Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guessing and Gibberish

Diane Ravitch keeps pounding out the same point about the state tests being dumbed down in order for NY (and other states) to meet the impossible standards of NCLB. Considering that just about everything George Bush did was wrong and stupid, you'd think that NCLB would be revisited. Just sayin'. Anyway, Ravitch thinks that David Steiner, the new state ed. commisioner, will toughen standards. I'm not quite as sanguine. No one wants to be the person in charge when test scores plummet.

As the new school year looms before us, I started thinking of all the crap we have to do to get ready for the quality review and the administration. It reminded me that it will soon be time to do the dreaded DRAs. In case you're not an English teacher (and count yourself lucky if you are not), the DRAs are a means of assessing a student's reading level so they can be placed into those appropriate reading groups that no one actually does (no teacher in their right mind would group all the bottom students together without a suit of armor and ear plugs). Anyway, my point, which I saw somewhere around here a moment ago, is that English teachers one again will have to administer those long, boring assessments to determine reading level.

Here's how the DRAs went for me last year. I administered them to my bottom group in September, and determined that most of them were several years below grade level in reading. When I say several, I mean three or more. I worked hard with them, and a few of them returned the favor by working hard for me. Most repeated the pattern that caused them to be years below grade level in the first place--they did next to nothing. I did the DRAs twice more, with moderate improvement.

Here's the kicker--when the ELA results came back, only TWO of those kids had scored a level 2. The rest of the class were level 3s. That means they were considered to have met state standards in reading and writing proficiency.

I think I'm a pretty good teacher, but I'm not that good. The tests were just plain easy. As it turns out, students can score a level 2 just by guessing on the multiple choice and leaving the written part blank. Like most teachers, I had trained my students never to leave anything blank. They knew to write topic sentences and quote passages of text. As I learned when scoring the ELA, a topic sentence followed by gibberish rated at least a 2 of 5. That's why most of my kids "achieved" threes despite scoring well below level on the DRAs.

In the end, all of this means that the data that Klein and his ilk worship as the holy grail of education is pretty much meaningless. But it's out of my hands, now. Whoever inherits my kids next year will administer the DRA and find that most of the students are still several years behind grade level. That teacher will have a hell of a time convincing those students that they need to work hard. After all, why work hard when guessing and gibberish will earn you a three?

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