All For One And One For All

appleStandardized 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.


Lunch in Crazy Town

Friday I had lunch in Crazy Town. I realize that it was Halloween.  But still.

Normally, my first grade team and I work through lunch on Friday, then eat together in someone’s room during our Fine Arts period.  Our schedule is such that some of us finish lunch before the rest of us even get there.  Friday is our day to eat together and catch up on the latest in everyone’s lives.

This week was off, though.  One of us is out on maternity leave until after the holidays.  Witty was away on a cruise, but we don’t hate her.  Much.  Miz O Postrophe had to get her class ready for the costume parade.  As so it was that the rest of us roughed it for the day.

Our school was built in the sixties when someone’s idea of educational utopia was the open classroom, wherein walls were flexible and allowed classrooms to expand, the better to expand young minds. I’d imagine that vinyl accordion walls were cheaper to build than cinder block ones so it probably saved someone a butt-load of money, too.

Our ‘Teachers’ Dining Room’ is but a former classroom located off to the side of the cafeteria.  It shares a flexible wall with one of our three EBD units.  That’s Emotional/Behavioral Disorder.  Imagine the sounds that travel through the wall between that classroom and the TDR, that gastronomic oasis for instructional warriors.  Rare is the day I don’t think to myself, upon hearing all the ruckus, There is not enough money in this blue-eyed world…  

On Friday, it wasn’t merely the feral screams and moans from the Classroom Beyond the Wall (suddenly I’m hearing the theme music from Game of Thrones), there was mayhem within the room as well.  Lunchtime usually brings together people from various departments who might not otherwise have reason or opportunity to interact.  Often when I arrive at lunch, there is a woman finishing her own meal and chatting on the phone.  And by chatting, I mean talking very loudly.  This is not a new phenomenon.  But for whatever reason, on Friday her conversation was unusually loud.  Enter another colleague or two and we all engage in conversation.  The woman on the phone gets louder.  In order to continue our conversation, we have to talk louder and suddenly Chatty Cathy is practically shouting into her phone.

As annoying as it was, we didn’t have much time to address it because at that moment a strange man came stumbling out of the closet that connects the TDR with the Classroom Beyond the Wall.  I assumed that he was a substitute of some sort.  He was very tall, very thin, and apparently very old.  He came shuffling into the room not unlike the walking dead, carrying what appeared to be his lunch.  I stared in amazement, figuring that with his general gait, it would take him about three days to make his way across the room to the microwave.  He wanted to know if the microwave was industrial.  Is that a thing?

I took the opportunity to make my escape back to my class, more stressed out than I had been before lunch.  No more Crazy Town for me, thank you very much.

You see?  This is why the first grade team normally skips lunch on Friday.