Sunday, October 27, 2019

Too Much Testing? City Has Simple Solution--More Testing

CPE1 is a progressive stronghold. They have a vibrant school community that stands up to nonsense. When an abusive principal started pressing charges against UFT activists and banning activist parents from their children's school, they screamed, and continued doing so. The principal was reassigned. For all I know, she's twiddling her thumbs at Tweed, in the company of other highly-compensated thumb-twiddlers.

CPE1 is among a small circle of city schools in which opt-out is a popular option.  They have over a 70% opt-out rate on state tests. The parents at CPE1 do not appear to believe that pointless testing, let alone teaching to pointless tests, is the way to help their children. Having spent a good part of last year teaching students, half of whom had already passed, how to deal with the abysmal English Regents exam, I understand completely.

The state, of course, overreacted. It rated CPE1 a "struggling school," despite appeals otherwise from the Chancellor. Yet the city, evidently in response to this rating, has decided to give more tests to CPE1 and Brooklyn Collaborative studies, which also had a high opt-out rate. I'm not sure that's a logical response. If my daughter refused to eat broccoli, my first response wouldn't be imposing the all-broccoli diet. Of course, I'm just a lowly parent and teacher, not among the few, the proud, who do Whatever It Is They Do at Tweed.

This comes in the wake of an effort to enact more testing citywide. I understand the chancellor's concerns, and I understand his interest in knowing how our students are progressing. What I really do not understand is exactly how a standardized test will be able to measure this, or why, given the low, low quality of tests written by "experts," anyone would believe they would show or tell us anything.

As I mentioned, last year I had a class of students, half of whom had tested out of ESL and passed the English Regents. Many of the students who'd managed that proved unable to compose a coherent sentence in English. This, evidently, is the kind of test produced when a bunch of geniuses get together, consult experts and psychometricians, and spend huge sums of money that could otherwise be used to create space for students to learn in reasonable class sizes. I'm in the most overcrowded school in Fun City, and even with an annex that may be completed within my lifetime, I don't expect we'll see significant easing of the situation.

Even if the state tests were excellent, which they are certainly not, there's no way to ensure they're aligned with what my school, your school, or any school is learning. The Regents exams, along with the 3-8 exams, are given at the end of the year. There is no possibility of remediating the alleged shortcomings of our students. Even if there were, given the meaningless nature of the tests with which I'm familiar, it hardly seems worth it.

Now we're faced with the possibility of facing quarterly "formative assessments." That's a way of saying it's a nice assessment, that you won't find it particularly burdensome or unpleasant. Call it what you wish. If the results come in and say that your students aren't doing well, you'd better believe scores of principals will be forcing teachers to get better test results.

This will, of course, lead to more teaching to the test. I can tell you, from years of experience, that teaching to the test does not lead to love of learning, passion for the subject matter, or much of anything beyond better passing rates. For years, I was tasked with teaching English Language Learners how to pass the English Regents exam, back when it actually measure writing. I spent the year having kids write until their hands were about to fall off.

My friend, a Chinese teacher, overheard and translated this:

I don't know what I can do. I can't pass the English Regents exam.

Maybe you should take Goldstein's class.

Why? Is it good?

No. It's horrible. But if you take it, you'll pass the Regents.

I can believe that. I never enjoyed teaching that class, and I understand that students wouldn't have enjoyed taking it. But its sole objective was showing students formulaic ways to meet the four writing tasks the test then demanded. Even having done so, these were particular writing tasks. I was acutely aware that I was teaching students how to pass the test, not how to write.

Other things I didn't teach were English conventions, since the Regents exam placed them at the very bottom of its writing rubric. The issue for them was passing a test, without which they couldn't graduate from high school. I really don't want to teach another class like that ever again, but you never know.

With quarterly city exams, it's entirely possible every single class will be like that. Given Danielson, test-prep classes could be a death knell for teacher ratings. I hope the chancellor reconsiders this initiative and chooses to rely on teacher grades. Studies show teacher grades are a better indicators of college success than standardized tests.

We're ready and willing to share our grades with you, Mr. Chancellor. Trust us. Just because the state deems us unfit to grade our own students doesn't mean we're a bunch of crooks. If we were a bunch of crooks, we're surely have higher salaries, you know, like the people from the state who make the rules.

Stop taking advice from the overpaid ex-principals at Tweed, Mr. Chancellor. We're the ones actually doing the work, and we know better.
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