Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What it all means....

Update on the stupid science test score situation. As M. Gatton pointed out in the comments, 8th graders leave their middle schools and are dispersed all over the city for high school. Since they are no longer registered in their middle schools by the time the tests are scored, it is difficult (M. claims impossible) to get one's scores as a middle school teacher. I had a sneaking feeling that might be a problem but didn't bring it up yesterday because I assumed that the competent people at the Department of Accountability and Assessment (or vice versa) would have TOLD ME THAT in their response to my request for my scores. Since they did not, and since they informed me that the individual scores and aggregate data for schools were available on ATS, I thought - delusionally - that the scores would actually be available on ATS. They were not, or, if they were, they were hidden in such a clever fashion that my AP and school aide were unable to find them. Either way, so much for the ACCOUNTABILITY part of the DAA, though they seem to have ASSESSMENT nailed. How the hell do you design a system so that teachers can't get their former students' test scores, when the tests were designed primarily for program evaluation purposes??? Or, if they are available, how the hell do you design a system so difficult to navigate that experienced administrators can't find a simple piece of information???

Some of you are wondering why I'm so obsessed with these scores.

For one thing, if they'd been handed to me in a timely and sensible manner, no obsession would be necessary, and I really do believe that if we are going to give a test, we deserve to know how our students - and, by extension, our teaching - performed. (It would be even nicer if the kids stood a chance of ever knowing how they did, but that's a pipe dream).

But more importantly, it's what the scores have come to symbolize, which is my increasing frustration with the fact that as a science teacher, I feel invisible in this system.* I am only in my sixth year of teaching. I have a LOT to learn. Yet, I have NO MENTOR or experienced science teacher to ask questions of or to observe or to be observed by. I would give my left arm to attend a series of PD sessions on best practices in Science Education instead of endless repetitive sessions on ELA and Math (and I say that knowing full well that PD in my school is pretty good; god help the science teachers in places where it isn't!). I value those things. But people, six years of PD on how to teach someone else's subject??? Hell, I would lead science PD workshops if someone asked me to.

I spend my weekends and evenings planning lessons that integrate reading, writing, mathematics, that are scientifically rigorous, that teach practical skills and lead to understanding of concepts. No one has ever, EVER made more than a nominal effort to integrate science into their curriculum, to read science books for a unit on nonfiction, to take two minutes to find out what I'm teaching and offer to make up math problems that involve the science concepts. It wouldn't be hard. I would help. I've offered to help.

I lose teaching periods to administer tests in other subject areas. I lose teaching periods to grade tests in other subject areas. Nevertheless, I am expected to prepare my students for an exam in the eighth grade. I buy in. I respect the test, and the knowledge and skills it demands of students. I prepare them. AND I WILL APPARENTLY NEVER KNOW HOW THEY/WE DID. Well, fnck you, too. And no, I never said I wouldn't curse on this blog. If you've been reading it aloud to your 6-year-old, you'll probably want to stop.

Oh, and then there's the hiring issue. In eight months of (more or less active) looking, we can't find a single good candidate. We interview people who have no teaching skills but know some science, and some who might be able to teach but don't know any science. We interview people who have both but - oops! - don't really want to work in the South Bronx. So we cut science classes. We overextend ourselves so that we don't have to cut more. We double and triple our commitment to excellence despite the odds. And you know what? I really don't think anyone gives a sh!t. It's just science, after all. It's just the background knowledge to make considered judgments about our environment, about the value of space exploration, about one's own health. It's just the skills one needs to go on to lucrative and respectable careers as doctors, engineers, architects, nurses, computer programmers, astronomers, and researchers in all fields. It's a topic that interests many kids who aren't that into other subjects, something they might be willing to write about once they've had a hands-on experience, something they might be willing to learn a little math in order to understand better. Or at least something that might keep one or two of them coming back to school. But really, I should be grateful. In most (I daresay) elementary schools and many middle schools, four periods of science a week is unheard of.

And then there's the Science Expo. I like the Science Expo. The kids like the Science Expo - or at least, they ask if we're doing it again this year. But I told my principal today that it's going to be a bloody miracle if we have one at all this year, given that there are only two of us and over 100 pairs of kids who each will have to do a project. And given that we have less time with the students than usual. We will do one, oh yes we will, and we will scale it back in certain ways, limit the kids' choices to make it more manageable, but we will try very hard to preserve that element of choice that gives ownership to the kids. We'll do it because it's important, but that doesn't mean we'll enjoy it.

And in only a few months, it will be time to give the ILS exam again. I can't hide my enthusiasm. I was hoping to get a chance to spend hours setting up and calibrating instruments, administering the test, and then scoring it. Thanks. It was so nice of you, Dept. of ACCOUNTABILITY and Assessment, to think of little ol' me, and design a test just for my subject area.


*Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want the pendulum to swing to the other extreme, the intense pressure and micromanaging and over-testing that plagues English and Math instruction in this city. I don't want tests every year or mandatory practice tests or to force any music teachers to sit through hours of science PD or a lockstep curriculum or any of that BS. But a happy medium - surely that's possible? A sense that if I do what I do well, someone will notice and care? A sense that other people will do their very best at the parts of their jobs that support what I do?

*****

Exactly how many days in a row of being irritable and emotional and lonely does one have to experience before worrying that one is a head-case? Call it burn-out, call it a bad case of winter, call it two months of PMS, call it just a normal reaction to very real stresses and stressful events?* And yes, I DO take care of myself. I take evenings off from schoolwork, perhaps too often. I sleep in on weekends, I go out, I stay in, I eat well, I eat chocolate, I exercise, I'm hydrated. I don't want a new job, I want to like THIS job more. Or maybe I just want this job to like ME more. Sometimes it's NOT "taking time for myself" that makes me feel better, it's taking time to push back the chaos just that much, like cleaning my desk today and organizing the to-be-graded tasks into neat, manageable piles and finishing one-point-five of those projects.

*Some would call it being immature and unprofessional and obsessive (and have, in the comments, in the past, when I've written posts like this... please don't, it's patronizing).

10 Comments:

Anonymous Institutional Memory said...

DON'T GET MAD ... GET EVEN!

First, the bad news. You've discovered the Achilles heel of ATS. It is absolutely ludicrous, but true, that class rosters are unavailable for past years' results. This is not just the case for graduates; it's true for any past year's data. Once a class no longer exists in real time, there's no longer a class roster of their test scores. Period.

The good news is that there is a way to get these scores. One has to look them up individually ... student by student. You need each student's OSIS (student ID) number, and you use the "Test History" biographical report function. It takes a while, since you have to run each student separately, but it's do-able, especially for a finite number of kids.

But, of course, there's a hitch: Once students leave a school, their data is only available to their new school. That is, unless someone from their former school seeks and receives a broader access level on ATS, which permits them to see student information for students not currently enrolled in their school.

All this being said, your region's Senior Assessment Liaison, who is the contact person between the Region and DAA (pronounced "duh") can probably be persuaded that this is a reasonable request, unless s/he is a complete bureaucrat ... which is always a possibility.

My suggestion is to have your principal make the request, either through your LIS or directly to the Region. This is easier in some Regions than in others, depending on how much they hide behind the bureaucracy.

I hope you decide to do this, and to chronicle your efforts in your blog, so we can follow your adventures and maybe even help.

And, if you really want to be feisty, insert a reference to what's going on into a comment on Edwize. Don't hesitate to name the culprits, either. Believe it or not, the folks at Tweed are aware of what is said about them. I know from experience that they read Edwize daily, and they definitely prefer praise to criticism.

Good luck and stay strong! The kids and the system need you.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Polski3 said...

Administrative thinking seems to be baffled by such a request by a teacher to know how their students scored on a test. I have asked every year for several years, to get a break down of our students California State Standards Test (Social Studies) scores, where the kids scored well, where they didn't score so well, etc. All I hear are promises, promises and more promises. Guess these administrators are just liars.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Bananahead said...

Sounds like you are about ready for Christmas break! I hope that you come back from your time off feeling refreshed and better about everything! Hang in there ...

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Schoolgal said...

It's interesting that the DOE is always looking for good Science teachers, yet after they are hired, they must fend for themselves.

First they took away the District Science Coordinators who used to run PD for the districts. Then they got rid of the MERC Centers. Our district used to have a program called PDL (Professional Development Laboratory) where a teacher from one school could spend a whole week with a teacher from another school. This program even had their own subs who would spend a week with the teacher who was "visiting" to ensure continuity of instruction before going to the other school. Elementary teachers would visit other elementary teachers who mastered a program such as Reading Workshop. Science teachers could visit other science teachers and so on. NYU sponsored the program and helped coordinate it for the districts.

Klein is hailed as a hero of education while the real heroes are the teachers.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Ms. Chalky Talk said...

Hope it gets better for you....

There are a few of us other subject teachers who attempt to integrate science into our own area. I happen to teach math (though my degree is in chemistry.......), and I relentlessly try to use other subjects to demonstrate mathematical concepts. Best fit lines with PV=nRT data, integrating English AND science by making up "data" for a unit related to THE CRUCUBLE, which my students are reading in English....this is only my second year teaching, so its slow going....but there are a few of us out here.

You also posted about the candidates you have to hire ..... some have experience in science, but no teaching....some in teaching but no science. I had experience in science, but no experience in teaching OR math.Now I am a math teacher - and I like to think of myself as decent, and trying to improve every day. I offered to teach a "sample " class - real kids- so the hiring officials could see me in action. I believe that is what convinced them. I also put together a philosophy of teaching - despite my lack of teaching experience, I believe this also helped show that I could teach, and have the potential to be a GOOD teacher. I hope maybe one of YOUR less qualified candidates may work out....

I've learned a lot of what I now know about teaching by reading your blog. I have no assigned mentor, but you are one of my "unassigned" mentors, and I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate it.

11:05 AM  
Blogger M. Gatton said...

A less appealing option is to collect your own unofficial scores for your students during the scoring process. We tried this at my old district but the pressure to get the scoring done as quickly as possible always won out as we frantically scored tests down to the wire, just to get the scores sent off to the state by the deadline, with no time left over to record those scores for our own needs. Also, I can't remember if they publish a score conversion table with the scoring guides or not - as I said, we never got that far.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Chaz said...

Ms. Frizzle;

Good science teachers are hard to find in a good economy and the poor pay and disrespect given to us by Tweed scares away many qualified candidates from considering the city. In fact many suburban colleges tell their students not to work in the city but to subsitute in the suburbs until a job opens up.

Finally, the high schools will gobble up any good middle-school science teacher because of the need to pass two regents science courses and at least ome regents. If your looking for results go to the high schools were your good teaching will show up in the regents grades.

P.S. There still is a Living Environment teaching position open in my school.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Ms. M said...

Our Monday PD at my school was about tryiing to integrate science into other areas (well, at least the K-2 session that I went to was). They want us to all be preparing students for the 4th grade test. Of course, they didn't give any real ideas on how to do that apart from using science related books for read alouds. And, our "prototype" only allows for about 2 periods of science a week (if that).

Today I went to an ESL meeting where we were introduced to the "Science Initiative". Basically, they are encouraging ESL teachers to teach language in the context of science. I doubt that most teachers will do this though. They already ask us to teach Math and SS in ESL.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Ivory said...

Blogging is cheaper than therapy. Keep it up. You would be crazy not to be frustrated with a lunatic situation like this.

What you are doing is important. A teacher like you helped me turn the corner - I went from lazy goof-off to focused student. Science was the only course I liked in school - it inspired me to be logical, linear, and organized. Now I'm a professor at a state University. You can't possibly know how important you are to your students. Even those that aren't that together - you may have more of an impact on them than you (or they) realize.

4:41 PM  
Blogger graycie said...

". . . a normal reaction to very real stresses and stressful events?" This is EXACTLY what you are feeling. Forget all the other explanations you suggested.

Here, if we get our kids' English RLR & Writing scores, we only get a single score for each area. This is no help -- each area encompasses so many different skills and knowledge sets that a single score (if we even get to see it) is useless. Here, science and social studies get breakdowns of the areas within their subjects. I envy them.

All good teachers (and even some of the bad ones) on Earth feel swamped, overwhelmed, and treated (at best) as though we are quaintly naive concerning what education is all about.

The things you do for yourself are important. Also important is a group of people who understand and who will listen when you just have to blow off all the pressure and anger and frustration and depression that it brings. Friends there and friends here (edusphere) will listen and support you.

Your blog has shown me what an amazing teacher you are.

6:50 PM  

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