Category Archives: Standardized testing

Evaluation by the Numbers

Eight thousand eight hundred. That is my conservative guess for how many classes I have taught at Lowell High School in the past ten years.  180 days X 5 classes per day X 10 years. I then subtracted twenty classes a year that are missed due to assemblies, testing(!), and fire drills and ended up with the number eight thousand eight hundred. And so it does seem a bit odd or dare I say, daunting, that my evaluation would be based on my supervisor’s evaluation of only one of those eight thousand eight hundred classes.  I hadn’t been evaluated in ten years when SG told me he would like to come into my class. That’s cool, I thought. I mean I have been teaching 16  years and I have had all sorts of people watch me teach including student teachers, Cambodian interns, and deaf interpreters. I usually thrive on the audience; someone else to laugh at my jokes if you will.  Of course, none of them was evaluating me based on one class. But I wasn’t nervous.

I became a little passive aggressive about my evaluation and decided not to do the dog and pony show lesson plan trick.  I learned about this trick back at my job at Boston University (the eighties!) where I was told by colleagues that when the evaluator is scheduled to come into your classroom, you just pull out the dog and pony show lesson plan and knock his/her  academic socks off.  But everybody knows it is NOT really how you teach, because in a real classroom the teacher cannot plan an amazing lesson every day. And even if you did PLAN an amazing lesson every day, you couldn’t possibly DELIVER an amazing lesson every day because some days there is a technology malfunction, or you’re  interrupted by the loudspeaker four times, or you have a stuffy nose.  And so my passive aggressiveness came into play. I decided to show off my non-teaching strengths; one of which is to drum up $$$ to get materials and gadgets for my classroom without waiting for elusive school support. A year ago, I received funding through to purchase electronic jeopardy which costs about $600 and so I asked SG to come and observe my students playing JEOPARDY! electronic style. No dog and pony show for me!

The night before my evaluation,  I had a nightmare about a technology snafu during my evaluation (which btw, almost happened),  and had to admit that all the passive aggressive lesson planning in the world couldn’t prevent my real emotions from coming into play. I WAS nervous about my evaluation.  Although I didn’t believe my job was on the line, I did have that nagging insecurity, the demon that I have faced many times before.  The demon is fraud. And it sneaks up and tells me that I have been lucky so far that nobody has discovered the truth. That I’m not very good.

And so I understood the suicide a couple of weeks ago by Rigoberto Ruelas, a teacher in a tough school in LA who was labeled as ‘less effective’ in a published report ranking thousands of teachers in the LA Times.  Mr. Ruelas was a devoted teacher who reached out to troubled kids and spent weekends tutoring and making home visits. And yet what mattered, what became public, was a ranking based on standardized test scores.  The demon was in the data.  Right now, the data drives decisions and dredges up the demons.

Teacher evaluations are based on many sources of input. But there is always one source that seems to reign supreme and has the ability to bring us down and bring our demons up. In Mr. Ruelas’ case it was the published data based on test scores; in my case it was an observation of one class out of eight thousand eight hundred classes.

Rigoberto Ruelas may you rest in peace.


Cheating, Medicating, and Compensating

There is something so inorganic about the way we educate and bring up kids today.  But what amazes me about this is how we (parents, society, schools) accept the fallout; cheating, medicating, and compensating.

Cheating: On Thursday and Friday, about 500 students were put in the cafeteria and given an EPP test. I think that stands for education performance plan, but who cares. It is another standardized test, this time math, that some students have to take if they didn’t do well on the MCAS, or well enough anyway;  they passed, but didn’t pass enough. They sat at lunch tables, about 8 to a table, each student with exactly the same test. You do the math. It was almost as if the administrators were saying cheating is allowed. The fallout is clear; our love affair with testing is creating a culture of cheaters and adults who are so sick of administering the tests they just pretend that the cheating doesn’t occur. I guess it is passive-aggressive proctoring.

Medicating: A small study was done at the University of Illinois that demonstrated that young people diagnosed with ADD or ADHD who went on 20 minute daily walks in nature had better attention and fewer behavioral problems. This is one of those things that make you go hmmm, isn’t it? Kids need to be outside, they need to play in a soothing environment, they need to walk, and they need to explore. In other words, children need to engage in human activities; the kind that don’t involve electronics and electricity. Before we medicate our kids, shouldn’t we investigate the best environment for them?

Compensating: Because we’ve moved away from a more organic form of child rearing and educating, we are forced to compensate for a child’s inability to cope.  We offer rewards for following the rules that used to be expected. We offer excuses where excuses shouldn’t be acceptable. We drill kids in test-taking skills because the test is more important than the learning, and we look the other way when cheating occurs because we feel so helpless when we are party to something we know is wrong. We medicate ourselves and our children because it is easier than changing and fighting the system.

Fomenting Revolution (aka MEPA Protests)

Over 800 students at my high school were given the MEPA (Massachusetts English Proficiency Assessment) today and yesterday. You can read a previous post to understand my issues with that test and TO WHOM it is administered. My advisory is usually pretty mellow (when not hitting me in the head with duct tape;  again a previous post).

But there was some visible anger when these students were handed the notice that they were scheduled to take MEPA…again…for the 4th, 5th or 6th time.  One young man of Cambodian ethnicity, but born in the US,  simply took the notice and ripped it up. They were annoyed and humiliated.

Now, I have noticed that teachers have two different responses to the protests by their students who don’t want to take MEPA. There is one group of teachers that thinks and often says to the students something to the effect of  ‘quit your whining, take the test, we all have to do things we don’t like so just do your best and get it over with.’ (These teachers might not realize that a passing score does not necessarily get rid of your Limited English Proficiency {LEP} label.) And then there is the other group of teachers who doesn’t mind fomenting a little revolution now and then. This group of teachers agrees with the students, and supports their feelings of unfair treatment. I’ve decided it is a fundamental difference in how we look at the world and is based on our culture and our experience.

I encouraged my students to express their dismay, but I also knew nobody was going to listen to them. Everyone must kowtow to the state mandate including teachers, American-born students*, and administrators. My students were powerless; they are seniors and they just want to graduate and don’t want anything to derail their future plans. But to assuage their feelings of powerlessness they created art;  anti-MEPA protest art.

My whiteboard at school with student-created MEPA protest art

As they begrudgingly trudged off to take their exams, I couldn’t help but feel a glimmer of hope that things will change soon and that Americans will realize that we are wasting millions of dollars and losing valuable class time because of constant testing.

Now that Diane Ravitch, former NCLB proponent, has written,   “All of this test prep and test review narrows the time available to teach science, history, geography, the arts, or anything else that is not related to the annual test. This path leads to higher scores but worse education”,  I wonder if the rest of the educational establishment will be that far behind.

Let the revolution begin!

* I believe the test is an appropriate measure of progress for English language learners who have a first language that is not English. My main complaint is that students who were born in the US, and speak English as their first language and often their only language, are still being tested. I believe the English language learners should only take MEPA and not MCAS.