Sunday, April 28, 2013

Just How Much Instruction Is Lost Due To Testing?

It's been a grueling two weeks for teachers across the state, as we administered farcically long state tests to children who were unnecessarily spooked by all the warnings that their grades would plummet. There is no question, I think, that these were two lost weeks--weeks that could be been dedicated to real instruction, but were sacrificed to the billionaires who believe that testing is more important than learning.

Losing two weeks of instruction is bad enough, but it's not the whole story. Many, if not most, ELA and math teachers will be gone for a week or longer to help grade these tests. That's at least another week where our students will be sitting around, doing worksheets or puzzles or whatever the subs can cajole them into doing in our absence. So now we've lost three weeks of math and ELA instruction.

Add in the test prep that almost all of us are required to do. I spent comparatively little time on test prep myself, mostly because I believe it to be a waste of time and the amount of prep I do has zero correlation to the evaluation I receive (staunch readers will recall that I was at the very bottom on my TDAs one year and at the very top the next, so I have that all important "data" to back up the fact that test prep is bullshit). Even so, I spent about two weeks doing little else besides prep, and I imagine most of my colleagues did the same. So now, we are up to five weeks of instruction lost.

There are variables that are difficult to quantify, as well. For example, so much of the school year is dedicated to these tests that students (perhaps rightly) feel that not much else matters, especially now that the tests are history. It's inevitable that students will slack off a bit now, for the remaining two months of the year. How much they'll slack off depends on their usual dedication to learning, their teachers dedication, and the school culture, but even in the best case it is hard to imagine that students will be working as hard in the final eight weeks as they did in the first thirty two. Let's be generous and say that this slacking off will only be the equivalent of losing one week of the remaining eight.

In total, that's six weeks worth of instruction lost to testing, at a minimum. The mind boggles at the thought of how much more learning will evaporate once the new evaluation system is in place and students are tested in every subject, in every grade. (And you can assume that when that happens, teachers will be spending a LOT more time on test prep knowing their jobs may be on the line.)

But let's be generous once again, and assume that we will only lose the six weeks we currently lose. That means that a child starting in NYC public schools next year in first grade and graduating from a NYC high school can expect to lose--wait for it--a whopping SEVENTY-TWO weeks to testing mania.

Seventy two weeks. And remember, that's assuming that things don't get worse when we start testing every subject.

Given that there are 40 school weeks in a year, that totals nearly two years of instruction lost to testing. Is it any wonder our students are continuing to fall behind? Rather than teaching them things, we are testing them on things that we simply don't have enough time to teach.

Of course, the reformers will say we need to be accountable. To which I reply, why aren't the reformers accountable for all the instructional time they are stealing from our kids?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mr. Talk Returns

It's been a while since I have posted. There are reasons, none of which are earth-shattering, but I have been feeling too busy and overwhelmed to do much blogging. I hope neither of my readers missed me. (In truth, when I checked my blog stats today, it actually appears that my readership has grown significantly since my last posting over a month ago, so either people are checking in to see whether I am still alive or some people prefer to read my blog when I haven't written anything.)

Some of you know I was writing for MORE and doing some other stuff for them, but lately I fell down on that job as well, for which I apologize to those people. I don't know what the results of today's election will be, but I can honestly say that I was honored to work with the people from MORE, and I would have been proud to see them snatch a victory here. As unlikely as that is, I think we made a real dent in this election, at least to the point where people are talking about how the UFT does things. And that is all to the good. A democratic union can only work where there is a legitimate opposition, and I truly believe that MORE has established itself as a major player in this union, regardless of the outcome.

That's all I really wanted to say. Hopefully, I can get myself back to some kind of regular posting schedule as I have much to belly ache about.