Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chapter 25: Kamikaze, Part 2

Chapter Twenty-Five: Kamikaze, Part 2

As I’ve said, teachers are modern kamikazes.  Another example is the high school ESL teacher.  This applies to all of us but the ESL teachers are diving into the harbor first on this one.
Bloomberg’s little reform schools are judged in the “quality” reviews, in part, on the percentage of students sitting for the state tests, the tests whose “objective” data they desperately want to make 40% of a teacher’s overall evaluation.  “Objectionable” is more like it.  “Objection” will be the word of the day when Duncan, Bloomberg, Walcott, and the faux educrats gobbling up the race to the “top” money end up in court.
The Bloomberg reform school has a mandate to sit 100% of its students for the state tests.  This sounds reasonable enough.  Shouldn’t every student take the test?  If it is a standardized test prepared by a reputable organization like the Board of Regents, then every student should take the test.  If the teacher has done his/her job, the student will have learned the material on the test and will be well prepared when he or she sits down for it.
This isn’t about the cultural bias of these tests although that, too, is a significant issue.  I did Regents prep for a student once who had been in the U.S. for 7 months.  She was from the Caribbean.  As it happened, that Saturday was the first snowfall of the year.  It was the first time this student had ever seen snow.  The Regents passage she was looking at, however, one that had presumably been “normed” by the Board of Regents, was about shoveling snow.  In other words, students in Buffalo who shovel snow 5 months of the year were reading the same passage as a NYC student who had never seen snow, much less shoveled it.
But this is about the reform school mandate to sit every student for the Regents.  What this means is that it is in the best interest of the school to sit students whether or not they are prepared for the test.  The school is rated “objectively” on the number of its students it gets into the test and this “objective” number becomes part of the data in the quality review.  It doesn’t matter to the objective number if a particular student is prepared for the test or not.  It doesn’t matter to the objective number if the student has been in the reform school for a day, a month, a semester or 6 years without earning a credit.  It doesn’t matter to the objective number if the student’s attendance in the Regents class was zero, 5%, 50% or 100% or how many phone calls the teacher made to try to get the student to come to school.  It doesn’t matter to the objective number if the student received a 95 in this Regents class, an 80 a 65 or a 55, which could in actuality be anything from 0 to 60.  It doesn’t matter to the objective number how hard the teacher worked to get a non-working student to learn.
In the case of the ESL teacher, it doesn’t matter to the objective number if the student has been studying English since yesterday, last month or the age of 6 and a half.  The ELL is expected to sit for the test because it is in the interest of the reform school’s quality review to sit the student.  Therefore a school with a high number of “L” students, as they’re now called, may get high marks for sitting its students for the ELA Regents but the pass rate on that test isn’t going to look so good.  Obviously, the more unprepared students sitting for the test, the lower the pass rate.
An ESL teacher, particularly one teaching beginning students, is now forced to watch those students sit for 3 hours with a Regents test in front of them that they cannot read.  The students can’t understand the listening passage; they can’t understand the reading passages; they cannot do the writing and everyone knows this very well from the start.  Well, Bloomberg may or may not know it.  Maybe if I had taught in a charter school he’d pay attention.  Presumably Walcott knows it since he is one of the few educrats who has done some actual educating.  Duncan probably has never heard of it outside of a report buried on his desk or from one of his speech writers.  However, the principals in the reform schools know it; the assistant principals know it; the teachers know it; the counselors know it; the paras and aides know it; the students themselves know it but many of them dutifully come in as instructed and sit for the test.  “Sit” is a good word for what they do.
Bloomberg, Walcott, et al., now want to make the near 100% failure of these students 40% of the evaluation of their teachers in these little reform schools.
In every subject students who are known to be unprepared for the test are forced to take it in the interest of bolstering that “percent sitting” number.  Of course there are some ineffective teachers in any school system just as there are unproductive people in all walks of life.  But the vast majority of students who are unprepared for the tests they’re forced to take are unprepared not because of an ineffective teacher but because of factors well beyond the teacher’s influence and often well beyond anything the student can control.  In many cases right now the student is unprepared for no other reason than that bureaucrats and educrats are playing with numbers rather than dealing with human beings, which, coincidentally, is what teachers do best.  This reform school data foolhardiness is particularly glaring in the case of the ESL teacher.  At a glance and from the outside it makes sense to sit everyone for a standardized test – and it is only at a glance and from the outside that the pols, pollsters and pundits latch onto this objectionably objective data and spin it for their own agendas.  (Where’s Mark Twain when you need him!)  At a glance it makes sense; in practice, however, it’s nonsense.

            NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

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