Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cranky Teacher Alert!

Normally, I would call that a bad thing, but in this case Bill Ferriter, The Tempered Radical, has great post on the unintended consequences of focusing on standardized testing to the exclusion of other things. Bill bemoans what the focus on testing has done to his classroom and the fact that other non-tested subject teachers don't have the same impact. I definitely see Bill's point here:
But I’m afraid that we’ve bulldozed the forest to get to the turkeys! At the very least, I know that my work has been bulldozed.

You see, I no longer drift very far from multiple choice questions at all. Seminars---once a mainstay in my classroom because they encourage students to think creatively and to wrestle with deep ideas together---are now a twice-a-year event. Why? Because they take too long to teach, the skills required in a seminar are not tested (even though they are in my required curriculum), and I fall behind in our pacing guide.

Almost every lesson begins and end with practice questions. We have pretests for every practice test and then we debrief after taking tests, recording the kinds of questions we have to master before future tests. I'd guess that my kids answer close to 200 multiple choice questions a month.

Seems like a drastic reaction, right?

Not when you consider that--unlike the education professionals who work in non-tested subjects--I'm held accountable for one thing and one thing only: the numbers my kids put up each year on end of grade exams. While others are evaluated on slightly ridiculous, overly nebulous, warm and fuzzy difficult to measure contributions---like these "foundational common beliefs" set by the American Librarian Association (I'll give you 10 bucks if you can effectively argue that"Reading is a Window to the World" is a standard while keeping a straight face.)---- I'm judged by how many kids choose the right answer on a multiple choice exam.
The system does create an inherent dichotomy in how teachers are evaluated and that produces so very ill effects. But despite what happens on those aforementioned standardized tests, no professional, in any setting should have to suffer this indignity:
That dichotomy is destroying buildings. Consider my fall: Our reading scores came back and they weren't quite what everyone had expected. In our "data debrief" meeting, my sixth grade LA team was called "decidedly average" in front of the entire faculty because our scores didn't meet expectations---Never mind the constant "we're all reading teachers" mantra making it's way through the edu-sphere.

That leaves me bitter towards colleagues beyond the tested classroom. I resent that teaching has become automated in my room and feel a sense of regret over what I've lost because I know that I've got another benchmark to give in a week.
While my peers beyond the classroom get to educate, I do little more than mechanically train my students to pass exams.
I hve little doubt that the focus on testing has skewed all kinds of measurements across our schools. But Bill does, implicitly, raise an important question. Should schools evaluate teachers differently based on whether or not their subject is tested on standardized tests? How would the do so? What would be the impacts on teacher recruitment/retention if these were changed?

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