Friday, November 20, 2015

"Proficient or Above" or "Why do I have to deal with this shit?"

Ohio released its preliminary scores today for the next generation assessments administered last spring. In them they indicate the percentage of students who scored "Proficient or Above." As a high school teacher, I am interested in the implications on student graduation according to the new formula as it relates to the released scores.

Fortunately for our students, the ODE has made the path to graduation simpler by making it more complex. Students may graduate through an acceptable score on a certification in a vocational field. OR They may graduate through receiving a remediation free score on a college entrance test (scores not yet verified). OR They may graduate by earning 18 combined points on the aforementioned state assessments with a minimum of 4 points from 2 assessments in mathematics, a minimum of 4 points from 2 assessments in English Language Arts, and a minimum of 6 points from assessments in Biology, American History, and American Government equaling a total of 14 points with the 4 additional points picked up when students score 3 or higher, which is to say "Proficient or Above."

Does that make sense? My sophomores couldn't explain it to me either, and they're expected to graduate under that system. Fear not, I provided a thorough and engaging explanation replete with visual aids and low brow humor that seemed to do the trick. I could not, however, provide them with a satisfactory explanation as to why they "have to deal with this shit." (Their words, not mine)

As for the scores...

I teach American History, which has always been a tested subject toward high school graduation. If I'm not mistaken, on the Ohio Graduation Tests our Social Studies "Proficient and Above" percentage was typically around 70% and better for sophomores. The percentage for last year's next generation assessment in American History was 40.3%. To be honest, I'm disappointed it wasn't lower. Last year's students who took the tests did NOT need it to graduate. They graduate with the OGT, but were required to take this test too just for kicks. I am appalled that 40.3% of students took it seriously enough to score at these levels. Granted, our official message was simply "do your best," but these kids knew that they were getting screwed into taking another test. I feel terribly that I was complicit in implementing this system. I overheard lots of students say things like, "I just wrote F-U a dozen times in those essays, man." and I couldn't help but smile. One girl was called out of my class to test, and returned five minutes later.

What is more problematic, of course, are the comparable low percentages of "Proficient and Above" in subjects taken by this year's students, whose graduation is actually dependent upon this system. 
          ELA 9: 67.2%
          Algebra: 47.8%
          Geometry: 79% (students taking Geometry as Freshmen)
          Physical Science: 40.2% (transitioning to a Biology assessment)

The above percentages represent students who achieved the theoretical minimum required, plus at least one. That's good for them. However, 59.8% of students who took the Physical Science test failed to keep an adequate pace toward graduation. (Again, these are the numbers from my school) Yes, that is the subject with the worst scenario, but all of these scores are far more problematic than the remediation that was necessary with the OGT.

Now, the state has provided "safe harbor" for these kids, allowing them to retake tests. We're administering retakes in December, and encouraging students who scored 1's to retake. However, because students are getting their scores next week, this will leave no time to even glance at relevant review materials before they retake a test on a subject they studied last year.

But wait, it gets worse...if a student scores moderately well, say a 2 on these early tests, and assume that they'll pick up points this year, but only score at those levels again or just higher, a 2 and a couple of 3's on this year's tests, then they've got some serious problems. All of their eggs are in one basket, the American Government test, where they may NEED a 5 in order to graduate. 43.7% of students scored "Proficient and Above" on the Government test according to the numbers just released. Well, it's statistically improbable that a student who scores low on prior assessments will miraculously pull down a 5 in Government, so they will need to retake tests. Now they're conceivably retaking assessments on subjects they studied 2 years prior, and counting on significantly higher scores than they earned previously.

Look, maybe my scenario here is confusing. On a very basic level, this new testing system is terribly problematic. The issues lie in the fact that it is new, and being created as we go, but also in the nature of the convoluted paths to graduation themselves. The sheer number of variables at play here are impossible to fathom, from student strengths to test performance, low scores in these areas, but not those, 2 points here, other scores there, nothing formalized until very late. Now, take this level of absurdity and factor in real problems like hunger, poverty, instability in the home, disability, health problems, you name it, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

What seemed like a more humane system to someone is turning out to be nothing short of a nightmare. And now the tests are changing again in ELA and Math. Who knows what new issues may arise?

How many students will be adversely affected? I don't know. The ODE deals in percentages, I deal in human beings, the 140 plus sophomores I'm teaching. Like the one who told me, "I left half that math test blank. We hadn't even learned that stuff yet." Or the other kid who said, "There were some questions...I didn't even know what they were asking." These are good people, hard working kids that we're simply grinding through this machine for some political rhetoric regarding career and college readiness.

When I startle myself awake at 3 in the morning, and stare into the darkness toward the ceiling, I'm not thinking of percentages or politics. I'm thinking about these kids in my class and what I can do to assure their success, to assure that they become expansive and critical thinkers. I am looking to expand their horizons and opportunities, not limit them through a testing system that, for the most part, has not gone through an appropriate level of validity testing, nor been implemented long enough to assure reliability. A system like this only serves to increase levels of anxiety, even among advanced students (especially among advanced students), and to punish. As always, all we're really measuring is socioeconomic status. Look at the scores. What districts are top? What is their median income? How does that compare to the median income, or poverty level of the districts at bottom?

I have no interest in a punitive high stakes testing system. I am only interested in "Proficient and Above" percentages inasmuch as they impact the kids I teach. I am ashamed to be a part of the implementation of such a system, and I work every day to attempt to remediate its terrible impact. Like many of you, I am angry.

Friday, November 13, 2015

News of the death of the American public school teacher has been greatly exaggerated (a short poem)

      Teachers and the Stages of Grief.

On one of those
bright early fall days
when odd shadows
cast across hardwood floors
speak of the severity
of changing seasons,

we speak
of how we love our work
as someone in discussion
of the recently deceased.

"Man, we really had a good time
with that lesson on the Federal Reserve,"
I said, falling into it

wistful and bittersweet,
almost tearful.

"He was the nicest guy
you'd ever want to meet,"
I could've been saying
in the same tone.

We're fluctuating between
depression and acceptance
as our work is increasingly

Not quite ready
to give in
or give up
on most days,

I'm lobbying to add
as the final
stage of grief.

Friday, November 6, 2015

So long, Dick.

"Nice laptop, Timmy. A gift from Ohio taxpayers, I mean your charter school."

Justice would be this man being investigated and tried for fraud, mismanagement of public funds, and criminal negligence against Ohio's school children. However, men from his social standing don't get punished for their crimes, they get a fat retirement check and a comfortable home in a homogenous neighborhood in an affluent suburb of the state capital.

As it stands, this champion of failing charter schools and their mismanagement of millions in public dollars, supporter of the abusive 3rd grade reading guarantee, accomplice in the privatization of public schools, leader of the roll-out of two excessive, inappropriate and wildly unnecessary standardized testing systems...not to mention the wholly intrusive albatross that is the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, co-author of The Youngstown Plan, and accessory to the manipulation of charter school data in the interest of channeling bonuses to Republican friendly charter school sponsors...this guy, gets to ride quietly into the sunset of a second retirement.

Lesser men are jailed for these offenses, at least publicly shamed. Ohio Schools Superintendent Dick Ross will be profusely thanked by all of his crooked friends who currently hold an office for everything he's done for Ohio's children.

Bullshit. Thanks for nothing, Dick.