Sunday, February 18, 2018

Test Prep or Participation? Teachers or Silly Putty?

Every day I read another story about where education is headed. Today it looks like they're moving toward play-based education for young children in Boston. I'm good with that. It makes sense to me to let children explore, rather than trying to transform them into efficient, test-taking automatons. Children need chances to be children, or they'll grow up into Donald Trumps, having temper tantrums on Twitter.

On the other hand, we face incredible pressure to have kids pass tests, and it starts early. While NY State has temporarily relieved teachers of grades 4-8 from consequences of flawed test scores, the rest of us are regularly touched by them. It's problematic because we have no idea where they're going, ever. Even assuming the tests are reasonable or fair this year, which they probably aren't, we have no idea where they are headed.

A few years back, Diane Ravitch compared NY State tests to national NAEP tests and determined them to be flawed. She was roundly criticized as alarmist by the reformies. But a year later, the NY Times and others began to agree with her, and it was clear the tests were dumbed down. And what had the press concluded before this revelation? That Bloomberg was a genius, of course.

Shortly thereafter Bill Gates said, "Let there be Common Core," and there was Common Core, and it was Good, according to Reformy John King. Reformy John declared that only around a quarter of students would pass, and it was so. And the papers, rather than walking back the Bloomberg genius theory, cried that the teachers all suck and must be fired.

And thus we ended up with this system, under which test scores determine whether or not we get to keep our jobs. Sometimes it works in our favor. In a school like mine, where scores are generally good, it helps more than it hurts. Other schools are not so lucky.

And even as we have this veritable Sword of Damocles over our heads, we're told we have to follow the Danielson rubric, and that participation is key. It's funny because I personally want my kids to participate as much as possible. I'm trying to get them to learn basic English, and I can't conceive of any way to do this effectively without, you know, using it. I want them to speak as much as possible.

On the other hand, they're taking a test called NYSESLAT, and my results are somehow tied to it. I've administered this test, and sat in front of bewildered newcomers grilling them over the fine points of Hammurabi's Code. I have no idea what this test is designed to measure, but my best guess is it's looking at how Common Corey the kids are. I don't spend a single minute trying to make students Common Corey, so I don't think I'm helping them with this test.

On the other hand, over at Moskowitz Academies they don't even take the kids I serve. If there are ESL students in Eva's place, they didn't just arrive last week with no knowledge of English. Eva can test prep them to death, or as near as the law allows, and squeeze better scores out of children. She can dump those who don't pass muster back into the public schools, and replace them with no one. And then we read that she has the Secret Sauce and we all suck.

So it's tough to determine, in a passive-aggressive system like ours, which way to go. Do we test prep and appease the MOSL score, or have the kids participate so as to get better observations? And that, of course, does not even consider the very real possibility of your supervisor being delusional, psychopathic, or on a personal vendetta against working teachers.

There's a saying, "You can't please them all." And it's true. You can't emphasize student participation and expect it will test-prep. And you can't test-prep and expect students to be enthusiastic about your class. I've done both, and I know what I prefer.

But that doesn't mitigate the fact that today's teachers are routinely expected, ridiculously, to be all things to all people. That's more than I can do.

How do you deal with these conflicting demands?
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