Wednesday, April 05, 2017

My MOSL Rating Is Based on Test My Students Don't Take

NY City's brilliant and infallible Engage system has mandated that I be rated on a test the overwhelming majority of my students will not be taking. As far as I can determine, this is a side effect of the rather awful regulation called CR Part 154. You see, I'm an ESL teacher, but teaching ESL isn't real teaching. That's because under Part 154 anything not regarded as "core content" is utterly without value. After all, if it can't be measured with a standardized test, what proof is there that it even exists?

And yet, in fact, there is a standardized test to measure ESL progress. Sure it's a stinking piece of garbage, but it exists. This test is called the NYSESLAT. It used to test language acquisition, albeit poorly, but it's been redesigned to measure just how Common Corey our students are. For the last few years I've lost weeks of instruction so I could sit in the auditorium and ask newcomers endless questions about Hammurabi's Code. I'm not sure what effect this had on non-English speaking students, but I know more about Hammurabi's code than I ever have.

You may have read me lamenting the fact that I'd be measured on such a poor test once or twice. Last year, in fact, I must have done OK with it since I got an effective rating. I have no idea how exactly I did this. I don't teach to that test nor do I go out of my way to learn what's on it. With the oral part is so outlandish and invalid it doesn't seem worth my while to study the written part. So why the hell aren't I rated on this test?

It's complicated, and I can only guess. But Part 154 largely couples ESL with another subject area. In my school, that area is English. It's kind of a natural pairing, until you realize the high likelihood of ELL newcomers sitting around trying to read To Kill a Mockingbird when they can't yet tell you what their names are. After all, when English teachers take the magical 12 credits that render them dual-licensed, how can we be sure part of that training entails instruction to NOT give ELLs materials they CANNOT READ? Maybe the focus is on making stuff more Common Corey. Who knows?

My case is a little unusual. I majored in English as an undergrad, and started out as an English teacher. I only fell into ESL by accident. I recall some administrator walking up to me and asking, "How would you like to teach ESL?" My response was, "What's ESL?" The administrator said, "Try it." I did and I loved it. I turned down my very first appointment, got a job in the world's worst Irish wedding band, and took my Master's. Every day I'm grateful to have stumbled into this.

Decades later, I find myself one of a growing number of dual-licensed ESL/ English teachers in my department. This was convenient for me and my school. I am a certified English teacher and a real ESL teacher. With all due respect, I didn't just take 12 credits and claim certification. The down side, of course, is I am the official English teacher of my students. (Actually, I used to think that was an up side, but now if I'm gonna be rated by the English Regents I'm not sure.)

As a teacher of beginners, my students are sorted by English level rather than grade. The overwhelming majority of my students are in 9th and 10th grade. But there are six 11th graders too. The geniuses over at Advance have determined that I will be rated on their English Regents scores. Who am I to question the great and powerful minds over at Advance? Don't they have air-conditioned offices and make a whole lot more money than I do?

Of course ELLs take history courses that terminate in Regents exams, and their teachers will be judged by them. They take science and math courses and those teachers are stuck with the state scores too. I suppose they can factor in somehow that these students are ELLs. Maybe that makes the junk science a little fairer. On the other hand, if you teach five classes that's 150 students. While that's likely not a valid sample, it beats the hell out of six.

Like everyone I know, including Diane Ravitch, I have no idea how the hell these scores are calculated. It's some complex algorithm incomprehensible to all living humans I know, and that ought to be good enough for me. This notwithstanding, it's a bit worrying to be judged by a sample score of half a dozen students. It's particularly nerve-racking since I know for a fact that all of my students are beginners or near-beginners. That's why they're in my class.

But hey, when you have a teacher rating system based on junk science, stuff happens. So why shouldn't it happen to me?
blog comments powered by Disqus