Monday, November 07, 2005

Part Two: You Can't Get Blood Out of a Turnip

(Deep breath.....and, release.) Okay. It felt good to get part one out, but I had to stop for air. After reading some of your comments, I feel ready to continue with part two. Don't expect a terrifically organized essay here, this is just me telling you what I see in the classroom.

Alright, yesterday we stopped with my friend Bobby. Basic common sense and logic tell you that unless Bobby comes up with some really innovative bubbling technique come TAKS test day, he's probably not going to pass these tests. I tend to agree with the comment that sometimes you just have to focus on those kids that the intensive tutoring can help and just make sure that Bobby feels good about himself and that he enjoys school. This would be fine and dandy, except guess which kid is the one kid that I am going to be questioned about each time his name appears at the bottom of my test scores? And guess which kid goes on my SSI list? The Texas Student Support Initiative mandates that I give Bobby and other at-risk students (kids who failed or came perilously close to failing the test the previous year) an additional 45 minutes of instruction per day within the school day in their weak area(s). Heh. Puh-LEASE!

Here we get into the choice that I think many teachers make every day: the dumbing down of our students. On one hand, we have been told for the last ten years that ability grouping is "Baaaad!" [channel the SNL George Bush impression here.] Now we're being required to give these kids interventions at their levels. The solution? Let's call it something different! Now flexible grouping is very en vogue. Silly! It's all the rage now that the same thing has a new name. I flexible group/ability group every day. Is it easy? No. But if I don't do it, guess what's going to happen to my 115+ IQ kids? Here is what they hear when I tell them to go read a book while I work with Bobby: "You already know everything. There's no need for you to make any effort or think, ever, because you are already smart and will do fine on the test. Go be quiet somewhere and turn off your brain."

This is my biggest problem with testing. I really like that testing ensures that everyone is teaching the curriculum and not spending all of their school year on a unit on ducks or something, but I hate that so many teachers are letting all of their students land in the middle. I see so many gifted kids being pushed to the side because they "already know the material" and they are not challenged or pushed to achieve more. Those kids grow to hate school because they are chronically bored, and who can blame them? All of the emphasis and teacher energy is being focused on Bobby - and Lord knows he needs it- but so do all of the other kids. This is the predicament that NCLB has put teachers in.

Testing has killed a lot of really good quality teaching. Many teachers are so afraid that their job is on the line (which I don't really get because there seems to be a teacher shortage everywhere I go) that they spend all of their time teaching to the test because ultimately that is what people are going to look at. That is what administrators are going to shine up on the screen at a staff meeting next year are each teacher's test scores. I understand the panic, but I also know that if you teach your kids your curriculum and teach it to them in interesting ways that they will understand and remember, that they will do FINE on that stupid test. Which covers your accountability.

A lot of people mentioned parent and student accountability. I could go on for another entire post about the lack of student and parent accountability, but I don't think that's what my point is today. Yes, there are major problems with parents and kids taking accountability for their performance, but the bottom line is that you get the kids that they send you. If they had anything better at home, they would've sent that too. You have to take the students you're given and work with them wherever they may be. I'll tell you what: if 'ol Bobby is reading on a 3rd grade level by the end of this school year AND he still likes school, I will feel like I've done my job. Will my principal agree when he fails TAKS? Probably not, but I'm a teacher, not a miracle worker. I hope, too, that while I move Bobby to the 3rd grade reading level, that my gifted kid who is on a 7th grade reading level will made just as many strides.

It's easy to understand why teachers are moved to cheat on these tests. An entire district near Dallas was exposed last spring for an immense cheating operation on TAKS tests. If the pressure was taken off of test performance and moved onto an individual child's growth from the previous year, I think we would see a lot more education and a lot less cheating or teaching to the test. Schools are becoming factories that produce students who are very good at bubbling the right answer or use the right formula to respond to an essay. I don't know about y'all, but my work rarely comes in a multiple choice format. If it did, I imagine it would look like this:

Which cliche best fits this student?

a) You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.
b) You Can't Get Blood Out of a Turnip.
c) You can't make chicken salad out of chicken droppings. [edited for mom]
d) All of the above.

Come see me tomorrow for Part Three: The Pig's Scheme-y Plan For What Should Happen If She Was In Charge.

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