Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Sacrifice to the Testing Gods

Lately, I've been feeling that I haven't been teaching much, because I haven't. It seems like all I ever do is give tests or grade tests.

I decided to calculate exactly how much time we have sacrificed already this school year to the testing gods. While this may vary from teacher to teacher and from school to school, I think the following is a pretty accurate representation of the real cost of testing in New York public schools.

Today is the 36th day of instruction. By the 40th day, this is what I (and many others) will have lost:
  • 1 day for our unit pre-assessment
  • 1 day for writing a baseline essay
  • 3 days to give the MOSL (Measures of Student Learning) exams in ELA, Science, and Social Studies (remember that these days are SOLEY to measure teachers as part of the new evaluation system--while lip service is paid to gathering data from these tests, in reality, they are meant to rank teachers)
  • 1 day pulled from class to grade MOSL tests
  • 1 day for our unit mid-assessment
  • 1 day for a reading assessment in our computer lab
  • 2 days for our unit post assessment
That is TEN days of testing out of a total of forty days so far. 

TWENTY-FIVE percent of instructional time has been sacrificed to assessments so far this year. To be completely fair, if left to my own devices, I would have probably given tests on three of those days: the pre, mid, and post assessments of the unit I am teaching (although frankly, I'm not so big on pre-assessments).

Is it insane that 1 day of 4 so far this school year has been used for testing? Of course it is. But this is the DOE, where testing is the order of the day, and accountability trumps instruction.

And don't forget, teachers will be evaluated based on how much "value" we have added to our students' educations. How much value can we be expected to add when 1/4 of our instructional time has been given over to testing?

Some may say that this is an anomaly due to the start of new school year, but I beg to differ. I documented in this post last April just how much time the average students will lose due to testing and test prep. At that time, I estimated that the average student, in the course of NYC public school career, will lose 72 weeks of instruction.

Now, it's even more.

Will the testing gods ever be satisfied?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Punishing Teachers

Way back when I started this blog, nearly five years ago, I wrote a series of posts called "Fixing the Schools in Five Easy Steps". Some of it was tongue in cheek, and some not. Some of it I have changed my mind about, and some not. One thing I still hold to is my post on discipline. I still feel that most schools lack proper discipline, and fail to act (or are constrained from acting forcefully) when something happens. That still needs to change.

In the course of my career, I've been spit on, cursed out, had a marble fired at my head from a sling shot, and been shoved by a student who sneaked up behind me and tried to knock me down. You might infer from this, if you knew little about NYC schools, that I am a poor disciplinarian. You'd be wrong. Just about every teacher who has worked in what is euphemistically called a "challenging" school has similar tales to tell. To be fair, all the above incidents took place at my previous school, which was hardly a nirvana.

My tenure in my current school, which is much less "challenging", has been highly uneventful from a discipline standpoint. In all my years here, I have never so much as sent a child to the dean. Not once. Until today.

This boy started school about a week late because he was still serving the suspension dished out to him last year. He'd been mostly manageable until today, when he got annoyed because I wouldn't let him do something he wanted to do (I'll let you speculate on the details). In any case, after I walked away from him, he got up and got in my face, not once, but twice. He was trying to physically intimidate me (which is impossible because I am a rather big guy and the only thing the student would have accomplished, had he tried to hit me, would be a sore hand). He chose not to take a swing, but walked out of my room.

So what was the upshot? He's being removed from my class for a few days. He'll sit in the suspension room while I am teaching his class, and then he'll be returned to his regular classes as if nothing had happened.

I, on the other hand, had to spend an entire period writing the incident up and talking to the dean and principal. Then, because this child was suspended from my class, I had to spend another period submitting work that he will undoubtedly not do while he is suspended from my class. From the way things turned out, you would think I was the guilty party, because I am the only one suffering any consequences.

I know full well that there are many of you out there who suffer the same and worse on a daily basis, so please know that I fully sympathize. It's impossible to teach effectively when you are being physically threatened, or when one child holds a class hostage to his or her recalcitrance.

Bloomberg will claim that he's made schools safer but teachers know that is nonsense. What he's done is made suspensions part of a school's report card grade so principals are often loath to report anything but the most serious infractions. Rather than help clean up the schools, he's swept problems under the rug.

Is it really any wonder that half of all teachers leave within 5 years? In bad schools, it's a wonder anyone stays five minutes. Does anyone really believe that education will improve when we're doing nothing to ensure that the vast majority of students, who come to school to learn, are shielded from the antics of those children who just don't give a damn and who can act out with impunity?

Last week, I blogged about my own ambivalence about leaving the school system now that I can retire at the end of the year (or sooner, if I wish). Perhaps by the end of the year I'll be thanking this student for edging me towards the door. I'd almost made up my mind to stay another year, but I'll be rethinking that now.

I've been able to deal with the paperwork hassle, the evaluation hassle, and just about everything else thrown my way. I'm not sure I want to deal with another discipline hassle.

Sorry for venting. If anyone wants to vent in the comments, I promise to read them.