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I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

How do you grow this? My adventures with APPR.

Here in New York State, we have a new teacher evaluation plan commonly know as APPR.  20-25% of my evaluation is based on a state standardized test. We all know how well those are put together with wonderful stories of pineapples challenging hares to races. I’ve written about that before. 

The next 15-20% is based on two district assessments ( pre and post) that must be approved by the state and the last 60% is based on a combination of observations and evidence provided by me.

Today, I had to administer the district assessment to my 5th grade class and yes, there was a pineapple question! Our district chose the Star Assessments provided by Renaissance Learning.

The question was based on the “Pineapple Poem” yet the answer had nothing to do with pineapples. The question was to pick what the author meant by a sleeping palm tree.  The correct answer was the palm tree was drooping and swaying as it was about to fall asleep! Ever see a drooping palm tree? Do you think it would be too much trouble to include those details in the poem? Does a kid from the Northeast know what a drooping palm tree looks like? Personally all the palm trees I have ever seen, stand majestically up right.

Another question asked them, “How does the rhetorical question in the passage support the author’s purpose to persuade?” My concern is that ‘rhetorical’ is not a typical 5th grade literary term, and that it’s not in the Common Core. These are two of many poorly worded  and very difficult questions my class suffered through.

Since this is a pre-test  you may be thinking what I thought at first. No problem, they do poorly now and I’ll work hard and they’ll do better in the Spring when they take the post test. Growth is in the bag,, yahoo!

Well hold on cowboy! 

Since most questions had only 3 answers to choose from, each question had a 33.3% probability of being correct no matter what the student chose!

Upon review of my class’ scores, my lowest student ,who receives reading support and scored “not proficient” in last Spring’s state exam, turned in one of the highest scores in my class! He was the first one done, obviously not reading the questions. Three other students also scored better than they did on the state exam, one was rated at reading at the 11+ grade level.

So since my evaluation is based on their growth as shown on these exams, it looks like I doomed!

So how do you grow this?

Meet the Teacher Night 2012

l teach fifth grade in a small suburban K-6 district and last night was our meet the teacher night. I had several options before me,  give my standard  spiel on my procedures and expectations , explain the new Common Core State Standards, or educate parents on how, so called , education reform, will really affect their children. I had to decide whether or not I was willing to choose this mountain to take a stand.

Please keep in mind, I work in a very conservative  Republican district.  It is so conservative, that when President Obama gave his famous speech to students at the start of his first school year as president, I was given a directive not to show that speech to my students.  After much debate, I was threatened with insubordination charges if I dared to show that speech.  ( Just so you know, I read the speech to my class, I posted President Obama’s picture with an excerpt from the speech in my classroom, and it’s still there since 2009.)

After much contemplation as to  what to present to parents, I decided to do all three.  I went for that mountaintop. I  give a quick run down on procedures and expectations. I then explained the new Common Core State Standards, and went on to  educate them on how, so called , education reform, will really affect their children.

I explained to these parents that this year will be like no other. I went through how the Common Core assumes that their children have skills  that they don’t have yet. I explained how they must robotic-ally answer questions with specifics from texts while leaving out their own personal feelings. Because as David Coleman has stated, no body gives a sheet as to what you feel.  I explained how their children will have to learn a new expanded math curriculum and that I need to teach more than one lesson a day at times, because there aren’t enough days to teach 1 lesson per day before the ‘big test’. I told them that learning how to divide fractions is now not enough, their children will have to create models to demonstrate how that actually works. All because someone thinks that’s what is done in the real world.

When I described how New York State now has a new teacher evaluation program called APPR, I could see some parents were quite uncomfortable. I then explained to them that APPR will rob their children of lesson time. I showed them how I must take attendance 5-6 times each day to collect data , and how at 1 minute each it would rob their children of the time equal to 9 lessons. I then informed that of all the testing that their children will have to endure and that is designed to test teachers  rather their children. I told them that their children could lose up to 90 lessons this school year due to APPR tests, data, training, grading and more.

Our school was labeled a “Reward School” this year. That means that out of over 4600 public schools in NYS, our school was one of approximately 230 that were rated at the very top. Despite this, we are being treated as if we don’t know how to teach, our teachers must be evaluated to weed out the possible ineffective ones, and their children are not doing well enough.

I informed these parents  that it was time for them to get involved. It was time to step up and contact those at the state level that this path we are on is leading the wrong way.

Needless to say, there were some parents who were quite upset.

Hopefully not with me. It looks like it could be a wild ride this year. Stay tuned.

Growth scores a formula for failure

Today I’m angry, disgusted, demoralized,and frustrated. I am also firmly resolved to fight back against the tsunami of junk ideology that all good educators face these days.

I received my ‘growth score’ today from the New York State Education Department.

I know,  I really shouldn’t care what my score is. I know 100% of my students tested at or above grade level in Math and English Language Arts.  I know my class’ scores were near or at the very top of my district’s scores. I know my district is also at or nearly at the top of the region’s and states’ scores. I know I work my heart out and push my students to excel. My students always, ALWAYS  succeed.

Yet according to the NYSED my growth score is so so. I’m rated effective with a growth score of 14 out of 20. Keep in mind, my student’s mean scale in math  is 708.4 and ELA it is 678.  I’m confident both scores are well above that state mean.

So why did I get a mediocre growth score?

The state’s explanation of it’s calculation should be a eye opener for all  of us. Check out this  junk math.

Here it is in a nutshell..

They compare your students with similar students and measure how your students do to these similar students. You are then graded based on how much better your students did  or how much ‘poorer’ your students did  than these other students. They look for the gap between your students and the representative group of similar students.

Here the flaw…

If the representative sample of student all do well, your ratings will be negatively affected, because your growth is based on only how much better your students did than the group. In other words they look for a gap between your students and the group.

We all know that this year scores went up for everyone.. so as they rise, individual teachers get lower ratings, because the gap doesn’t increase.  Sounds nuts doesn’t it? Goes against all the jargon about closing the gap.

It gets worse if you happen to have some high performing students in your class as well. Not much room for growth if you’re near the top, and your group is near the top. It’s a teacher’s advantage then to not take those high performing kids, It will hurt their growth scores.

My students did great, it’s a shame that NYS thinks they did so, so. Perhaps, if my students understood pineapples and hare races a little better, they could have correctly answered just 1 more question in that 6 hour marathon of testing correct, and all would be well.

We have a choice, we could  start practicing saying, “welcome to Walmart”, for our next career or fight back. What say you?

A Teacher’s Labor of Love Can Not Be Measured

As we celebrate Labor Day 2012 teachers all over the nation are beginning a new school year with a dark cloud on the horizon. We have been labeled failures by politicians , media outlets, corporate raiders, and movie makers. The need for education reform has been touted by both sides of the political aisle in a blind effort to pander to the raw emotions of a thoroughly hoodwinked electorate.

I’ve previously posted  data that clearly shows that graduation rates and college admissions are at historical highs. Historians like Diane Ravitch have shared data that explains the misleading nature of comparisons with other nations. Union leaders like Randi Weingarten have celebrated the gains we have seen over the last 20 years. Yet, we have been labeled as failures.

Yes, there is a need for reform!

Nothing should remain stagnant, we must constantly change and reform our ways to remain competitive. No one is disputing that. The problem arises with what has become a bastardization of true reform.

All to often, we’ve been told, it’s those ineffective teachers fault. Ignoring poverty, social needs, emotional needs, under funding, and the lack of resources, both sides of the aisle have their spiny fingers pointed right at us .. it’s those teachers that have to be fixed. As a result states have embarked on huge budget buster evaluation plans fueled by the funds held out, like  a carrot on a stick, due to Race to the Top. Here in New York State we have this debacle of an evaluation system called APPR.

The centerpiece of this frightful evaluation mess are high stakes tests ( you know, the ones RTTT was supposed to give us relief from) , district wide tests, and a third component based on observations and other evidence extracted magically throughout the year.  Using a Value Added Model which Diane Ravitch has labeled ‘junk science’ NYS hopes to root out those ineffective teachers.

Does this look like education reform?

Take a look at my district’s APPR plan.  I can’t fault my district and my fellow teachers for negotiating this nonsense because they were left with no choice. They must follow the laws of NYS.  They did their best, but unfortunately we’re now going to be judged by junk science, computer generated assessments, and a rubric that will attempt to put a numerical value on everything we do.

It’s demoralizing and unforgivable to attempt to place a numerical value on everything a teacher does.

60% of every APPR plan in NYS is based on placing a numerical value on everything we do! 

Administrators will be visiting classes with check lists and rubrics attempting to match the actions  of the teacher with a point value that will be used to measure teacher effectiveness.

A teacher’s labor of love is not measurable!

How do you place a numerical value on, the lives we have touched, the futures we have enhanced, the confidence we have instilled, the manners we have taught, the morals we have strengthened, the civic values we have formed, the smiles we have created and the country we have created?

How do you determine a numerical value on a teacher’s compassion  and understanding of a child who  faces anxiety when encountering challenging work? How do you measure the trust a student and/or a parent has in their teacher? How do you measure the hours teachers spend, looking at the ceiling in the middle of the night, as they ponder new strategies to help their students? How do you measure the tears wiped away from a frightened child as the teacher comforts and builds confidence?

This  Labor Day as we gear up for the new challenges of a new school year,  we face the unfair scrutiny endorsed by our state. Remember,  you have the power to protect your love of teaching.

It can not be measured no matter how hard they try.

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