Monday, May 26, 2008

Swimming Upstream

Well I emerge from the End of Grade testing week mostly unscathed. Of course, we sent home the letters for students that need to re-test on Friday, so perhaps there may yet be some scathing. I find that I wrestle each year with how to interpret my results. Notice that I refer to them as my results.

In my heart of hearts I would like to think that my students EOG scores are just one small component of a year end review. That, while they do generally offer some direction in areas for improvement, they are only a small part of my regular and ongoing reflective practices when it comes to my teaching.

I refer to the scores as my scores because ultimately I am the only one who is truly a benefactor of the outcome of the test. Sure it may be psychologically and subliminally affecting our children, and yes it may even hold some of my students back, but the scores I received on Friday will not, ultimately, be a factor in my students future admission to a four year college. They will not post these scores on their resume. Most of them will not even remember them beyond June 9.

And so I come back to my ongoing inner debate. What do my scores mean to me. Before I go on, let me lay them out, so that you might see where I am coming from. I will start with my writing test scores, a bear for most North Carolina fourth graders. I had twenty three students when the writing test was administered back in March. (Currently I have twenty four.) Of those twenty three, seven did not pass, many barely missing the score of three with eleven points (Twelve points make a three.) Ten students passed with a grade level standard of three, essentially what would be considered by most to be average. Six scored a level four which, not boasting, is generally a pretty difficult bar to clear. Last year my writing scores were essentially the same except I had no students score a level four. I still had seven who didn’t pass.

My EOG test results are for twenty four students. I inherited a new student around the beginning of the last nine weeks. These numbers allow for more rigorous analysis, though they are confined to only the math test scores as our reading test this year was a field test. Four of my students did not pass the math EOG. Two of those students scored twos on the test and two scored a one. Nine students scored a three, and ten of my students scored a four. My average growth for each student which is arrived at by taking their scale score from last year and subtracting it from this year was about five points. I believe that six points is considered to be high growth.

How many of you have I lost?

There are many who would argue that these scores validate what I have done as a teacher for this school year. I think that herein lies my greatest fear. While these scores do validate what I have have done this year as an educator, at the same time offering me some direction with regards to where I can improve, they miss so much more. While numbers are concrete, and many would say indisputable, there are not measures for so many of the powerfully influential lessons that I hope and pray that I have imparted on my students. Here are just a few...
Don’t make excuses, own it. Re-evaluate expectations daily... hourly. You can be a great writer... seriously. Truth can be your strongest commodity when promoting self. Being a good sport can yield greater victories than winning the game... seriously. You can be an actor, an artist, a musician.

I have poured all that I could into fragile nine and ten year old self esteems. (They really are surprisingly fragile.)

You too can have a voice that can be heard by a powerful many. A love of reading can be a great thing... seriously. Don’t sell yourself short with laziness.

We’ve talked politics. We’ve talked about the serious situation that faces our planet. We talked about Tibet. We talked about poverty and thought about solutions. Money is not a solution. Food is not a solution. We have continued to practice the fine art of sharing. Sharing of space, sharing of objects, sharing ourselves. We have learned that when you are on stage that actors never have to be embarrassed. We practiced engineering and architecture. We studied art. We studied poetry. We wrote songs... about multiplication... and actually enjoyed it. We leaned that teachers can be wrong... seriously. We practiced letter writing, knowing that it is a dying art. We learned that cursive handwriting is a personal gesture that means a lot to some people. We learned about the power of the internet, about connectivity, blogging, wikiing. That our world is rapidly shrinking and speeding up, in a dizzying manner. I could go on and on...

Ultimately, it is my hope that my students take from my class one lesson. I myself have borrowed the words from a colleague:

Be bold, not perfect.

Simple, no? How could any standardized assessment ever measure that? I think that what frightens me the most is that so many teachers who impart similar lessons are losing the opportunity to share, and in their stead training our kids meet a narrow set of standards.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poor Little Ones

“I sit in my middle-school classroom, and the teacher wants us to say good-bye to childhood. I feel at a loss. Happiness is like the twinkling stars suffusing the night sky of childhood. I want only more and more stars. I don't want to see the dawn.”
--Zhou (Bella) Jiaying

I spent, what felt like much of last week, working my way through the recent National Geographic article by Leslie T. Chang. It was really something that caught my attention, but as many of my fellow teachers are aware EOG’s are looming, sapping many teachers of their deep well of energy.

The article spoke of the huge emerging middle class in China and followed one little girl on her path through their education system. It amazed me the similarities between her education and the education that many of our children are headed towards.

I have had several interesting discussions with colleagues this past week about a recent decision by our county to allow kindergarten classrooms to invite play back into their space. Blocks are being brought out of storage. Housekeeping spaces are being reinvented for the little ones. I think the thing that baffled me the most was the thought that there had ever been a logical reasoning for taking these things in the first place.

In fact when I was enlightened to the notion that play had ever been removed from the lower grades it began to dawn on me the effect that this has had as the children continue their progression through the various halls of school. My eyes were opened in understanding at why my fourth grade students might have, what they considered to be a reasonable argument, about who is the rightful owner something as simple as a pencil. They have, it would seem, missed the opportunity during their early stages of development to learn appropriate ways to share.

Perhaps some of you may feel that this is a large stretch of my imagination to have jumped to the aforementioned conclusion, but I would ask you to take a moment to reflect on the children that you know. More and more I find myself surprised at the sheltered innocence of our young people.

Is it possible, that in our pursuit of academic excellence, in our push for children to perform earlier and earlier, we might be insulating and incubating a generation of fearful and self-centered individuals? Is it possible that we are not alone in this pursuit? (The National Geographic article really is quite good.)