Two pieces of undeniably good news

I got my evaluation back from my assistant principal today. We don’t really need to go into the details of how our evaluation system works; suffice it to say that my final score was 3.88/4, which is the highest final score I’ve ever received, and my third or fourth year in a row at Highly Effective. I will probably never manage a perfect score for various reasons so only losing twelve hundredths of a point over the course of the four classroom observations and two official goals is pretty damn good.

I also spent parts of sixth and seventh hour crunching NWEA data. I’ve talked about the NWEA before; it’s one of the standardized tests I at least kinda like– it’s over fast, it’s given multiple times a year (but still eats a lot less time than the single administration of the ILEARN does) and it focuses on measuring individual student growth and doesn’t bother with a pass/fail cutscore. It also does this thing where everybody is measured on the same scale– it goes up to like 350 or something like that but a 230 or so is about what an 8th grader is expected to get on the Math test at the beginning of the year, where a first grader might be shooting for a 180 and a high school senior a 270. Two of those numbers are made up but you get the basic idea.

Long story short, my numbers were phenomenal. I got an average of a year’s growth out of these kids between the test that was administered the week before I got there and the one I gave them a couple of weeks ago– a year’s worth of growth in basically one semester. My two Honors classes in particular posted huge gains. This is probably getting too far into the weeds, but check this out:

This is my first hour class. The plus signs are Math and the squares are LA. Now, you’d expect everybody to be to the right on the “achievement” part of the graph, since they’re honors kids, but there’s nothing about honors classes that guarantees high growth, and compare how high the pluses are to how high the squares are. It’s even more stark in sixth hour:

Only four kids from that group didn’t manage high growth. That’s outstanding. And by comparing my kids to their own LA scores I know I’m not running into any statistical bullshittery; they flat-out improved more in Math than they did in LA, and by a pretty good margin once you pull all the numbers together. That’s as clear a teacher effect as I know how to demonstrate.

“But wait, Mr. Siler!” you might point out. “Didn’t your kids have a month with no teacher, and therefore possibly score more poorly on the second administration than they might otherwise, thus leading to high growth as they get back what they lost?”

A reasonable question, and while I’m not going to post the graphs, I also looked at how they did against the first test of the year, when a missing teacher wasn’t a problem, and the gains are still as stark. My other classes don’t look quite this good– again, the honors kids really came through for me– but they still look pretty goddamn good.

I may just have my mojo back, y’all.

Remind me of this post in three days, when I’m drained by the last week and never want to teach again. 🙂

I survived, mostly

Managed to make it through the ILEARN practice test without any particular drama, other than that which is inherent to the genre of “practice versions of standardized tests,” then made it through the shortened blitz of the rest of my classes, once again teaching the exact same thing seven times in a row. I’ve been talking a lot more in the last two days than I usually do, and I got home and fell asleep on the couch for a couple hours. It was, indeed, a very good nap.

Oh, and I had a kid casually confess to me this morning that he came to school high, not because he’d been smoking or he wanted to but because those brownies that his mom left out, as he put it, “weren’t breakfast brownies.” He was over it by the time I saw him and he didn’t appear to have especially enjoyed the experience, so … I think I’m just gonna sit on it, and keep a close eye on him in the mornings? As much as I’d like to pretend otherwise I’m sure at least a third of these kids have weed out in the open in their houses at any given time, and this isn’t something that CPS or any other government agency is going to be interested in, and I have no particular interest in getting the kid in trouble for something that a) apparently no adult noticed; b) he admitted doing, c) caused no particular harm, and d) he didn’t seem likely to repeat. I’ll give it some more thought over the next few days, but I think this is going to stay as a “between me and you” thing for now.

(For the record, I almost always see him in the morning, and I didn’t today, so he probably either got to school late or without his iPad, and would probably therefore have spent the morning in the cafeteria being babysat with the other kids who weren’t able to take the practice test. Under ordinary circumstances I’d have had him second hour and you can for damn sure bet I’d have noticed if he’d come into class lifted. I don’t think I’m necessarily mad at the folks covering the caf for not noticing, though. There were a ton of kids in there and being high isn’t going to make him cause trouble and get noticed.)

A realization

Friday was … quite a day. Like, I need to write about it, but I’m still thinking about it and I don’t think I’m ready yet. But something occurred to me this morning and I wanted to get it written down before it fell out of my head, so you stand a chance of getting more than one post today, particularly since I have a book review to write as well.

I have been writing about standardized testing for two decades. I wrote an entire-ass book full of essays that touch on it. And I have talked a lot in this particular school year about how my school is being set up to fail: we are a “turnaround school,” a phrase no one will define for us and does not seem to mean anything, and last year they fired our principal and AP and replaced them with people who had a grand total of zero seconds of experience in their new jobs.

This is not how you turn around a school. I feel like that fact is obvious; anyone who has ever managed anything in any capacity should probably recognize that if a place is seriously struggling what you do not do is turn it over to entirely neophyte management and expect good things to happen, particularly something as complicated as a middle school.

In addition, my school is nearly a third special-needs students. You would think that would result in blanketing the school with resources so that we can meet the needs of our students, but of course that has not happened. We are expected to hit the same pass rates as all of our other schools– including the one that took away all of our high-performing students, so that our smartest kids are the ones who are barely on grade level rather than five or six grade levels behind– and the fact that said task is virtually impossible is ignored. In fact, if we complain about it, we are accused of believing that our students cannot learn.

But something else hit me this morning– a detail about this little clusterfuck that despite twenty-plus years of thinking about it I don’t think I’ve ever recognized before.

Do you know what would happen if we somehow, miraculously, managed to create a school that was a third special-needs kids and high poverty and nonetheless managed to get all of our kids to pass the yearly high-stakes test?

We would be accused of cheating.

They literally wouldn’t believe it if all or even most of our kids passed. And if they investigated, and they didn’t find any cheating– and you can fucking well bet that they’d keep looking until they found an I undotted or a T uncrossed somewhere– do you know what would happen next?

They’d make the test harder. And they’d keep making it harder until they felt like they had “enough” kids failing.

Because student success is not what these tests are about.

I already knew we had been set up to fail. I just didn’t think deeply enough about it. Because none of this is about student success. We were set up from the beginning. Even if we succeed, they’re going to keep making it harder until we fail again. Because my school is full of poor kids and kids with disabilities and kids of color, and they want us at the bottom of the heap.

In which that might have worked, maybe, but I doubt it

We started the winter administration of the NWEA today. I’ve talked about this test a couple of times before, but the super-short version is that we give it three times a year and it is designed to mostly measure growth, which means that it gets around many of my normal gripes against standardized testing. I know that usually the first post of the month is the Monthly Reads for the previous month, but this is on my mind and I don’t feel like gathering up all the books I read, so we’ll do this today and that tomorrow.

Anyway, I have some reason to maybe, possibly be a little bit optimistic about my teaching this year? As of right now 47 of my 70 kids are done with the test; the rest were either absent today and haven’t started or didn’t get finished. They’ll have tomorrow (at least) to get that done, and I’ll probably be at 80% or so completion after two days.

As of right now, of those 47, only ten haven’t shown growth this year or at least held onto what they had, and of those ten, half only lost a single point. That’s not final numbers, of course, because I still have 23 kids to finish the test, and who knows how they’ll go, but right now this is on track to be my best winter administration of this test ever. Typically the way these things go for me is losses during the winter administration, then they make them back and end up with overall gains (as in, compared to the first administration) on the final one. I’ve never had a group look this good in the middle of the year.

So far. We’ll see if it holds up.

Sure, this’ll work

This was day two of our yearly standardized testing, which we’re still being forced to administer for some reason. And, honestly, this year, my approach to the damned things is whatever, just get it done. I’m making a cursory effort to encourage the kids to do their best but the simple fact of the matter is that the entire exercise is bullshit and absolutely everyone involved knows it. These tests aren’t going to tell us one single thing about our students that we don’t already know. Not one single fucking thing.

Had a situation with a kid today that really drove it home (as if I need any more evidence) just what a poor job these tests do in measuring what they’re calling learning. My strong suspicion is that they do actually measure something related to knowledge for the kids who do well. There’s probably a real difference between a kid in the 70th percentile and a kid in the 90th. But the kids in the bottom half of that distribution?

Those kids aren’t having learning measured. For those kids, the tests are measuring two things: compliance and motivation. And that’s really it.

I’ve got this kid this year; let’s call him Che. Che is smart as fuck. But he has this pathological fear of success that is holding him back in a major way. he spent most of last year on half days and/or expelled or on long suspensions. This year, we’ve been able to mostly keep him in class, and he’s got several teachers (me included) who he knows are going to ride his ass until it falls off to keep him as close to the straight and narrow as we can, and so far he’s had a much more successful year than last year.

He’s in my room for testing. Tuesday he basically disrupted the room until I felt like I had no choice but to throw him out. And that was basically the move he chose; he was going to keep escalating until he got what he wanted, and in a situation where I’ve got other kids in the room trying to test, my tools for dealing with that type of bullshit are limited. I put him out of class and sat down with him and the principal later that day and did a combination of reading him the riot act and giving him a pep talk, and got a promise out of him that he’d behave in class today. And he did! He tossed out a couple of jokes and/or smartass comments while I was reading the (utterly unnecessary at this point and overly wordy under any circumstances) instructions, but the rest of the kids didn’t really react to him and once a couple of interruptions fell like a lead balloon he cut it out.

And … well, in the strictest sense of the term he completed the test, but this one was the written essay part, which has some number of short prompts that they want maybe a paragraph of material for and then another where they want a longer essay.

His entire essay was “I don’t know,” and he told me flat-out he didn’t read any of it.

Which tells me exactly nothing about whether he can read any of it. Che’s going to get the exact same 0 on that section as a kid who doesn’t have the slightest idea how to read in the first place would get, but Che can read. He’s not half-bad at math either when he wants to show off. And I’d say easily 60-70% of the kids in our building fall into a similar place as him, where their score on a standardized test on any given day is less a measure of their abilities than how interested they were in participating in the test on the day it was administered.

Why are we wasting all this money on these things again?