Bringing Out the Me in Team

Test scores are the new epicenter for the war over education.  On one side are politicians and reformers advocating test scores to evaluate teachers.  On the other side are teachers and unions arguing for more comprehensive evaluations rather than relying on scores alone.  In a society that values results, reformers are gaining the upper hand.  In report after report, districts and states have adopted evaluations primarily based on student achievement on end of grade tests. The results, the reformers argue, will retain the best teachers while removing the bad ones. It is a system that has worked in the private sector and could revolutionize our schools.

Despite the mountain of evidence against using test scores in this way (a nice summary here), I have to admit, there seems to be a bit of logic to the argument.  A talented teacher like my wife would be rewarded in a system like this, while lesser teachers would soon be removed.  In theory, it seems reasonable. . . until I saw it in action.

As mentioned in a previous post, my wife’s school just completed its first round of testing. Each child scores on 1-4 scale for both math and reading with 3 and above being a passing score.  In this state, students on the border (scoring a 2) have a 2nd opportunity to take the test after a week of remediation.  I am not exactly sure what the kids learn in a single week, but obviously, planning and coordinating is key.

On Friday, the teachers decided how to break down their classes.  It was decided that my wife, who already has a gifted cluster in her class, would get kids who passed the test for extension activities.  The kids on the cusp would stay with their original teachers for further instructions while the handful from my wife’s class would be spread into those, limiting the kids’ movement.

Over the weekend, my wife spent hours working on projects for her kids.  Since it was an extension activity, she wanted it to be both fun and challenging. Since she had been required to use programs and follow strict schedules throughout the year, the freedom to teach how she wanted propelled her. By the end of the weekend, she was excited for what she had prepared.

Unfortunately, that is usually a sign that it won’t work out, at least at this school.

By the middle of Monday, my wife and another teacher (#1) were called into a meeting with her principal, the literacy coaches, and the assistant superintendent. For the next few hours, they were “convinced” to take all the kids on the cusps in reading and math respectively.  The “choice” was based on the test scores their kids had achieved as compared to their peers.

Teacher Math (% passing) Reading (% passing)
Teacher #1 54.5% 31.8%
Teacher #2 30.4% 26.0%
Teacher #3 30.4% 21.7%
Teacher #4 45.0% 25.0%
My Wife 60.8% 47.8%
School 44.2% 30.46%

After introducing the “suggestion” to my wife and her fellow teacher, the administrators brought in the rest of the team.  They informed them that the kids that were on the cusp, who they’ve had in their classrooms all year, will be plucked out and given to these two teachers, their teammates.  They would get the left over kids and basically kill time. To make this point, they brought out the test statistics and asked the group.  “Who do you think should be teaching remediation?  Based on these scores.”

How would you react?  Would you react positively?  Would you be encouraging or constructive?  The scores essentially say you are not as good at your job as two of your peers.

Maybe you react by attacking the results.  You point out that one of the teachers (my wife) has the gifted cluster skewing her scores.   Isn’t that why she scored better?  My wife could be defensive, and explain yes, she had a gifted cluster, but also the highest number of special education kids not on grade level (these kids get no 4th grade instruction, despite taking the 4th grade test). Another of the teachers (#3) could point out that she teaches one of the 2 English language learner clusters. Her kids started the year not speaking much English.  Do you think that impacts her reading scores?

Now, the pressure is on my wife.  If she can push 27 of the 31 kids from failing to passing in reading, the 4th grade gets above a minimum testing standards for reading.  She has 5 days to do it.  If she doesn’t make it, the blame falls squarely on her. Her fellow teacher has a similar requirement for the math.

In the meantime, one of the teachers (team leader) is giving them the silent treatment (real mature).  Another has been charged with the kids with discipline problems (she has 11, but they are everything she can handle).  The first year teacher has been given the extension kids’ project my wife created, but which he has no way of implementing (it relies on my wife’s experience).

The focus on the scores may have found the best teachers on the team to teach remediation. They also may have merely measured circumstances and had nothing to do with the quality of their instruction.  In the mean time, it has also successfully isolated and fractured the team.  Is that in the best interest of kids? In the corporate world, this is a fine outcome, survival of the fittest. In education, this model is a failure, robbing kids of quality education that can be achieved through cooperation.  Me not We, just like corporate America.

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