Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Report from the Field: Race to the Bottom


Stand and Deliver
by Anon.

So this week’s Inquiry Team task is a doozy. We are supposed to go into ARIS, list all kids by proficiency level AND by proficiency rating, cross reference on NYSSTART to find trends, identify kids that are in more than one category (for example, a young, African American male who has an IEP, has been held back, and who qualifies for free lunch counts for 4 points because he is a member of 4 subgroups) for school report card purposes and identify two target groups with proficiency ranged from high-1 – mid-2 and high-2 to mid-3. There are other little data tricks we need to do, but I think you get the idea.

So my co-teacher and I settle down with the directions and start to work on this. As I read the directions, I notice at the end that the final SMART goal on the sheet reads something to the effect of “By September 27, 2011, 100% of teachers will have MEMORIZED the names and proficiency scores of ALL students within the target proficiency ranges, along with each students proficiency score.”

There were other memory requirements. I have to memorize the names and proficiency ratings of all the students I have that fall into one or more subgroups (they are worth extra points on the school report card). I have to memorize who my level 1s are and who are my “push/slip” kids – the ones whose scores are JUST under or over the threshold for another level, therefore at risk of “slipping” back or worthy of trying to “push” for the next level to gain points.  I must also memorize the number of students I have in each level and the range of scores within the level.

Apparently, just having the information available in a file for planning purposes is not enough. I must have it all committed to memory, along with the school-wide SMART goals (verbatim, btw).  I have visions of being stopped in the hallway by an administrator and being told “Recite all students who are young black males with IEPs and free lunch, in ascending order, GO!!”  Or even, “All your level 1s who are within .03 points of making level 2, alphabetically! GO!!” It’s a scary thought and I am already lying awake at night stressing out over what is going to happen to me if I can’t alphabetically recite, on demand, the names of all my Level 2s who qualify for free lunch and have trouble with inferences as I am walking to the ladies’ room.

And I fail to see the point of this.  I understand needing to know where the areas of most need are within my students and needing to know who is at which proficiency level (I do this anyway and use the information to inform instruction), but to require me to memorize this data for some kind of “Stand and Deliver” encounter in the hallway strikes me as degrading. I am I really simply a seal performing tricks for administration in the hopes of being thrown a herring?  Must I take time away from planning lessons and creating strategies to meet the needs of these kids to study a stack of flash cards filled with sterile data about them?  Somehow we all become less than human in this situation.

The other disturbing aspect of this Inquiry meeting was the treatment the lowest and highest students are slated to receive this year.  As we focus on the kids who are “worth” more points on the school report card and the kids who fall into the “push/slip” categories, the students who are at the high and low end of the range will be ignored. To quote my AP this week, “The kids who are at a 3.4 or higher, even into level 4, well, we’re not going to worry about them. They will pass the test and we get no points from moving a 3 to the 4, so we don’t want to waste our instructional time on them since there is little return in it.”

Yes, she said that.

Regarding the really low kids – the level 1s and holdovers, she said, “It’s the same with the really low kids. You know you can’t make a level 1.2 into a level 2 by the end of the year, so you don’t  need to waste time on those students who will not be able to help move the school’s data forward. We need to be pragmatic and use our limited time and resources on the kids that can get up points."

Really.

She wrapped up with a reminder to focus on the kids who are “worth” more because they fall into more than one subgroup and therefore count more than once on the report card. To wit, “Let’s say you have a student who is a young African-American male, who has an IEP, qualifies for free lunch AND is an ELL student. THAT student needs to get LOTS of attention because my moving that ONE student, his points are multiplied by FOUR, whereas a student who is simply an African-American male will be worth only one point and therefore is not as valuable on the report card.”

I find this profoundly disturbing, and it’s making me feel dirty.

Race to the Bottom, indeed.
 

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4 comments:

  1. My son has an IEP so I have heard of the challenges all educators face with ARIS. My son is in 8:1 and at level 2-he has been through 3 years.
    I don't expect a years growth every year for a child with profound challenges, but over 3 years I expect level 2 to become level 3.

    You know what I find profoundly disturbing, that you know a child comes to you at level 2 and you let him leave the same way.

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  2. You do know that the "levels"change from grade to grade, don't you?

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  3. As the mean and parameters for each level change every year, it is hard to tell how much progress had been made and whether an apparent "slip" really is a slip. Since these are standardized tests, that means that the range of scores within a given level is determined by the mean for that year and the standard deviations around the mean. Last year's "4" could be this year's "3" is the mean shifted upwards, which is why standardized tests actually tell us very little about individual progress. You can't "pass" a standardized test - the entire notion that you can is a fallacy and this fallacy being preached as gospel is ruining the educations of students and the careers of educators.

    On another note, if a student takes the grade 3 test and scores a scale score of, say, 650, Level 2 and the following year takes the 4th grade test, scoring another 650, level 2, has he made a year of progress? Think carefully.

    YES HE HAS. Because the student is taking the FOURTH grade test and has HELD HIS POSITION on the curve, he HAS indeed made one year of progress, even with the scores the same. Why? Because the 4th grade test is ONE YEAR MORE difficult than the 3rd grade test, so to hold position on the curve, one year of progress is required. The only time you can expect scores to go up in relation to progress would be if he took the 3rd grade test in 3rd grade, and in 4th grade took the 3rd grade test AGAIN.

    I could go on but all this statistics talk has probably put most readers to sleep already. I'll save standard errors of the mean and standard deviations for another day.

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