Incalculable - The Jose Vilson

Incalculable

by Jose Vilson on October 11, 2007

No Child Left BehindEvery year, sometime in September, teachers and administrators get a huge stack of papers describing to us exactly how our kids performed in the 2-3 largest tests in the city (for those outside of the city: Math, English / Language Arts, and Mastery of the English Language). I honestly feel sorry for the tons of trees that die on this occasion because 1) once it’s handed out, the higher-ups never really have to look at it again and 2) most teachers look at the report very briefly. Unfortunately, these reports don’t really tell us much except at their proficiency for passing state tests according to the difficulty of the test (the stats also depends on whether the mayor wants people to think he’s doing a good job or not, but that’s another story).

If you look at a student’s score and see a 2 next to his / her math state exam score, we’re supposed to assume the child is “approaching” the math standards. Isn’t everyone in a math classroom approaching math standards, just at their own speed? And what part of math is he / she not doing well in? Of course, I can look at the raw score and see whether the child is a “low” 2 or a “high” 2, but it still doesn’t tell me much.

Is the child not able to reason through certain problems? If worded differently, will the student get the answer correct? Is the issue geometry, algebra, measurement, or just a lack of command of the English language? Did the child get appropriate services throughout the year or just made to fill out paperwork that he / she didn’t understand? Do the teachers have an opportunity to address the different intelligences they come across when they get the students?

And this might seem weird from someone who’s compared people to numbers that can be broken up into a unique set of primes, but to wit, we are all composite, and thus more complex than a 1,2,3, or 4 rating on our math or ELA exams. We have different strengths and weaknesses, and a good teacher should be able to address and differentiate according to those intelligences, not simply to what a state exam tells them. If we really care about the students, then data-driven education is only a reasonable fraction of what we as educators should look at. Classroom management, chemistry, and personality types also come into play when we cater to the students we teach.

Despite or because of this, we all know the key to most students’ learning is to make our lessons if not always fun, but informative, interesting, and in tune to our children’s needs. Characteristics like enthusiasm, focus, routine, and caring cater to the child’s most prime of needs.

Tests, on the other hands, are often disingenuous across the board, and easily manipulated in the face of political gain or corporate investment. Our children have been looked at as nothing but numbers and means for monetary gain, even before No Child Left Behind. A “3″ in one math test can mean something completely different from a “3″ in the same test from the previous year (and usually does). How many educational “non-profits” do we see at our schools nowadays? How many times are math and ELA scores emphasized more than school culture and morale? When’s the last time you heard a teacher tell a student a really good but unrelated story for fear that they might not have enough time to prepare for the test? If they don’t want us teaching to it, they sure have a funny way of showing us.

All this to say that the students who I say good morning to have much more potential than some contrived message we’re supposed to gather from that number. The real data we collect, the diagnostics, pre-tests, post-test, post-post-tests, finals, midterms, portfolios, projects, etc. should be used to inform you of whether the child gets what we’re talking about and if not then we probably have to teach it again (formative and summative). Yet, we can’t give in to the influences and pressures to become drones to a heartless system.

Then again, I’m still a dreamer.

jose, who just made a portfolio project based on the upcoming Penny Harvest …

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Frumteacher October 13, 2007 at 2:49 pm

I believe we educators are still waiting for a system in which each student gets the attention and space to develop he or she deserves. Tests can be an indication of the level of a certain student, but as you point out, it’s nothing more than an indication, if at all. What I like about my school is that we only get information on our freshmen about two months into the year. By then, we already have an first impression of the child. In this way, each child gets the chance to start anew and begin without a level stamped on their heads.

I wanted to say that your previous post was very inspiring. Again.

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Auron October 13, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Interesting post as always. No true comment from me except the standard “i agree brother.. i agree”

(By the way… Jose I really like the way this blog has come together in design and content. Good job indeed.)

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Jose October 14, 2007 at 12:11 pm

@ frumteacher: thanks, and your school at least is doing that. We’ve got a ways to go.

@ auron: i’m just trying to be as cool as you …

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pissedoffteacher October 14, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Tons of papers and no real solutions–typical of board of ed!

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LuzMaria October 14, 2007 at 9:58 pm

Even though these “scores” do not provide the entire picture, it does give us a quick glimpse before we meet our kids. I am not saying that this is how we group kids and/or teach them. But I do find it interesting that administrators throw these test scores at us and never provide us with the full description of each student in our class. If we as educators took the time to read each of our student’s score breakdown, we could find important data which can help us identify the skills our kids in general are struggling with in order to address those points at the beginning of the year. This I have learned to do now, eight years later. Was it through PDs or even grad school courses? No, it was not. I stumbled upon this when I sat down with one parent three years ago and explained the results of her son’s ELA and math scores. As I was translating said document, I was actually learning to gather data in other venues. Our kids are the best source of data that any educator needs. They are the ones who tell us if what we are doing in the classroom is working effectively or not. Taking the time to know our kids, their learning styles, and/or interests, will help us create the learning venues they need and actually want. But it also means we need to be more reflective as educators.

Great post as always, sir.

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Cero October 25, 2007 at 10:16 pm

My students, at a public university in Louisiana, are NCLB victims. They believe (have learned) that “learning” is psyching out a test, not expanding the mind, assimilating material, etc.

The biggest thug this semester is a white kid, faculty brat, who feels very entitled. Other strange cases are the *supposedly* learning disabled. Translation in most cases: rich-ish kids who are average students but whose parents believe they should be A students. It causes them anxiety and they do worse not better.

Our new governor, of course, is sure to perpetuate and exacerbate all of this.

Anyway, I am glad some other people besides me are still dreamers.

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jessica February 21, 2008 at 12:09 pm

I am doing a project on this in school any advice?

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Keanna February 21, 2008 at 12:12 pm

I’m in a group with student that been selected to be in student youth congress and we are against the nclb and if you could give me advice for it I would be very greatful.

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Jessica February 21, 2008 at 12:12 pm

I’m in a group with studentsthat been selected to be in student youth congress and we are against the nclb and if you could give me any advice for it I would be very greatful.

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Jose February 21, 2008 at 6:10 pm

@ the ladies who just left me a comment about NCLB, my best advice would be to look at the records of your current presidential candidates on education. Compare and contrast their views on education with the current administration’s view on it, and your own ideal, and how you would set it up. Also, I believe there’s an article from Time Mag dealing with teachers.

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