Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Rusty System & Moving Boxes

In light of the recent move toward using student test scores to evaluate teachers, I'd like to comment on an experience I had on Tuesday at a grading site where very hard-working teachers had been pulled out of their classrooms to evaluate the tests our students completed two weeks ago (the eighth grade ELA exam). To be honest, I agree with the idea that students test scores should be part of how teachers are evaluated, but in order for that to be helpful the way we grade these exams needs to be updated, reevaluated and improved.

On Tuesday I was sent out of my school to grade the state ELA exams. When I showed up the woman running the grading site was incredibly confused that I could possibly be there instead of the teacher that had come from our school the day before. To her credit, schools are supposed to send only one teacher for the three days of grading, as the first day is spent training those teachers how to to score the exams on the second two.

After the initial shock wore off, the woman decided to find a job for me that was not grading, as it would have been entirely impossible for me to just read the instruction manual and then grade some exams (although that is what the training consists of). After pointing out that I was the youngest person there by about ten years and therefore must be far more tech-literate than anyone else, she proceeded to hand me a stack of poster papers that had been used the day before to find out what the teachers who were now grading thought the students' "strengths" were on the exam and what their "weaknesses" were. I spent three hours inputting these into a Word document that will now be emailed out to all the schools in any way associated with that grading center, after which the message will promptly be ignored by all of them.

While completing this very important task (infinitely more important than teaching my students about the integration of public school in the 1960's- what I'd actually planned to do Tuesday), I was able to sit back and observe the scoring process. The teachers grading the exams seemed really to be a motley crew. Such a variety of hair styles (spanning at least five style decades) I've not seen in the DOE, to say nothing about the skill and diligence with which they worked. To be serious, from what I can tell they seemed pretty competent and willing to get the job done as quickly, accurately, and efficiently as possible.

What most concerned me was the way these graders were spoken to by those in charge of the site. The woman in charge of the whole shebang kept making announcements like, "We want to be fair. We want to make sure our students get the best chance possible." These were of course given after muffled conversations about how poorly the students seemed to be doing. I couldn't help but give her sideways glances over the top of the laptop. Was she serious? The "chance" she was referring to was supposed to be the instruction the students had already received, not how liberally those grading tests could bend the scoring rubric. Several announcements like this were made, and the administrators of the site had numerous hushed conversations about specific scorers that "needed to be talked to."

Dozens of boxes of scoring guides showed up around midday, apparently intended for a different site. When she called the person in charge of this delivery, she first sounded confused and then was told by the woman on the other end of the line to just give the materials to whatever school she could. Why they showed up to that testing site instead of the right one? No one knows. What happened at the site that was lacking these materials? No one seems to know. Why am I telling you? Mostly because I was the schmuck who had to arrange and rearrange boxes all afternoon in order to fit them all into a very small space in a gymnasium that was hardly full. I'm just glad I could help.

What's the moral of this story? In spite of how hard people work to defend the education system, it does need to flush out some of its workers, revamp the way it does things and start fresh some areas. One thing about this system that I've thought a lot about lately is that it does not have a market to drive change. This is because the central commodities are our children, their brains, and their growth as human beings. I do believe that this is one of the reasons teachers and other in the field are resistant to change. We are the ones who work with these children and we do not want to see policies implemented that forget about their well-being for the sake of efficiency. That said, we do need to make sure middle school teachers aren't sent to random schools in the middle of the Bronx to move boxes all day when they could be helping students to learn material deemed valuable by the greater society (during a time period leading up to a state exam that may eventually be used to judge his competency as a teacher).

Today's Wine: A glass Casa De Campo Cab pumped from the other night.


  1. Something that I dislike about the U.S school system, based off passed experience, is that instead of holding back those students that obviously need help or haven't earned the right to progress in their education, they are simply pushed forward. I've seen teachers turn the other way when they've obviously seen poor students cheating, blatantly GIVEN grades to students, and

    Far too many sects (various states) of the educational system are too focused on pushing kids along, focusing too much on standardized tests, and failing children by making passing much too easy. School should not only be about teaching children relevant and important information, it should be about teaching them how to think critically, applying the information they learn to everyday life. The U.S. educational systems needs to be preparing our children for what the real world will be like and by simply pushing them along and dumbing down the curriculum, we are crippling them.

    I completely agree that the disorganized fashion that schools and various districts can find themselves in is not acceptable. I think if the political bull behind many of these schools was reduced, they would be far more efficient.

  2. I will speak for myself and some of my colleagues: it is not teachers who push kids along, in general. I personally have fought to work with students on my own time, after school, to give them the individualized instruction they need because I know they are going to be "processed and packaged" like so much sausage through a grinding machine. Social promotion needs to be addressed. Students who do not master the standards of their grade level need to have more individualized instruction, either in a RTI model, or just "stay after school" and get it done. If teachers had more say on who was promoted and in what manner for each of our students, the efficiency factor would increase, guaranteed. We face the truth every day about our students - their current realities and their potential.

  3. I agree with you, teachers for the most part, are not the issue. Those were just individual experiences and only a small part of the proverbal pie. It is the school system that is the bigger issue, and puts pressure on these teachers. Unfortunately some fold under that pressure as my previous post indicated. Nick James for instances is the same way you are. He cares about his students and not what the ailing bureaucracy behind the educational system. I take my hate off to teachers like you and Nick James.

    My opinions are also from the outside looking in. I've formed these opinions based off a students perspective and from what I've heard a few teachers say. I realize that I'm far from an expert on the matter.

  4. Nice to read this blog about teachers and students. I felt this post very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.