Report from the Field: Race to the Bottom

    Stand and Deliver
    by Anon.

    So this week’s Inquiry Team task is a doozy. We are supposedto go into ARIS, list all kids by proficiency level AND by proficiency rating,cross reference on NYSSTART to find trends, identify kids that are in more thanone category (for example, a young, African American male who has an IEP, hasbeen held back, and who qualifies for free lunch counts for 4 points because heis a member of 4 subgroups) for school report card purposes and identify twotarget groups with proficiency ranged from high-1 – mid-2 and high-2 to mid-3.There are other little data tricks we need to do, but I think you get the idea.

    So my co-teacher and I settle down with the directions andstart to work on this. As I read the directions, I notice at the end that thefinal SMART goal on the sheet reads something to the effect of “By September27, 2011, 100% of teachers will have MEMORIZED the names and proficiency scoresof ALL students within the target proficiency ranges, along with each studentsproficiency score.”

    There were other memory requirements. I have to memorize thenames and proficiency ratings of all the students I have that fall into one ormore subgroups (they are worth extra points on the school report card). I haveto memorize who my level 1s are and who are my “push/slip” kids – the oneswhose scores are JUST under or over the threshold for another level, thereforeat risk of “slipping” back or worthy of trying to “push” for the next level togain points.  I must also memorizethe number of students I have in each level and the range of scores within thelevel.

    Apparently, just having the information available in a filefor planning purposes is not enough. I must have it all committed to memory,along with the school-wide SMART goals (verbatim, btw).  I have visions of being stopped in thehallway by an administrator and being told “Recite all students who are youngblack males with IEPs and free lunch, in ascending order, GO!!”  Or even, “All your level 1s who arewithin .03 points of making level 2, alphabetically! GO!!” It’s a scary thoughtand I am already lying awake at night stressing out over what is going tohappen to me if I can’t alphabetically recite, on demand, the names of all myLevel 2s who qualify for free lunch and have trouble with inferences as I amwalking to the ladies’ room.

    And I fail to see the point of this.  I understand needing to know where theareas of most need are within my students and needing to know who is at whichproficiency level (I do this anyway and use the information to informinstruction), but to require me to memorize this data for some kind of “Standand Deliver” encounter in the hallway strikes me as degrading. I am I reallysimply a seal performing tricks for administration in the hopes of being throwna herring?  Must I take time awayfrom planning lessons and creating strategies to meet the needs of these kidsto study a stack of flash cards filled with sterile data about them?  Somehow we all become less than humanin this situation.

    The other disturbing aspect of this Inquiry meeting was thetreatment the lowest and highest students are slated to receive this year.  As we focus on the kids who are “worth”more points on the school report card and the kids who fall into the“push/slip” categories, the students who are at the high and low end of therange will be ignored. To quote my AP this week, “The kids who are at a 3.4 orhigher, even into level 4, well, we’re not going to worry about them. They willpass the test and we get no points from moving a 3 to the 4, so we don’t wantto waste our instructional time on them since there is little return in it.”

    Yes, she said that.

    Regarding the really low kids – the level 1s and holdovers,she said, “It’s the same with the really low kids. You know you can’t make alevel 1.2 into a level 2 by the end of the year, so you don’t  need to waste time on those studentswho will not be able to help move the school’s data forward. We need to bepragmatic and use our limited time and resources on the kids that can get uppoints."


    She wrapped up with a reminder to focus on the kids who are“worth” more because they fall into more than one subgroup and therefore countmore than once on the report card. To wit, “Let’s say you have a student who isa young African-American male, who has an IEP, qualifies for free lunch AND isan ELL student. THAT student needs to get LOTS of attention because my movingthat ONE student, his points are multiplied by FOUR, whereas a student who issimply an African-American male will be worth only one point and therefore isnot as valuable on the report card.”

    I find this profoundly disturbing, and it’s making me feeldirty.

    Race to the Bottom, indeed.

    Check out Norms Notes for a variety of articles of interest: make sure to check out the side panel on right for news bits.

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