Thursday, August 18, 2011

Playing The Education Game

Last year I had 132 students. I was shocked when I had to fail 128 of them after they took their final examination. Only four of my students were good enough according to the standards that I set for my class, so I had not other choice than to fail all of the rest. I hope they learn a lesson and do better this year.

Some of them are very bright, they just didn't master all of the material of the course. Some of them struggle at home and I know they don't have the best support. Most of them would surprise you. You'd never guess they were failures by talking to them. They are articulate and hardworking. I bet they could even succeed in college. Too bad they can't meet the standards of my class.

Does this frustrate you? I find it frustrating. If this scenario were true, there are only two possible interpretations. 1) I am a terrible teacher and need to be removed from the classroom; or 2) The standards and assessments are unreasonable and need to be adjusted. It is that simple. I am either expecting too much or I'm not adequately preparing my students to meet appropriate standards.

The state of Virginia recently released Annual Yearly Progress data for each of its 132 divisions. Only four divisions met AYP. Across the state last week, cities and counties watched their local news to hear about more failure from our public school systems. Politicians and educrats continue to make a mockery of the institution of public education. The only rational reaction to a figure like this (128/132) is to abolish the horrible failure that is public education or get real and admit that our metrics for measuring student, teacher, and school effectiveness are inadequate.

Responding to the media, Albemarle County Public Schools spokesperson Maury Brown said, "we don't think that the worth of a single child or teacher or school system should be measured by a standardized test." Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said, "we know as a division where we are. I can’t help how the state has chosen to look at success.” As a division, the county achieved 91% pass rates in Reading and Math. Yet for 2010-2011, Albemarle County has failed.

We can't have it both ways, the numbers are meaningless or they're not. As long as administrators hold pass rates up to their teachers and make judgments on teacher effectiveness at the school level it's hard to defend that our divisions shouldn't face consequences from the state and federal government when pass rates don't meet expectations. Individual educators and divisions alike could benefit greatly if testing data could inform decision-making, but data has become the point of education.

Looking back in frustration and ahead with hope, the second part of the quote from Billy Haun might be the most important part of the story.  Can we help how the state (and even the federal government) has chosen to look at success?  I don't know the answer to that question, but I believe that we need to try.  Otherwise we're just spinning our tops and playing games with the students who depend on us.  If these metrics are accurate it's time to stop playing safe and abolish this public education and start all over again.  If they're not, then let's stop pretending and start acknowledging the quality work produced by principals, teachers, and students every day.

We may not believe that that the worth of a single child or teacher or school system should be measured by a standardized test, but how do we uphold that belief with action?

*quotes taken from the Charlottesville Daily Progress, 8/11/2011


  1. Are you saying that your year end grades are defined completely by the final exam? I wonder how many other teachers face that situation. In our district these exams are just one component of the grade and I thought this was common. Am I wrong?

  2. I am very sorry I wasn't clear. The first two paragraphs didn't actually happen. Obviously, it would raise quite a few questions if it did.

    But, that's what happens to schools with NCLB. A school's year end grade is defined completely by the final exam!