Monday, August 3, 2009

Reentry. . .OR Scores Walk in. . .

It's now early August, the Sunday of the year for us school teachers (and probably everyone else who has never quite shaken off the tyranny of school schedules). I am girding up for reentry, and though I am looking forward to seeing the kids who have eagerly signed up for my classes, despite my reputation as a "challenging" teacher, the bureaucracy will do its best to depress me, I am sure.

I teach AP English Language and was pleased to see that of the 24 kids I taught, all took the AP test, and all but two passed (that is a 91% pass rate). Of the 149 total number of students at my school who took the test this year, 65% passed (which is a marked improvement as well), and that makes me doubly proud of my students. Here is the rub, however: I will come back to school, proud of all our accomplishments only to be told my "test scores walk into my room."

Yes, that's right, in the land of test-score accountability, when a teacher generates excellent scores and motivates students to be perhaps a little more excellent than they naturally are, the bureaucrats see the success has having NOTHING to do with the teacher and everything to do with the student, and they all but ignore what in other instances is the all important "test data."

When the department examines benchmark scores, a similar thing happens. Because I attract motivated students who manipulate their schedules to make sure they are in a class they consider rigorous, they do very well on these tests. Again, the bureaucratic position is as follows: my "test scores walked into my room." Again, the kids' success has nothing to do with anything that happens in my classroom.

Now, when I have a class that is more challenging (and there have been many, believe me), a class of often disruptive, rude, indolent, generally anti-school students, who don't want to make the effort to learn because more compelling things--cell phones, sex, dice, movies, music, gangs, computers, peer acceptance--take up their time, guess whose fault it is when their test scores are below average? Don't those test scores walk in as well? The fact is, most of my students improve their test scores, but in rooms like the one I describe here, I have to do more than teach; I have to change the culture and instill basic values into children who do not understand or have any use for the kind of success I value: a rich life governed by curiosity and a strong, unflappable work ethic, a life where one is never bored and is always growing.

All that said, the message here is as follows: The smart kids walked in smart; therefore, no teacher has any real impact on them. Since your 91% pass rate is matter of course, given that you have motivated students, don't you dare pat yourself on the back. But students who walk into high school with 5th-grade reading levels and no interest in academics, who sleep during class and during standardized tests, who curse out teachers who demand something of them, and who see success only in concrete financial terms usually unrelated to what they are studying (hence their contempt for us "underpaid losers")--their tests scores are all your fault, so take that cat-o-nine-tails and start swinging!

The double-standard is all part of the feel-good, encouraging environment we call public school. Can't wait for September.

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