Sunday, August 17, 2008


The big news at last week's curriculum meeting was the our school district has not met the AYP (Adequately Yearly Progress) for No Child Left Behind.

The troubled spot lies in the elementary school where special ed students didn't make enough improvement. Now, this is not a surprise, for it is not always easy to align one's curriculum with a special ed student. It takes quite a bit of work between the teacher and special ed teacher, not to mention work on the kid's part. It's difficult enough to keep a student on track when you have them in class everyday. However, when you have a student spending much of their class time in a resource room, it can become more difficult.

At the high school, we were fortunate enough to have all kids meeting AYP. How long that will happen remains a question mark.

The overall student growth summary for reading did reveal that students did drop a little in reading from ninth to tenth grade. However, when looking at the data, we found that the trouble areas occurred when we tested our kids over the winter. Now the caveat here is that we test all students in the fall and spring. I believe teachers had the opportunity to test kids in the winter if they wanted to. Well, it takes a nano second to realize that no teacher WANTS to test their kids (well, maybe our middle school teachers would. They seem obsessed with these damned tests!), so only a fraction of our students took the reading test over the winter. For example, our mean dips below their target growth in both the winter of '07 and '08. In the fall of '07 we tested 166 sophomores. In the winter of '08 we tested all of 16. Then in the spring we tested 168 again. So our drop in scores lies on 16 students. Not fair nor accurate.

Our middle school teachers also raised a great point with the reading test analysis. They noticed that the test didn't seem to have any consistency in terms of the questions it asked. For example, on our high school reading test there were 8 questions focusing on vocab, 33 on comprehension, and 18 on literature. So all of the work spent on vocab came down to just 8 questions. Why the strong emphasis on comprehension? And how can you spend time teaching vocab when it comes down to roughly 16 questions on two tests? And those tests - and of course how well your students perform on them - determine funding for you school! How messed up is that?

Believe it or not, I'm actually hoping NCLB is not chucked by the new administration. I don't agree with a lot of it, but I'm sick of seeing so many of my colleagues shrug and furrow their brows and grumble, "This too shall pass," whenever a new policy is invoked. What happened to Outcome Based Education? Or the Profiles of Learning and Grad Standards?

Can you blame teachers for being skeptical every time a new program is introduced? This certainly isn't conducive to learning.

While discussing our test results, one colleague raised a good point, if the test is truly reflective of what our students need to know and use out in the real world, why not teach to the test then? I think this is a valid point. I also worry when, as teachers, we teach the thing we want to rather than what kids need to know. I think of KoKo's teacher last year who hammered her to death with grammar worksheets, though there is precious little research that shows that this is effective. Yet, it is still done.

However, I think if we teach whatever we love - even grammar - and we do it in the context of our kids' lives and we align it with the standards and our curriculum, I see no reason why we can't teach what we want. In fact, I think we should teach what we want, with an eye toward the test - and that's it (as opposed to teaching completely for the test).

When I teach To Kill a Mockingbird, I hope students are motivated to pick it up and read it based on my passion and zest for it. But I also know the novel is ripe with potential to examine vocab and allusions, to analyze themes and events, to summarize important events, to evaluate author's techniques and other elements of literature, to synthesize the ideas and events with what is happening around us right now. If a student can do that, I know they can do well on any standardized test designed to test the areas that businesses, politicians, and education experts believes kids need to 'know.'

Here too is something to keep all of this AYP alarm in perspective. Nearly half of the high schools in the state failed to meet AYP. Even the almighty Edina failed to meet AYP. Now some of the smaller schools or impoverished schools have been complaining about some of the injustices inherent in the tests and education policy of NCLB. But now that some very affluent schools, with affluent and powerful parents, have ran into trouble with NCLB, we can begin to see some change in policy enacted.

Despite all of this 'test' talk, I am eagerly awaiting my classroom and my kids. It's going to be a great year.

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