A new coworker expressed this thought a couple weeks ago when a few of us gathered to chat after school. Sometimes we call these “vent sessions” or “unloading.” This particular session stemmed partially from decisions out of our control.
This year the administration decided to split the school on the basis of test scores. Each grade level has two teams, one titled “G/T – Gifted/Talented,” the other “Inclusion.” Although not formally labeled as such, this boils down to a research-disproven method called “tracking.”
This single decision has already acted as the proverbial pebble dropped into the still pond with further ripples yet to come. Some of the potentially adverse consequences already visible are as follows. First, the students have already begun to internalize the unspoken labels, especially those on the “inclusion” team. Second, classes lack the diversity of ability levels that has been proven by research to benefit lower-performing students who teeter on the brink of improvement. Third, almost all of the neediest students, from English language ability to those with a variety of learning disabilities, are grouped in the same classes. At some point, not every student in the class can have preferential (ie front row) seating. Fourth, everyone looks askance at the teachers on the G/T team if they express any sort of issue. “But you have the good kids!”
Then comes the biggie, the assessments. I touched on this several weeks ago and want to return to it briefly.
This split system means the following with regards to the assessments. For the inclusion teacher, she faces the daunting reality of a roster full of students who did not meet state standards, did not even approach meeting state standards. She, thus, has the Herculean task of bringing students who score so low on reading tests that they do not have a lexile level. For the seventh grade English teacher that means trying to teach things like context clues when every word is unfamiliar or teaching them how to analyze a text they cannot read.
Some of the G/T teacher’s students deal with some of the same things too. Many of them scored much higher but that is relative in a school like mine. The baseline, unspoken, unconscious expectation for the G/T teacher is that she is expected to bring the students all the way up to grade level and possibly beyond. Don’t get me wrong. That’s what I want for them. I also want to set them up for success, not failure. When we express frustration, or try to tailor to the abilities of our students, we’re met with that question I mentioned earlier.
Then comes planning and pacing. Both of teachers for each grade level, especially the inclusion teacher need time to reteach material. After all, each time the administration talks about the required benchmarks or similar subjects, they stress to us the importance and requirement of reflective teaching. Look back on your lessons. Figure out what went right or wrong.
We would love to do that and would actually do that, save for the pacing guide. In those same meetings, although not directly connected, the administration also stresses the importance of sticking with the pacing guide or else. Last year, I nearly got reprimanded for being two days behind the pacing guide, only weeks after two snow days. On top of all that, administration expects us to move at the exact same pace as our partner, even with the split in academic levels of the students.
All of this leads to potentially extensive frustration and burn out. Not all schools have these same issues. Some schools have similar ones. Some have issues completely foreign to these. That being said, these issues all point back to a bigger issue, that of evaluation of teacher performance based on student abilities as measured by assessment data alone.
Teachers internalize this. From the very beginning of our education in teaching, this is ingrained in us. This can produce beneficial results. A good teacher is a reflective teacher. We look at each lesson in light of how the lesson benefited or did not benefit the students. This is how a person learns and grows. This beneficial process becomes distorted when the assessments measure the wrong thing. When a teacher is repeatedly told that success equals mastery, the color red and the word “remediation” signals the poor performance of the teacher, not the student. Thus, the comment that the serves as the title for this post.
This post addresses a systematic problem in education. As such, I have no satisfactory answers. I want to find them though. Our students deserve that.