the people who make decisions about how public schools are run. Teachers are the scapegoats, but we're not the problem.
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