Incalculable

Jose VilsonEducation

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 …