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I am coming to this later than normal.  I slept until 7, surprisingly the cat curled up next to me not complaining nor demanding his breakfast.  There are four days of school until the end of 3rd quarter and the beginning of Spring break.  And several things in the news.

First, it is impossible to get away from tests of some kind.  As a classroom teacher I create my own, but at least they are tied to what I am teaching, and thus a valid indicator of what students have learned.  For my AP students, they can take back the multiple choice portions of their tests, look up what they got wrong and correct it with an explanation for half credit - after all, why just measure how poorly they did if the intent is to help them learn, why not give them a motivation to correct their incorrect understandings?  I started doing this last year and saw it have a positive impact upon learning.  Sad, the things one does not seem to learn until one nears the end of a teaching career!

Please keep reading. . .

Value-added methodology was in the news again.  Both the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and the man who really drives education in this country, Bill Gates, came out against publishing the value-added scores of teachers.  We have already seen this done by both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.  When the former did so, Duncan at least seemed in favor, just as he had seemed in favor of firing all the teachers at Central Falls in RI.  I suppose I should offer the rationale the two gentlemen offered to continue supporting the notion of value-added while NOW objecting to using the scores for public shaming.   But I won't.  The damage has been done.  A perception has been planted, and it is being used to beat up teachers and attack their unions, even though the research has demonstrated that value-added is too unstable to be a reliable indicator of teacher performance even if we could control for factors not under the teachers' control.  We do not have random assessment of students, and that by itself is sufficient to have serious impact upon the data.

But by sometime today, conceivably as early as 10 AM, all of this will probably be shoved aside.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will go live on their website with the lead story from their Sunday edition.  It is about cheating on tests - by teachers and administrators.  The story is expected to publish a major investigative article examining questionable patterns of test score gains in a dozen large cities across the nation.  Besides the locations where such cheating has already become a matter of public record.  According to an email blast sent to educational bloggers by the National Education Association,  

They have a national story on teacher "cheating" - more specifically, they are insinuating gross testing improprieties based on state/district testing data analysis they've compiled for the majority of US states. Reporters and editors I've spoken to claim the story is focusing on the integrity and culture of standardized tests and the high stakes decisions made based on them, however they are using analysis of
state/district testing data to insinuate teacher and administrator impropriety is to blame for "unusual test score swings." Reportersidentified concentrations of improbably large changes in test scores in math and reading for grades 3 through 8 for the years 2005-06 through
2010-11.  The article will highlight irregularities in Dayton/Ohio,Baltimore, Memphis, Houston, Nashville and St. Louis, as well as approximately 6 other cities/districts.
 The NEA email offers some pushback in an analysis by a highly respected scholar.  Some districts have preemtively pushed back, as you can see in The HOuston Chronicle and the Nashville Tennessean   For anyone who wants a more  complete understanding, I suggest also looking at Tests, Cheating and Educational Corruption a fact sheet from Fair Test, the Center for Fair and Open Testing.

In addition, there are other journalistic endeavors underway, including one seeking to get people to explain why they cheated, and in at least one case a teacher who was later fired was ordered to change student scores by the principal, and as a beginning teacher did not feel s/he could do otherwise.

I offer this information not to directly involve myself in the topic. Yet as a teacher I cannot avoid it.  As I wrestle with whether i will continue to teach, seeing my profession under attack is something I must address.  Further, the entire culture of testing - which robs students and teachers of important instructional time - is contrary to good educational practice.

Here I have to wonder if what I did yesterday would even be possible in such a culture.  I broke away from my original plans to devote all the time of my regular classes and half the time in my Advanced Placement classes to a discussion of Trayvon Martin and related matters.  Almost all of the students in my regular classes are Black, the rest (with one exception) being Hispanic.  My AP students are incredibly diverse.  Many of the students have experienced the indignity of being treated differently in stores because they were Black.  Even with an all Black administrative team and all but one of our security personnel also being Black, they can describe quite clearly the differential treatment students receive in the hallway for various infractions.  Discrimination is still part of their world, fortunately usually in petty ways, but still ways that demean.

Yet this will not be on any test.  Why then should I take time in government?  Well, for one thing, so that they understand how the Federal government can intervene.  For another, so that they know the possible impact of so-called "Castle" statutes like Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law (although it is quite apparent from the facts available to the public that Zimmerman should NOT be protected by the framework of that statute because he initiated the confrontation).  What we teach should as far as possible be relevant to the lives of our students and not instructed merely to be regurgitated on the multiple-choice tests upon which we so heavily rely.

Yesterday i was not "prepping" my students for a test.  Yesterday we had a guided exploration of a real topic.  Yesterday I was a professional educator.

Whatever we do in our schools, we certainly must leave the time and space for such 'teachable moments."  So long as I am in a classroom, those moments will be of a greater priority.

Realizing that, doing what I did, makes me long to be in a situation where I did not have a fixed curriculum measured by external tests.  I was recently reading a book by a former headmaster at Sidwell Friends, where the President's two daughters attend.  He pointed out one characteristic of a Quaker School like Sidwell is the ability of the teacher to have a great deal of control over what happens in her classroom, so that s/he can infuse the classroom with passion.  I know even from being in a public school that if I can be passionated about a topic, it empowers my students to be passionate about things that matter to them.  It is when that passion is invoked that the deepest learning takes place, often from one another more than directly from or through the teacher.

So this morning I keep all that in mind.  I have papers to grade.  The next 4 days are planned, including the day i will be formally observed in one of my AP classes, which will be interesting because it will be, as is often the case in AP, a class in which my role will be minimal.  It will be a student-lead discussion, with my role limited to helping focus, to perhaps offering a followup question to consider.  

I keep it in mind because tomorrow I will be talking with several people and going to an event all of which are parts of my exploration of whether to remain in any classroom beyond this year.  Despite how much I enjoyed yesterday - I felt ALIVE as a teacher - days like that are a decreasing part of my job, and I remain inclined to leave, and thus I continue to explore other options.

Despite tests, value-added, attacks on teachers, and all that other crap, I can still at least occasionally experience what it means to really teach.  That's hard to walk away from.

Have a nice weekend.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 04:55 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives and Teachers Lounge.

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