The Dark Knight Mourns

Rest Elbows on Table, Insert Chin Into Hands (Pick Your Head Up Afterwards)

Jose 2 Comments

This is the reason I don’t like reading the papers in NYC. They’re either filled with information I’ve already read, information that’s misinformation, or information I just shake my head at. This time around, it was the third. And I didn’t even have my usual sources of news to inform me immediately of Sunday’s NY Daily News, when they decided to publish the English / Math state test passing rate for every school and district in NYC. I furiously flipped to my school only to find the numbers guffaw at me.

I’m not going to guess what your responses have been or will be when it comes to these test scores. The faces amongst my colleagues looked anywhere from distraught to downtrodden, like a team who ended the regular season with a great winning streak, but found themselves overmatched by the eventual champions. One teacher felt confident enough in his students, but, upon seeing the scores, just shook his head and hypothesized the worst. Another teacher just gave me the look one might give you after finding out their pet hamster died. Another just stared angrily at space, knowing that his kids probably passed, but may not have excelled.

It’s the sickest feeling I had as a 1st year math coach. It was easy and painless to ricochet responsibility for such an abomination. Nevermind that most of New York State knew the tests were norm-referenced (i.e. bell curved), dependent on different influences, and inconsistent. As a hybrid math coach and teacher, I started wondering if the environment in which I worked allowed for the most effective use of this role, where I’d teach one class and support other teachers in their professional development and classroom needs. I asked if the limited time in the classroom contributed to my particular students not doing as well, either.

The more fingers I pointed, the more bent they became until they eventually pointed back at me. I started thinking if doing as much as I do confounds my ability to do any of these things remarkably. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the data from the various assessments we had, and prepared better for professional development periods. Maybe I could have sought more help from my math mentor in the building, or even from my virtual PLN (professional learning community). As humbled as I’ve become by the metier of math coach / teacher, maybe I was still too speculative about my students’ understanding of the material throughout the year, and their ability to retain this crucial information.

My mentor, who’s been the math consultant at the building, always says, “You don’t teach to the test; you teach so when the test comes, they can do well on it.” Now, as some of the data trickles out for us, I’m rife with disappointment, but motivation. As with all challenges in life, I’ve once again an opportunity to simultaneously prove these numbers wrong and do right by my students. I’m too aware of the above, as most of you keep me abreast of the maelstrom of testing and accountability.

I’m also aware that my head’s become too heavy. Time to get off my palms and make some change.

Jose, who’s seeking change he can believe in …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 2

  1. Ray O'Brien

    I hear you on these tests. I will say two word I don’t like but seem to work-Study Island. It might actually be one word. In any case, making this a support for students at our school, not a curriculum, has helped us make impressive gains. I can’t quote exact numbers but I want to say we have 80 to 90% proficient or better. We are a middle school with a very diverse population and it has created gains for students in every subgroup they seem to identify.

  2. LS

    I really appreciate the quote, “You don’t teach to the test; you teach so when the test comes, they can do well on it.” I am going through similar self-reflection, and the test results are both a distraction (I don’t want to teach to the test) and an inspiration (I want my kids to do well on it). I guess it just takes balance.

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