Standardized testing. We all love it, right? Because who needs to be educated, thoughtful, creative, or literate? What we need is the ability to take tests. Proponents of high-stakes testing insist that it provides accountability. How can you tell the bad teachers and bad schools from the good teachers and good schools? By their test scores, of course. If sarcasm was lethal, you’d all be dead now.
Unfortunately, it’s the reality we all have to live with, like it or not. Schools and teachers are evaluated based on the results of their most recent tests. Our Title I school has struggled to raise our scores. Two years ago, based on a complex algorithm that takes into account gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, our students didn’t show enough growth and so our school received a grade of D. We were placed on a list of the lowest performing schools in the district and were overrun with clipboard holders who visited regularly to hem and haw and cluck their tongues, coming up with all kinds of interventions. “You know, if you move your rug from here to over there…”
With a great deal of hard work and an hour added to the instructional day, we were able to move from a D to a C at the end of that year. Clipboard holders came to pour on the attaboys, but frankly, nobody was satisfied with a grade of C. Who wants to work your ass off to be average? We followed that up with second year of the added instructional hour of literacy and we were able to make the gains necessary to become a B rated school. This year, as a B school, we no longer have the extra instructional hour. They tried to tell us it’s because we did so well, but the truth is that they need that money to pay for an extra hour at some other school.
With raising the school grade comes bonus money for the staff. And the staff votes for how the bonus money should be allocated. In the eleven years I’ve been at my school, we’ve received the bonus three times. Each time we’ve voted to split the money equally among all staff members, instructional and non-instructional. So teachers receive the same cut as cafeteria workers, office clerks, and custodians.
This year some people had different ideas. The notion was put forth that teachers in testing grades should receive 70% of the bonus while teachers of kindergarten, first, and second grades should receive 30%. After all, they said, it was their students who raised the school grade.
You can imagine how that went over. Because here’s the thing. Forty percent of my annual evaluation is based on the ingenious invention called the VAM score. The Value Added Model takes the results of administrative observations of my teaching and adds the test scores of the older students I did not have in my class, melding it all together to form the judgement of whether or not I’m an effective educator. Obviously, it’s in my best interest to make sure that the first graders in my charge are ready for the upper grades.
All of that to say this: If the VAM score is good enough for my public-record evaluation, it’s good enough for my bonus. Third graders don’t just walk in knowing how to read. The fact that they can read is the direct result of years of blood, sweat, and tears in the lower grades. And I’m prepared to bitch-slap anyone who says any different.
Needless to say, staff unity has taken a bit of a hit. I’m sure we’ll get past the drama. The aforementioned option did not appear on the final version of the ballot. You know, it’s true. Love of money is the root of all evil.
I’m not Miss Beadle.