Sunday, September 8, 2013

F is for Fabulous

So our wonderful state legislature decided to assign each school a grade based on growth AND overall performance on state tests. (Sarcasm. I don't think our state legislature is very wonderful.) They have a complex formula for assigning the grade, and a bill passed in the last session that this grade will be published in the newspaper. It was. This past week. The school where I work got an F. That's pretty good for morale, right? (Yep, more sarcasm.)

I think there are so many problems with this bill, and I probably could write about 20 reasons, but I'm going to try to be brief and only name a few.

First, how is this helpful to anyone? We get no extra funding, no extra support, etc. to help us do better. All that happens is we all feel terrible. Teachers that are highly dedicated, hard working and who genuinely care about our students. I have a wonderful, imperfect (you know, because we're human), but wonderful staff at my school.

Second, the system is flawed. Utah has two accountability systems at work right now, and they rank schools in two different ways and schools get huge fluctuations in their performance scores depending on which system is used. Like one system says you're a C school and another an F. There's a big difference between those.

Third, it's not quite the same, but it is kind of insulting to hand the whole school a grade. It's kind of like handing out the whole class the same grade... you got an A, you got an F, you got a C, so I averaged it all together and the whole class gets a C. That works for me. (NOW I do NOT say this to indicate that I want individual teacher's scores printed...but I know there are states that do that.)

Fourth, my job entails so much more than getting kids to pass one test at the end of the year. I work at a school with about 98% poverty and about 60% of students are English language learners. I love my job. But these kids have hard lives. That's not an excuse...but it is a reality. I teach them English, reading, writing, spelling, math, science, social studies, and music. But I also teach them to be respectful and responsible. I show them love. I'm not just teaching content...I'm teaching children, a whole bunch of them, with a variety of needs, challenges, disabilities, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. They come at a wide range of levels, and they make progress, but they leave at a wide range of levels...which seems like real human nature to me. I am pretty intelligent, but I do not do well with electronics/mechanical processes. I would not make a good repairman...my brain doesn't work that way. But I read avidly and often remember titles, authors and some details of books for long periods of time (without really trying to). Does that make me a better person or smarter person than the person who is good at fixing electronics? No. But see, tests really only measure knowledge in one way and aren't a real indication of what that child knows. And they don't measure what kind of citizen that child will grow up to be. Or whether that child has learned to be responsible. Whether that child is creative, musical, athletic, or funny. There's so much more to being human than reading and math ability as measured by a multiple choice test. And there's so much more to being a teacher than just getting kids to pass a test.

Fifth, I honestly don't really get how they figured an F. I see my school has room for improvement. However, our test scores have been going up. (Not that I think test scores are an accurate representation of all that is happening, but that is what the country is using right now.) Our scores are significantly higher now than they were 3 years ago or 5 years ago. So how is it that we have an F? Many of my students are performing at the same level as their peers in schools with high socioeconomic status. About 80% of my students passed the tests. As I said, there's still room for improvement, but if 3/4 or 4/5 of our students are passing the test, then I think there's lots of room for celebration along with room for improvement.

Finally (although, really, as I said before, I can enumerate even more reasons this system stinks) the data people always say you really should have at least three data points. Three different tests to determine how a child is doing. Yet when doing teacher or school accountability systems, only one data point is used. CRTs. If we really want to have valid information about how schools are doing, we need more data points not fewer.

Sometimes I begin to feel very discouraged. Especially when I'm working as hard as I am and I care as much as I do. But it helps (at least a little) when I talk to coworkers and especially when I talk to neighbors. When I talk to my neighbors, I am reminded that regardless of what the media or legislature portrays, most people I know are pretty happy with most teachers they know. There is still a lot of respect for what I do among "ordinary" people. And since that's coming from people I respect, that's got to count for a lot more than what politicians and reporters are saying and doing.

My dear friend/coworker said, half seriously/half jokingly, that we should hang "F is for Fabulous" on our marquee. Maybe we should. It's not an easy job we have, but we do it with love and I think my faculty IS fabulous!