Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thoughts on Testing

The state test scores arrive, and most correlate to the level of work I've seen from the students who took the test. Three very low scores seem out of whack. I check the state exit exam results and find that all three students have easily passed, so I decide to investigate. After discussing the discrepancies with my administrator, we decide to call the students in one by one to find out why they scored at the lowest level on a test that politicians want to use to evaluate teacher effectiveness.

The first student arrives in a foul mood, admits to "being bored" and deliberately tanking the test, bubbling whatever, then taking a nap. Since her score will have no impact whatsoever on her ability to pass her classes and graduate, she feels no need to make any effort during the annoying state testing season.

The second student had been out sick before the test, but dragged herself in to take it, with negative results. Schools can be punished if not enough students show up for testing, but can also be punished if students that come to school ill score poorly, a lose/lose situation.

The third student breaks down in tears, saying her mom had thrown her out of the house right before the test and refused to speak to her. She had been an emotional wreck, and unable to focus on the test. Nor had her life improved, as she was still staying with relatives.

Now if I were being judged on test scores, theirs would have lowered my ranking considerably, no matter how hard I worked or what curriculum I used. Did I have even an ounce of control here? Obviously not, but neither the press nor the educrats are looking at students as individuals with problems to match, so the cold hard data rules.

I'm all about the story. If a teacher can raise scores, despite the hidden hells that overwhelm some students' lives, then good for that teacher. If not, we need to take the time and make the effort to truly understand why that student or those students did not or could not succeed on that test before we plaster labels on their teachers.

Hold me responsible for that which is within my control, but do not vilify or demonize me for what is not. Yes, teachers need to be evaluated, but there has to be a better way, one that does not treat students like widgets, but which honors their individuality.

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