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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Red Scans, Yes. More Scamtrons, No!

For the Record,  the Class Average Was Measured As a Raw Score Out of 40.  And these students were in Honors.

There has been an increasing emphasis in my school on uniformity.  It trickles down from above.   There are department-wide standardized mini-assessments on a regular basis as well as quarterlies, midterms and finals.  Given that all my life, I delight in hearing "different drummers," I am saddened.  We don't naturally teach at the same tempo and our students don't all naturally learn at the same tempo.  Teachers offer enrichment and crescendo at different points.  Uniformity seems, too often, to search for the lowest common denominator.

Yet, the assessments are great in the minds of some for keeping tabs on teachers.  In my mind, they fall far short here, too.  Some teachers review with students for even the ten-question assessments.  Some teachers count student scores as a grade.  Given that the same questions are asked in the same order throughout the day, anyone who had an incentive to cheat could quite easily succeed.  The scores may possibly tell us more about student desperation than teacher talent.

Although the quarterlies, midterms, and finals must necessarily figure into students' grades, I do not count the mini-assessments.  I tell the students to try their best, but for that effort I offer no additional incentive--except the knowledge that if you do well it looks more impressive than if you fail miserably.

We run the red scans to show our overall stats as well as how many students in each class got each question wrong.  Then, we must turn over our red scans to the department for analysis.   The numbers are compiled to show teachers where they fall vis-a-vis their colleagues.  It doesn't matter to me.  I don't need a uniform test to tell me I didn't teach the concept of "subsistence agriculture" yet.  I usually teach it when I take up the Green Revolution.  I taught terrace farming, monsoons and archipelago though and, perhaps, many other terms that not every teacher has arrived at yet.  When it comes to the assessments, it's the luck of the draw, or lack of it, that may make you look like a diva or a delinquent!

Now that we are rewriting our ninth-grade social-studies framework given the dictates of the new NYS Common-Core aligned product we have been sold, teachers are even less likely than ever to be on the same page and yet we are still sked to find common ground for uniform assessments.  We discussed this issue during one of our numerous PD sessions.  With our AP sitting there, I proffered, "although no one may feel comfortable putting this on the table, let me suggest a simple solution.  We scrap uniform testing for this year."  My AP said that would not be an option.  I wasn't surprised in the least, but it begs the more disturbing question.  Why would that suggestion not even be open to discussion?  Could it be because we live in a data-driven mad world and stats in one form or another, even if based on premises faulty to the Core, must be used to measure each and everyone of us.  If anyone comes to inspect our schools, administrators and teachers are only as good as all their dirty data.  I never saw education suffer so much as in the name of statistics under our former Mayor and his most famous report cards.  Thankfully, they are a thing of the past, but legacies will linger and still rain down on us from above. 
Let me conclude on a happier note.  One day when looking for scantrons, I stumbled on a pile of red scans.  I commandeered some.  Now, when I make tests geared specifically towards my students, based on what I have been teaching, I am always sure to run the red scans.  It is far more meaningful to me than any mound of data based on standardization for the sake of standardization.  Give me red scans any day, but, pray, keep the statistical scamtrons to yourself.  

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