Unbelievable

Administration sent out an email this week.  It stated that he would be coming around to check our reading running records to see that every student has an up to date Instructional reading level.

Now, they say that a lot.  Instructional reading level.  Very important.  Here’s the thing: I’ve spent my Guided Reading instructional block, since before the winter break, testing kids.  I know they need updated levels.  But if I had kids with new (and higher) Independent levels, I left it at that and continued with the next kid.  Because, after all, the Independent levels are where we’re aiming for, right?

So I came back on Friday, having been out sick for two days, to find that someone, probably a colleague, not administration (don’t even get me started on that), had gone through all my running records, haphazardly replaced them mixing up all my groups, and left a stack on a student desk with a sticky note: “These students don’t have Instructional levels.”  Before I could properly lose my mind over this turn of events, I was called over the PA system, by name, along with Miz O-Postrophe and New Mama, to come to his office.

Apparently First Grade hadn’t followed directions.  Oh, except for Spazzy Clueless.  Hers were all correct.  A point he used to make Miz O cry.  “Why don’t these students have Instructional levels?” he demanded.  We tried to explain our reasoning.  It seemed a waste of instructional time to continue to take these kids further at this time.  We needed to help them dig deeper into their new Independent levels, make sure they have mastery of that level’s benchmark skills rather than just gather meaningless data.  He remained unmoved.  “All your students need to have Instructional reading levels in ten days.”

I think what pissed me off the most was being treated as though we had been lazy and incompetent.  He completely disrespected our professionalism.  If several strong and successful teachers have it one way, and Spazzy Clueless, who’s had about five kids removed from her classroom this year due to parent requests, has it the other way, seems like that would be a hint and a half for your ass.

I admit it, I got a little smart ass.  “So I guess I’ll continue to throw out small group instruction so that I can test.”

“That sounds like a plan,” he said.

At this point I realized the situation was hopeless.  When administration tells you to skip instruction, you’ve lost the battle.  And so have the kids.

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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.

Oh, Precious Precocious

So the school psychologist came and took Precious Precocious today for testing.  She’s being evaluated for giftedness.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she scores highly.  She’s extremely bright and articulate.  In first grade now, she already reads beyond the second grade level.

I have mixed feelings about the whole ‘gifted’ thing.  Back in the day, I had to be talked into having my son tested.  It took his teachers years to convince me to have him assessed, and I only agreed because I thought it might afford him some opportunities he might otherwise miss.  I’ve known way too many parents who see their gifted children as status symbols, somehow a reflection on their stellar parenting skills.  I’ve also seen kids in “gifted programs” get completely stressed out because they simply wind up doing way more homework than other kids.

I think a gifted program should offer advanced kids interesting hand-on types of activities.  They should go lots of places and do interesting projects that don’t involve writing stupid papers and filling out higher-level work packets.

If Precious Precocious is found to meet the criteria of ‘gifted’ her parents will have some decisions to make.  Our school doesn’t have a program, so she’d have to switch to a new school if they want her to be in a gifted class.  They could let her stay for the rest of this year and move her next year.  Or they could just keep her where she is for the rest of elementary school.

And so it was with a little sadness that I watched Precious Precocious leave my room this morning.  When she returned, she said that she’d had a good time, and she’d been rewarded with a tiny pink notebook for her efforts.

At dismissal this afternoon, she asked me one of those ‘out of the blue’ questions.  “How old are you, Mrs. R.?”

I gave my stock answer.  “I’m 117.”

“Nuh-unh!” she unsurprisingly retorted.

“Don’t I look 117?” I asked, waiting for her logical reasoning.

“Yes,” she answered.

So, I’m gonna miss Precious Precocious.