Friday, August 31, 2018

The Albany Way

There's a famous quote from Sean Connery's character in The Untouchables when he's schooling young Eliot Ness. He explains the Chicago Way.

He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. 

They don't mess around in Chicago. In Albany, messing around seems to be the number one activity. I mean, Diane Ravitch looks at the amazing test scores, compares them to NAEP, and says that's impossible. The papers declare Ravitch must be out of her mind. The grades went up because of Michael Bloomberg's reforminess, he's a genius, and any damn fool could see that. Otherwise, why would he have all that money?

A year later there's a big scandal. Oh my gosh the tests were dumbed down. It's a disaster. How could this happen? A little later, Reformy John King declares that 70% of the people who take the tests are going to fail, because we aren't Common Corey enough. Then the tests go to Albany, they set the cut scores, and waddya know? 70% failed. I'm pretty sure Arne Duncan looked at the results and declared that white soccer moms had kids who weren't so smart, or something equally stupid at that time.

I'm thinking about this because one of the ways Albany rationalizes the miserable CR Part 154 that robs newcomers of English instruction is by saying more of them pass the test. They're talking about the NYSESLAT test, which is supposed to determine English ability but actually does nothing of the sort. Every year all our kids take the test, and we don't get the results until maybe October.

Can you imagine programming hundreds of kids for classes, only to find out in October that the geniuses in Albany want to send them elsewhere? Every school in the state has to do that, and those of us with large ELL populations really have a hard time with it. That's not to mention, of course, that kids who've been sitting in a classroom for months, studying, taking tests, making friends, are suddenly moved around, likely as not for no good reason at all.

Here's the thing, though--Albany manipulates the scores to say whatever they wish them to. It's not even a secret. We can't give grades to the papers, even the ones we ourselves corrected, because Albany sets the cut scores to say any damn thing they wish. Why are students doing better on the test? Is it because less English instruction causes more English learning? Is that the most absurd question you've seen today? I hope so.

I teach these kids, and have done for years. Here's something I notice as a beginning level teacher--my students know less English than they ever did. Why? Because getting into a higher level is easier, or course. I tend to get really rank beginners now, rather than students who know a little English and need a little push. I also tend to get fewer students. Three years ago there was no space in my classes. Lately there's quite a bit.

Why do you think Meryl Tisch, in her infinite wisdom, declared that teachers could no longer grade state tests of our own students? Tisch assumed because she's a crook, we must all be crooks too. The thing about dishonest people is they tend to expect others to share their dishonesty. I don't do like Tisch does. If I give a test, it actually says how many points you get for each answer. If students don't get the proper credit, they can come and scream at me so I change it.

Of course you can't scream at the geniuses in Albany. For one thing, you'd have to drive there. For another, who knows where your test even is? And even if they found it, the score is whatever they say it is. In fact, you won't find it, you'll never see it, and you'll never know exactly why you got that score, be it good, bad, or whatever. There is absolutely no way you will learn anything from a state test, and that's just fine with the geniuses in Albany.

That's the Albany Way.
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