Wednesday, July 17, 2019

On Elia's Exit--One Down, 17 to Go

It was surprising that MaryEllen Elia jumped ship for a better-paying gig somewhere else, but that's what people do sometimes. Elia was not as awful as Reformy John King, but she didn't substantively improve education in NY State. There are still the tests that so many residents have their kids boycott, and from all accounts I've seen, they're just as crappy as they ever were.

Of course, as a high school teacher, things look a little different. For all the years we read about the moratorium, nothing changed for us. Despite the fact that test scores couldn't be used to rate some teachers, they've consistently been used to rate us. Also, there's no opting out of Regents exams. As every teacher of ELLs knows, if you don't pass the English Regents exam, you don't graduate high school.

Thus, teachers like me have spent a lot of time teaching students how to pass these tests. In the past, there were a lot of writing tasks. I'd show kids how to satisfy them by writing formulaic essays. Now, I do the same thing, but there's a lot less writing and thinking involved. This is because the current test is an exercise in common coriness. I'm not clear on how that quality makes anyone college or career ready, but of course I'm not among the elite geniuses from Albany who make these decisions.

Now they're forming a committee to decide what graduation requirements will be. I hope there aren't any teachers on that committee, and I'm certainly glad none were interviewed for the article. Only the geniuses in Albany are qualified to make decisions of that magnitude. They believe that, you know. They sit around some building that looks like Hogwarts, go to gala luncheons and cocktail parties, and make arbitrary judgments about how to translate test scores into college and career readiness.

They don't waste time taking advice from those of us who actually do the job, because if we were so smart why would we be wasting time in classrooms? Why aren't we at the gala luncheons and cocktail parties where real decisions are made? Instead, we're just waking up each morning and going to work with kids.

The Regents are completely out of touch. Were that not the case, they'd never have allowed CR Part 154 to go forward. How are newly arrived high school students supposed to learn English with little or no English instruction? It's not a problem for these Regents, who simply move the cut scores so as to make it appear they're doing better. When they want teachers to look incompetent, they raise the cut scores. When they want Mike Bloomberg to look like a genius, they lower them.

Of course they pass rules to make sure teachers don't grade their own students on state tests. After all, since they themselves change the rules whenever they feel like, and since they themselves juke the stats to make things look however they wish them to at any given moment, they expect us to do the same. That's curious, because teacher grades are a better indicator of college readiness than standardized tests.

Who would think that those of us who spend our working days with actual students would know them better than some company that designed a multiple choice test? Actually, just about anyone with an iota of common sense would figure that. Not the Regents, though.

About a month ago, a group of teachers from my school, the largest in Queens and most overcrowded in the city, wrote to our local Regent to ask her to meet with us. We wanted to discuss Part 154, since it's got us at a disadvantage. Even though NY State doesn't think we need to teach newcomers English, we still kind of think it's important. Of course, we got no response, since Regents are doing Very Important Stuff.

I think we need Regents who are answerable to the people in NY State. I think we need Regents who talk to teachers and understand what it is we do. Since we don't have them, I think it's time we replaced them all.

What do you think? 
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