Sunday, February 24, 2013

At least it's not Marzano

I have read countless articles this past week. Articles about teacher evaluation systems. Articles about charter schools, fraud in charter schools, articles about teaching and learning, articles about the rally in Texas, and the latest trends in technology and pedagogy. I like to think I'm a good teacher and that's what good teachers do in their spare time, if they have any.

We had our workshop this week about the new evaluation system. The best thing I can say about it that it's not Marzano. My best friend teaches in a district that is using Marzano. They have 9 domains with 40 some odd sub domains and well over a hundred indicators. For laymen, indicators are the actual goals in a standardized system. When we write our objectives and address "standards", the indicators are what the students will actually do. So in our system, the indicators are what we will actually do. Our system, based on Charlotte Danielson's framework for teaching, has about 100 indicators. The "Framework" was also on my reading list this week. (Is it any wonder I've spent my Saturday reading some poor excuse for a young adult novel, just to relax my brain.)

Their new favorite word is "outcomes", which basically means how everything we do will effect student learning and/or test scores. They didn't even mention the other half of the evaluation. They didn't want to draw our attention to the fact that even if we are God's gift to teaching, and perform as "distinguished" members of the teaching profession, it won't matter because 50% of our "grade" is based on "student growth" i.e. test scores, that of our class and that of the school overall. Not too bad if you are in a "good" school like mine, but if you are in a "focus" or "priority" school where test scores are fairly low, you're basically screwed. Not because you're a bad teacher, just because of the student population.

I can't complain about the "framework" for teaching too much. Frankly, I think it does outline what some could consider "great teaching". However, it will require REAMS of paper to notate everything we do to PROVE we are doing the job. Everything teachers keep in their heads, from the kids interests, their aptitudes, learning styles, their strengths and weakness, their progress, now has to be written down on paper for someone to believe we are doing what needs to be done as a form of accountability. Then to hear a parent actually say to me, "Well I think you should be accountable for their test scores." I wanted to throw up. I'm accountable everyday to my students. If the students and I do everything we are supposed to do, test score SHOULD take care of themselves. Sadly, that is not the case. There is far too much bias in these test and they are staked against children are poor, English Language learners, and special needs. You know what I am accountable for? Making sure the kids learn something regardless of what the TEST says.

So I sit here like a stereotypical woman binging on chocolate, balancing my check book with yet another zero balance wondering why I do it. Why do I torture myself like this? Then I get to read another article, two in fact, about the demoralization of teachers. Uh, yeah, I'm pretty demoralized. However, my kids still make me smile. I guess I'll be doing this a little longer after all.

(More to come on the framework later, like when I'm done reading all 100 pages of it.)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Testing IS NOT Teaching

My classroom has been taken over.

Three periods a week support is now pushing into my room. On Monday she does a whole group test prep writing period. Fine by me. I don't want to teach that crap. The other two days a week she pulls a group of "target students". Not the neediest students. The students most like to pass the state test with some help. Are they getting help meeting curriculum standards? NO! They are getting more Writing test prep.

Then two days a week I have more support pushing in for not one but two 90 minute blocks for "small group instruction", i.e. comprehension skills for test prep. How do I even facilitate that? I teach an after school program for the kids. I keep my class for an extra period a day. Not so I can help them master the skills they are lacking, but for TEST Prep. I have numerous students who really don't need to stay and I need to figure out a way to differentiate the instruction so that I'm not wasting their time. I'm new to the grade level, I can only assume that this is how it's been done upstairs, massive amounts of teaching to the test.

Here's the kicker. The state went and changed the test. In preparation for the change over to the PARCC exam for the Common Core, New Jersey is transitioning it's state test to be more like what the PARCC will be like. The CCCS definitely requires more higher order thinking skills. It also requires more informational reading and writing since that is what the students will encounter more as adults in their lives and careers.  It makes sense. Literature and creative writing isn't completely gone, it's just less emphasized. So here are our students, who haven't actually been taught concrete skills or even how to think. They have learned a system of strategies for scoring as many points as possible on the current version of the test. All other things have been put aside to focus on the test prep. I know for a fact that only the G&T teachers are teaching Social Studies and Science. The rest of us have to make sure our kids can pass the reading, writing, and math. So the rest of the kids can't think, reason, or use common sense. They don't even have the content knowledge that could help them understand the things that they read.

Wait it gets worse. To get around the fact that our kids have zero content knowledge, they usually make personal connections to the information presented. That will no longer be allowed. Now students can only make text-to-text and text-to world connections. Also, in their written arguments and explanations, the student has to cite where they learned something or how they came to know the information (supporting their theories and opinions with facts.) Man, our kids are screwed. Due to the fact that these children have learned nothing but how to take a test the last three or more years, they have neither the skills nor knowledge to do well on the new test. Teaching to the test may garner higher scores temporarily, but only until they change the test. I could laugh if it weren't so sad. Don't blame me. I was teaching primary for the last 8 years. It was my job to make sure every child who left my classroom had the basic skills required to learn. Not my fault they never learned how to think or learned anything of value because their previous teachers were too busy teaching to the damn test.

Guess what? Now we are being told to teach as much social studies, science, and current events as possible to cram their little heads with as much content as possible. Had we been doing that all long, had we been using good teaching practices, and our focus had been on functional thinking and reasoning (teaching the kids how to think, not what to think) we would not be in this predicament now when our livli-hoods and kids' futures depend on it so much.

Please tell me you understand now why high-stakes testing is just plain wrong?

I am embracing this change. I'm looking forward to it. This may mean a return to good teaching practices and content learning. I even like most of the new evaluation, as it is written. Of course the district will come up with stupid ways for us to "prove" we are doing our jobs. More bullshit paper work is bound to be the prevailing force of my job. I know the schools where the state is sticking in their big noses are inundated with massive amounts of paper work, data collection and statistics. None of it helps the kids. It's just everybody making us kill ourselves to prove we are doing our jobs because nobody trusts teachers any more. I say bring it on, but I know the teachers who have only taught in the city, the ones who have had to march lock step with other teachers without ever thinking for themselves, are also screwed.

Fun times, fun times. Well I have no time for fun or to even spend time with my own children this weekend because I have bullshit paperwork calling my name. Have a great Sunday all.