Monday, July 26, 2010

Race to the Top?


I love my cherubs. But I also love my job.


Perhaps you've heard the yammering of late concerning the President's Race to the Top initiative. It involves, among other things, compensating teachers when their students perform well on standardized tests. Or firing them when the kids bomb these paper and pencil exercises.

The concept that conceived Race to the Top is a good one. Get all 50 states on the same page when it comes to student achievement. Identify those who need the most help, so they won't be "left behind." Then, there is the goal that's closest to my heart...and to my pocketbook: "Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers," etc., etc.

This is where Mr. Obama and I disagree. He wants to measure a teacher's success by the number of students who pass a series of state-mandated tests every year. If the teacher's kiddos succeed, she gets the big money, in the form of modest compensation. If a pre-determined number fails, however, she might get the boot.

The DC Public Schools have already jumped on the bandwagon, firing 241 teachers last week because of what bureaucrats deem "poor performance." Much of these teachers' performance, however, has to do with the fact that many of their students did not fare well at bubbling in answers on a standarized test.

When a child goes out in public~to school, to the playground, to the mall~and misbehaves, the general consensus is that the parents may have been hitting the snooze button while on the job.

But when a child goes to school and bubbles in "c" instead of "d" on a pre-printed form, often the teacher is blamed. And more and more, those teachers are being held accountable for something they just cannot control.

Every year, more and more emphasis is placed on standardized testing. Our Humble High School, where I just finished my 16th year of teaching, is no different. We jump through so many hoops to make sure our students pass that often we have very little time to allow the kids to stop and contemplate what they're learning.

All of my cherubs passed what are called the English Standards of Learning (SOLs) last year. So, under President Obama's plan, I would be paid for a 100 percent pass rate. And if I had been working in the DC school system, I assume I would still have a job.

But several of my students passed by the skin of their teeth. Not because of any lack of effort on my part, but because of the way they are hard-wired. Some have test anxiety; some learning disabilities; some, quite frankly, don't have the grey matter to succeed on even some of the simplest of academic exercises.

Is this my fault? I don't think so. I also don't believe that a standardized test can calibrate the overall intelligence of a student body, nor the due diligence of a teacher. And while I'd welcome the extra money for my students' SOL pass rate, I'm not quite sure I deserve it. But I also don't believe that a standardized test can measure the true value of a good teacher.

28 comments:

Yankee Girl said...

I'm with you on this. I think our country has placed way too much importance on standardized tests. People learn in all different ways and that really needs to be recognized. Tests are not the only way to measure achievement.

teachergirl said...

I am so with you on this issue - we spend way (WAY) too much time getting kids to pass a test and way too little time educating them . My frustration level with this nonsense is DEFCON high.

And my question is how would Ms. Rhee have fared as a Teach For America employee under this new evaluation she used to do away with 241 teachers?

Draea Lael (Rose) said...

Let me tell you, hun, I have been on about this since I started teaching in 2002. The fact is we don't get much opportunity to really teach anything with any depth b/c we're all so worried about them passing standardized tests. The tests are usually developed for one homogenous group that doesn't work in diverse schools or learning styles. 2 years ago, my students got the 2nd lowest average score on the district standardized S.S. tests and I got reprimanded. The students got upset and went to the administration and told them that it wasn't my fault, they had chosen not to do any work since the beginning of school. How did they expect me to have all passing students when they refused to do any homework or studying? I found out at the end of 2nd semester that the admin and dept chair were planning to "fix" the scores on the 8th grade tests and they got really P.O.d at me when I walked the tests to the scoring office instead of funneling it to them first. I am SO not ok with basing everything on standardized tests, students are not standardized, and society would be really boring if they were.

Libby said...

Oh the millions of papers I wrote for my minor on this type of subject and others. And yet, it's still hard to choose a side when I can see the validity and necessity in both. But I firmly agree with the NOT teaching for the test.
And very well written!

dkzody said...

Although I consider myself an excellent teacher, the subjects I taught were not tested so deemed unworthy. I could see the handwriting on the wall, no funding for our department, so knew it was time to leave. This testing craze will eventually swing the other way but I am too old to wait for that to happen.

Tortuga said...

I have long thought that standardized testing is a crappy way to measure academic achievement. With all the research and new information on how kids learn, it's pathetic and sad that we still use such an archaic system for measuring progress.

quilly said...

We'll all be teaching to the test and won't dive a d@mn what the kids learn! And what of the teacher - -of which I am one -- who often has a classroom full of non-English speaking kids who, when asked, "How many people can occupy a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment?" are going to answer 24!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

We have been the poster child for standardized tests - Texas - back when Bush began this No Child Left Behind bonanza for the test makers. So much school time wasted on teaching to the test. Always seemed to me that if children were taught what they needed to know, the test wouldn't be a problem. And, yes, one must know, there are always some kids that are wired differently and are unable to do well on some test designed by someone who probably couldn't pass it either. (Surmise on my part.) Treating the school as though they are a business with teachers paid by results isn't a practical paradigm in the world of education.

Sarah said...

Testing may not be the best way, I agree, but how else can we measure whether the kids learned or not? I guess we have to start somewhere until a better way of measuring is established by the smart people at BoE?

Lesley said...

Well, kick to soap box over in my direction now...

I have a son with a learning disbility, and to say that testing is a challenge, is a gross understatement. I think before Obama opens his trap about the need to do what we call "teaching to the test", he should either, 1. TRY actually BEING a teacher for at least a month - without assistance or the White House photographers in tow, 2. Experience what it's like when your children don't go to private schools costing over $30K a year w/ tutors out the kazoo, OR 3. Follow an AVERAGE family, going to GOOD schools, with GREAT teachers, throw in a child w/ severe ADD...and see how it REALLY goes down for many of the "common folk".

I think the concept of firing teachers based on test scores is deplorable.

Hot Tub Lizzy said...

I'm teaching my kids how to write in cursive. They used to teach that in school. But it's not on the test.

I'm teaching my kids how to play with clay. They used to teach that in school. But it's not on the test.

I'm teaching my kids to not run with scissors. They used to teach that in school. But it's not on the test.

Miss Essie may be stuck in a perpetual cycle of 5th grade hell because she CAN'T pass the test.

I UNDERSTAND the idea behind the tests. But I DO NOT LIKE THEM

The Blonde Duck said...

I totally agree. There's a children's book that reminds me of this...I've got it at home. I'll e-mail you the title.

Kristin said...

I don't believe that it's a good measure of a student or a teacher!

Jeanie said...

I can only add my "amen" to those above who agree with what you wrote.

Lucy said...

Oh, you said it perfectly and in our little suburban town the parents are bitching that the Teachers are teaching to the test, dah! If their job depended on it what the hell would they do?? Say, oh, I can't teach to the test, I will teach my very, very best and I am sure the kids will pass? I swear parents can really get under my skin at times and yes, I am a parent too, so at times I can see both sides but mostly I would love for most of these parents to teach 25 kids in a classroom, 5 different classes (so that is a 100 kids a day) for 9 months out of the year. Half of the parents can't even handle the two little cherubs they have!

Susie said...

I agree. Testing is a good way to determine how the community (environment, resources, parents, etc.) is working not how a teacher is working.

Lauren said...

The government and its stupid standardized tests need to put a sock in it. Standardized tests will always fail to measure the true value of a student's intellectual ability and a teacher's teaching ability. They can't expect every single student in the entire country taking the same standardized test to adapt to the exact same style of testing. I was horrible on all high school standardized tests, the SATs, and the ACTs, but I do not consider myself a stupid person. I'm in my third year of college, have above a 3.0 GPA, attain my scholarship every semester, and continue to impress my English professors because that's my best subject and my major. What the government is doing trying to "get on the same page" is more conformity than working with learning and teaching styles. People learn better in different ways - don't they remember the surveys they used to give us to decide whether we were visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning? Education is something that will always boil my blood. I'm not saying the government is wrong for wanting to fix this issue, but I believe Obama is doing it completely wrong. I'm not saying I have a better solution, I'm just saying that this one isn't the right one. It sounds like to me just another excuse to cut jobs and costs to pay off debt to China.

Tara R. said...

Standardized tests are of the 'deeble.'

I don't believe there is any way to make a single test an accurate measure for all students' academic ability. And to fault the teachers, 100% if that child fails, is ridiculous.

Several years ago Florida legislators promised to take the FCAT to demonstrate the ease with which a student could pass it. Needless to say, that never happened. They backed out of the testing.

A single test result should NOT be the benchmark for student promotion or teacher retention.

blueviolet said...

I am not a fan of teaching to the test. There is way too much time and effort put into that.

Angelia Sims said...

I was always terrible at standardized tests, but was a very good student. I would not have fared well on this plan for any teacher.

I like how you speak up about this so clearly. I know those students appreciate it. And the teachers too!

I hope they can come up with something better. :-/

Tracy P. said...

Oh Melissa, don't even get me started on this one. How hard do people really have to think to realize just how little teachers can control??? It blows my mind.

One year the congressman who represented our district came to visit our school, and met with the staff. The only thing I remember that he said was, "You don't want more standardized tests, do you?" I'm sure the chorus of NO! was heard for miles around. :-) And that he earned a lot of votes that day.

Nance said...

What if dentists got paid based upon whether or not their patients' teeth remained cavity-free? Can dentists monitor their patients' brushing habits? Diet? Flossing?

Why is it that teachers/schools are made the whipping boy for everything?

Christy (Columbia Lily) said...

i have a pretty strong opinion on Race to the Top, not the least of which is that it unfairly targets schools that are in high-crime, high-transient, inner city areas and removes the ONE thing that is constant and stable in those kids' lives. I think it is a TERRIBLE idea. There is a blofg i follow called Living in Dialogue that is fantastic on this subject.

Cheryl said...

This is ridiculous. Standardized tests were the biggest reason my cousin took her children out of public school. It's too much for even the brightest of the bright to handle the pressure of these damn tests. They weren't even written with today's student in mind. There's gotta be a better way to access a teacher's impact on his/her students than this.

Tanya @ Life in 3D said...

SO RIGHT!! Standardized tests don't measure how effective YOU are...OR..how well your students are doing. That whole scheme is ridiculous...is it really true? I live in Canada and we have our own set of education challenges but this approach seems like a blanket/band-aid approach to a not-easily-solved problem..no?

criticalcrass said...

i agree, and disagree, with you on this.

when i took my sat and act tests, i scored poorly on them. the highest score you could obtain on the sat was sixteen hundred. i got an eight-forty the first time i took and an eight-seventy the second. the highest on the act was thirty-six. i got a nineteen. this was after surviving six or so years of misery, by the end of which my confidence in any of my abilities was nonexistent. test-anxiety paired with i-don't-give-a-fuck.

go back six years to fifth grade. my teachers wanted to put me in special education classes because i seemed to be average student with behavioral issues. i was failing at every three weeks and passing at every six. flunking my homework. acing my tests. i made them look bad. i was too much trouble. teachers recommended. principal approved it. my mother, a former teacher who married a superintendent, knew differently. she convinced them to wait to see the results of my cat test (i don't know that they call them that now...but it's the annual how much bullshit does your student know test). i scored the second highest grade out of the entire fifth grade class.

they put me in honors classes in sixth grade.

so those tests can save you just as much screw you.

still, a teacher's worth shouldn't be judged solely on standard tests scores.

miss jo said...

Thanks for the Race-to-the-Top insights. Sounds like another way to dumb down education by forcing corporate-style accountability standards....Think what could be accomplished if all the standardized test money and time were directed into educating kids---- and paying qualified teachers !

Edna Lee said...

Although it would be a monumental task, I would feel very comfortable being held accountable for each student's academic growth. Most of my students are not going to "pass" the state test because most just arrived from other countries, but they should show growth from year to year. That can be measured and would better indication of my success or failure as a teacher than whether or not my students are all above benchmark in all areas (which will, sadly, never happen.)

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