Saturday, November 15, 2008

Confirmed: testing = teaching

As I valiantly finished up my running records this past week (I say "valiantly" because I managed to do it in the face of being off for Veterans' Day and being pulled out of six of my classes this week to proctor a fifth grade exam), I was starting to feel really pumped about the future of my reading groups. I'm losing some kids who have progressed enough that they no longer require intervention services, and I'm gaining others who have stagnated and who will hopefully benefit from being in my group. I had already decided to rearrange my reading partnerships so the kids could work with fresh new partners (I have maybe one partnership that works beautifully, but the rest are sick of each other and need a change -- plus I'm not entirely sure that it's the best idea to pair kids who are on the same reading level, because if both of them happen to be on the planet Jupiter then they're not helping each other move, so I tried to pair kids I thought would work well together even if they might be one level apart). I had even written up goals for myself to organize my small group planning -- my greatest ambition is to plan more strategy lessons based on the kids' running records rather than on our monthly teaching points checklist, since that's really what showcases their deficiencies and what they need to work on.

So I stayed at school until after dark two days this week, planning and organizing my strategy lessons and guided reading groups until I was sure everything would run like clockwork. I pored over those running records and really got down to the nitty-gritty of the weaknesses we needed to tackle -- I even felt like a bit of a rogue, planning strategy lessons that included Fundations work, but I was all, "The only thing holding these kids back is that they're miscuing all the words that include vowel teams and blends, so let's do it!" I felt really energized by the latest round of running records and ready to get down to business tackling my students' weak areas one by one to help them move to the next reading level. Third grade, here they come!

Or so I thought. Because you know what happens when you get really energized by planning, don't you? Your administration comes along and !@#$s with you, that's what happens. And so, for the first time in recorded history, I enthusiastically swore out loud at school (in the privacy of my office, when no children were present, of course). Because on Friday, just as I was wrapping up another full hour of planning and organizing my small groups for next week, a colleague dropped THE BOMB.

"You heard we're starting assessments again on Monday, right?"

My brain went like this: ASSESSMENTS -- MONDAY -- NO ONE TOLD -- I NEVER HEARD -- I JUST PLANNED -- WTF?!?!

Yeah, so, the memo was addressed to "classroom and AIS teachers," but did the AIS teachers actually get this memo? No. (OK, it's not like the classroom teachers knew about it and never told us -- they didn't get the memo until Friday morning either.) Meanwhile, the memo is all, "Kindly do this Monday and turn in your results by 11/24," despite the fact that no one bothered to let us know in advance. Meanwhile part two, there are certain parts of the assessment we don't have to administer if our students already demonstrated "mastery," only I don't know who did and who didn't because they took all my data to input it and never gave it back to me. And the data comes in booklets that are supposed to be re-used with each student so I can't assess anyone because I don't have those booklets. And everyone at my school passes the buck, because it's all about who you take your orders from and who issued the rule, so when I timidly went to check with my administrator, she said she would refer my question to the literacy coach, who never got back to me because she never gets back to anyone and then blames it on TC. Meanwhile part three, the memo (because the memo is gospel, and we all stood around trying to analyze it like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls) said that the assessment was to be administered "during independent reading time," which makes it sound like we're supposed to conduct a mini lesson, which is -- how do I put this delicately? -- effing ridiculous because that spelling assessment takes, at minimum, one full period to conduct. And oh, woe, do you remember how long I spent grading these things last time? The horror!

I told one of my colleagues that I think our administrators think our time is like those cars and tents in the Harry Potter books that look normal on the outside but magically expand on the inside to fit, like, a palatial suite. Like, a typical week in reading may appear to be five days (with interruptions for announcements, crying children, bleeding children, fighting children, field trips, days off, fire drills and being pulled out of the classroom to cover other classes, proctor exams, and go to professional development, and other various emergencies) and 50 minutes each, but actually we should be able to get thirty weeks' worth of work during this time! My colleague told me that as long as all these interruptions were documented, then administration would understand why it looked like I hadn't actually taught anything in weeks. And I was like, "But aside from that, I care that I'm not getting to teach, no one is actually working with my students during this time and they're not learning anything, but they're still being expected to magically progress in reading," and she told me that unfortunately, I would learn to live with that feeling (it was a very "I used to be you" moment reminiscent of old Mafia movies), which stinks, because -- what am I doing here? All I want to do is teach my students. It would be a bonus if I got to teach my students using a tiny bit of my own professional judgement. Is that too much to ask?

Meanwhile, part four, poor Azul has taken to hanging around the desk where I am conferencing with other students, wearing his best puppy dog face, clutching his B books and saying, "When you teach me? I want be C!" Hmm, does anyone know how to say, "I'm sorry, Azul, but I can't work with you individually to give you the help that you need in English and in reading because my bosses at this school just told me I need to listen to your classmates read long lists of high-frequency words for the second time in two months even though it's highly unlikely that their skills have improved in that time because I haven't gotten the chance to actually teach them anything" in Arabic?


Anonymous said...

Dang, it's like reading my life. I was talking to my administrator yesterday about the fact that on the fourth day of school I was required to DIBEL my kindergarten students, and place them in groups, one of which is a Voyager Intervention Group, and that my recent assessments and observations show that the kids are grouped wrong based on that DIBELS data and that my intensive kids,(every single one of them) are different kids than DIBELS said they were. Her and the literacy specialists say I can't change my groups. I'm not blaming DIBELS, I'm blaming the fact that I was required to DIBEL them during the first week of school (during the district mandated testing window). The most recent DIBELS data is far more accurate. There is TOO much SYSTEM, and not enough actual time to teach.

Anonymous said...

"they took all my data to input it and never gave it back to me" What is this about? How come you do not have the data on your own database on your own computer? This is an absolute must. There is excellent software out there to help you. See my webpage,, as an example.

Nacho Lover said...

haha, database??? own computer??? hahaha, the good Dr up there must not be in NYC.

miss brave, i am so frustrated on your behalf reading this. the same thing definitely used to happen to me. we considered ourselves lucky if we got a full day's notice for anything at all--usually it came down the same day it was supposed to be done.

now at the charter school, those interruptions aren't nearly so much, but we are explicitly teaching to the tests they administer every two months. i'm not sure which is worse.

this is exactly why i say that teaching is the last thing on any teacher's list. and it is so sad.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, seriously. Even if the one computer in my office (which I share with five other teachers) was connected to either the printer OR the Internet, which it is not, where on earth would I find the time to input all that data? It took me DAYS to score the assessments as it was on the sheets they gave me. And even if I DID have excellent software on my own personal computer and brought it into school, there is no way my administrators would let me input the data directly onto the computer, because we need to have a paper trail for EVERYTHING. I'm kicking myself for not making copies before I gave it up.

Teacher said...

You took all my thoughts and put them right into your blog. We have had to drop our plans to actually teach for at least one subject, if not more, almost every week since school has started. There is no time for teaching...

Anonymous said...

As a parent, I have several questions about what is going here:

1. If you don't test the kids, how do you know where they are, what they know, what they don't know and what they need to learn?

2. Why would you (a skilled professional) proctor a fifth grade exam? Aren't there available warm bodies, yard duty people, parent volunteers, etc to proctor tests? When I was a grad student, the professors never showed up for exams, the T.A.'s hung out to answer questions and call time.

I guess my point, it seems reasonable to need the data that testing should provide, but it seems there is a strange allocation of resource going on here.

Anonymous said...

Please don't take my post to mean that I am against ALL testing. I absolutely do think that assessing my students is a vital part of teaching them. But, I am against testing that is counter-productive in two ways: (1) when it interferes with all of our instructional time and (2) when it seems to serve no purpose. For example, we first administered this first round of assessments a month ago, and the data has still not been entered and analyzed. Therefore, I haven't used any of the assessment results to drive my instruction. Now we're assessing again, and I'm frustrated because I see my students making the same mistakes because I haven't actually done anything to help them improve. And between running records and this assessment, they will get NO guided reading OR strategy lessons in the ENTIRE MONTH of November!

The fifth grade exam I helped to proctor was the state social studies exam. Each test requires one official proctor (the classroom teacher) and a "test assist." I guess other warm bodies aren't allowed to be test assists? In our school they always use AIS and ESL personnel.

Anonymous said...

But all of this testing is being used to evaluate both student and school... which means the school has motive to skew, twist, game, etc, etc.

Leaves the data questionable for any purpose, and probably means we would all, student, teacher, and school, be better off without it altogether.

I give tests. It's so I can know, and the student and parent can know, how much progress the student has made, and whether they have mastered a specific skill. That's different.