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Monday, February 24, 2014

"Johnny Failed!": The Hysteria Over Public School Accountability

Today? Let's explore the present state of public education. In particular, let's concentrate on the public school teacher. First, I would like you to read the following two paragraphs very carefully.

"I thought that maybe a third grade teacher in NC should weigh in on this. I can only speak for what is occurring in my county, but here is what I am up against: I have to complete all reading 3D data within an approximate 2 week period. This involves a three minute fill in the blank test (whole class), three one minute timed reads with three one minute retells of each read, and a diagnosis of a students independent reading level by testing their reading, writing, and oral comprehension of leveled passages. The writing consists of two questions which are scored against a rubric and you must take the LOWER of the two scores. This must be completed on every student in my class.

"In addition, our school opted to give EVERY child the portfolio assessment. Why? Because there are many reasons why a child might fail an EOG test. Some may not be good test takers, some may be sick, some may misalign the test, others may have something happen to them or their family but their parents decide to send them to school anyway because of the test. 

"I cannot tell you how many children have been sent into my room feverish, throwing up, having little to no sleep due to a family emergency, etc. Therefore, every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, our students will take an assessment based on whatever standard the county has stated we are testing on that particular week at least until we get to a review week where students will be retesting on the tests they failed."

 (Diane Ravitch. "A Third Grade Teacher in North Carolina: What It Is Like To Teach
in My State."Diane Ravitch's Blog. February 22, 2014)

Similar cries of despair are echoing in school systems across the country. Since I am a retired Language Arts teacher familiar with the impact of testing and accountability in Ohio, I will add my views to those of others currently employed in education. The news is not good. The public school system in America remains in a state of red alert as teachers work under extreme frenzy with constant warnings of severe "evaluation threats."

I taught last in 2001, and I hear from other teachers working now that most "things" related to actual classroom content instruction are getting worse by the year. My perspective of over ten years absence creates some doubt about what I about to say; however, I can assure you I did experience many related changes I considered to be extremely bothersome towards the end of my teaching career. What once was a pleasant atmosphere turned into a nightmare of extra duties and mounting mountains of paperwork. At the end of my career, I found too little emphasis on good teaching and too much concern about minute-to-minute accountability.

I know many teachers blame proficiency testing for many, if not all, of their worst ills: loss of in-depth instruction, the ever-mounting demand for review of material, and an overwhelming pressure on both staff and students to assure every student achieves maximum test scores. Believe me, I understand the culpable stress caused by proficiency testing and by the rest of the hoopla over improving performance. I happen to disagree that testing deserves so much attention. The proper education of children requires equal amounts of tailored instruction, specific practice, review, and fair evaluation.

If you read the paragraphs from the third grade teacher in North Carolina, can feel her disgust and empathize with her fear. But, I believe much of the terror people feel is mass hysteria caused by the following:

* Too much self-imposed, knee-jerk testing by bureaucratic State Education Departments caused by  media-fed public mistrust,

* Constant intimidation of staff by overzealous administrators who induce unnecessary fear as they threaten ending teachers' livelihoods and careers unless they achieve high scores,

* Ridiculous attempts by instructors to achieve the impossible task of cramming years of past instruction into limited yearly review aimed at 100% accountability and vast improvement for all,

* Managing the enormous preparation, paperwork, time schedule, and overblown attention school systems face to prove completion of the task of applying standard, proficiency levels of attainment,

* And, perhaps, most of all, the "snow job" bought by a general public that the American public school system must better compete with other nations' extremely selective and vastly different  educational systems.

Let me expand on the "we need to do what Japan does" theory. Tremendous differences in culture, extracurricular activities, and time spent in class alone create huge differences between getting a State education in Japan and getting a State education in America.

In Japan, an incompetent education is considered the fault of the family, and shame rests on families not capable of providing remedial help to their incompetent school-aged children to reach higher levels of achievement. And, Japanese students are also tested to see if they even deserve to enter high school and college. Those children that don’t pass this test attend career-orientated schools.

As a person who served on the Ohio Proficiency Rangefinder Committee for a dozen or so years, I believe I possess some insight that might help alleviate some pain and worry. At least, I can assure you I have scored thousands upon thousands of Ninth Grade Proficiency papers myself, and I have been privileged to study and employ rubrics that determine the actual scores.

The testing process -- from administration to scoring -- is not rocket science. I can assure you that if a ninth grader was not writing on a "proficient" (middle of the road, if you will) ninth-grade level, the test merely revealed this truth.

The hysteria associated with low scores was not a "fault" of the test, but rather the undue craze was generated because the test revealed that a great number of students had not displayed -- for whatever reason -- adequate writing skills. In the case of non-attainment of necessary skills, the problem might have stemmed from a number of various sources that needed immediate attention including deficient school districts, administrators, teachers, students, and, yes, even societal bodies such as families.

First, let's define the word proficiency as it relates to these tests in Ohio. In general the word is defined as a graded "advancement in knowledge or skill." Proficiency in any subject is an objective that must be included in day-to-day curriculum. It should neither be ignored nor overblown into a tremendous task that actually detracts from the attention to higher levels of performance.

Supplying the excellent teaching of proficient-level content is the duty of the schools while its attainment is an obligation of students. Hard work supplies proficiency -- try instructing and being responsible for the continuing advancement of over 100 high school students a day. When a student doesn't use initiative, brains, and industry to purchase his or her "necessary" proficiency, no teacher or other school personnel can force the learning into the child. In any system of education, there will always be below-grade-level, immature, unwilling learners.

In education, the term proficiency is used in a variety of ways, most commonly in reference to (1) proficiency levels, scales, and cut-off scores on standardized tests and other forms of assessment, (2) students achieving or failing to achieve proficiency levels determined by tests and assessments, and (3) students demonstrating or failing to demonstrate proficiency in relation to learning methods.

Reread the paragraphs written by the teacher from Carolina. Her school must be hell. But, I believe data, tests, diagnoses, and the like are not inherently frightening. Nothing instills fear into these things except the humans entrusted to insuring students are adequately prepared for the evaluations and State requirements.

My question is "Why the fear and fuss about what is normally just a part of teaching the curriculum?" For the answer, I look toward time. Now, teachers barely have time to teach the curriculum. Adding silly tasks created by outside pressures dedicated to believing no one should accept the fact that a significant number of American human beings do fail only fuels the fires of teacher burnout. For Christ's sake, no one already worries more about failing kids than teachers. Yet, they should be allowed to accept this unpleasant reality without excessive stress generated from State systems.

Every little record keeping, evaluation-providing, uber-reporting, accountability-overkill detail takes time. Teachers become frightened, even paranoid, because they simply have little time to develop and employ their skills of classroom teaching. We constantly lose great teachers who enjoy the art of classroom instruction because the system has made them more clerk than professional instructor. In a word, many, like our friend from North Carolina, view their profession with distrust.

Hell, these days, teachers are always expected to perform unnecessary clerical tasks and to complete mountains of administrative paperwork they know will go unread, and, instead, be filed on an "appropriate" shelf in a closet where dust will accumulate and space will diminish.

New requirements are generated by the State Department of Education, passed into law, and then handed down to school districts all over the state. It's a complicated game of political and social appeasement. Everyone tries to keep up with changing demands from superiors, then authoritatively "pass the buck" of responsibility until it reaches its last and lowest level -- the level requiring the most attention and labor -- the already overburdened classroom teachers and their students.

Excuses, like kidneys, are rampant; everyone has a couple or at least one, for the educational hysteria. Finger pointing within the profession is so common that it's a wonder every school employee has not been blinded by the flurry of flying digitus secundi. And, the frightful condition has been this way for decades now, yet it only seems to be getting worse.

Many experienced teachers who once enjoyed the classroom and found time to present subject material with thorough, creatively designed lessons now find themselves awash in this insane record keeping, grading, planning, testing, and attempting to cover the buttocks of a system notorious for trying to stretch a "thong" of resources to cover a whale tail of nasty badonkadonk.

Jesus help us. Teachers are on meds. Kids are throwing up. Administrators are trying to find even easier positions (if that is possible). Mothers and fathers are suing schools because their genius sons and daughter get an "F." In a Louisiana middle school where my son taught last year, the Teacher of the Year 2013 quit because she couldn't handle the pressure of spending countless hours to duplicate her award-winning performance.

If you don't believe good teaching is art produced primarily by sensitive, well-intentioned, creative individuals, you should spend more time visiting the classrooms of a fully functioning American public school (And, perhaps, less time sitting in the stands of gymnasiums and stadiums watching the performance of those you believe represent the their best interests).

Enough is enough! Administrators and teachers -- reduce the stress by finding out exactly what is missing in your proficiency quest and limit review for the almighty tests to reasonable limits. I know this by experience: If you teach seniors in high school, you can't cram twelve years of test preparation into a couple of weeks or in a couple of months, for that matter. Besides, every day reviewing for proficiency levels takes away from covering necessary new studies. Proficiency test scores may show some improvement while the advanced curriculum stagnates and eventually dies.

Yet, unfortunately, objective test scores and performance indexes are now paramount in the eyes of a State government filled with people who never even experienced the pressures of such critical  educational evaluation themselves. Somehow, the Department of Education, thanks to pressure from those who know nothing about the development of critical thinking and reasoning, attempts both to upgrade acquisition of knowledge and "water it down" in order that no one is "left behind" or failing.

Young people must learn to be more responsible despite their resistance and their insistence upon copping an attitude of "that teacher doesn't know how to teach" or "Mrs. Filbert doesn't like me." Students live in a world of expanding knowledge spurred by technology that Super Sizes educational requirements in all classes. Kids must use their computers to attain new knowledge and to practice skills other than game-playing and texting excellence of hand-eye coordination. The great delivery system and the right materials are at hand, but they must be employed in the name of scholarship.

In addition, things like regularly attending class, copying down assignments, taking notes, learning theory, studying, reading, doing homework, and making up missed assignments are essential elements of all students' necessary contributions in the "give and take" relationship between teachers and students. Sometimes, 50/50 is the best ratio of effort given by both -- the proportions depend upon the difficulty of the assignment and the complexity of the independent study required by completing a lesson.

Let me pose a couple of questions to the disbelieving general public that blames all the problems in education entirely upon classroom teachers.

* Do you believe a teacher can fail because he or she doesn't do their job? I do. I have seen teachers who should never have been hired in the first place. But, by the same token, do you believe a student can fail because he or she is not trying, not even caring about working up to their potential? 

I believe that student should receive a failing grade and continue to receive failing grades until living up to their part of the educational "contract." That is the purpose of using the letter "F" to designate the performance and achievement of a school kid. Giving a student a grade teaches them nothing. Demanding that they continue their best efforts to deserve their grade is one mark of a great teacher.

* Do you believe in trial and error as an important instrument for learning? I do. Believe me, when I started teaching, the university program had not prepared me adequately to teach in public high school. My first year of teaching, I thought I knew it all until I experienced day after day of major problems and minor successes. I was scared crapless and trying everything I could to keep my head above water and to honestly teach an effective lesson.

Brains and educational degrees only go so far when you close your classroom door. The fact is you teach people with much higher IQ's than you. (And, you learn to love that, by the way.)You must learn the craft through experience. Failure and the motivation to not fail again are essential to any real success. Why should it be any different for kids in school who put out little or no effort? They fail, but they must learn not to. When I had an "F" student achieve a "D," I was usually happier than when I witnessed the perennial "A" student do their typical, excellent work. Both were great encouragement to keep teaching.

Here is an undeniable fact: after high school graduation, when students enter the homo sapien-eating-homo sapien, real world, they experience the shocking revelation that professors, bosses, and associates want good results and really don't give a flying fuck about how many times failure interrupts their understanding or their progress. The "teachers" of the real world don't lose sleep over the fact that Timmy or Jane is having difficulty with work. Those who don't adjust either fall until they reach a lower level of comfortable existence or pick themselves up and rise to greater heights by diligently acquiring difficult skills necessary to excel.

What To Do To Remain Healthy In the Classroom

I have spoken much about this before -- since teachers are the last and only link of instruction for those who need concentrated remediation before testing, they must find the most important areas to review and then teach the exact strategies to help their students pass critical evaluations. Although the State issues study guides and sample papers, I believe many teachers do NOT know how the tests are really scored and what specific areas typically "fail" students who need review concentration.

For a rather stilted example, a kid may know the function of a three-part essay but possess little or no knowledge of tools often employed to construct a cohesive, well-developed thesis. I have read hundreds and hundreds of papers written by obviously intelligent students with no clue that imperative elaboration of an written idea requires details, examples, and facts. Teaching this can be as simple as offering techniques of developing the  "who, what, when, where, how, which, and why" of ideas. Check out this amazing simple yet tremendously important lesson here:

Teachers in the trenches fighting untold obstacles to educate their students deserve respect. Just in case you happen to be a critic of teachers and their work in public education, I would like you to consider what I believe "waters down" the profession. I know many of you consider teaching an easy job done by unskilled "babysitters" who have wonderful work hours, summers off, and decent pay. People who make such generalizations about teachers are guilty of adding to a ridiculous, false, damaging image of those who deserve more esteem.

Any good teacher knows some "bad apples" exist in his midst. Most could care less if some method were employed to cut them from the system. Yet, isn't that the reality in all professions? Lazy, worthless workers are present in all employs. But, when you throw the effective teacher out with all the "dirty bath water," you injure our most precious resource: the child who represents a brighter future for America. I believe we should get real, return to encouraging great teachers to "teach" not "file" and let them show all skeptics that we are still the undisputed leaders of educating the free thinkers of the world.


Scioto Bloom-Vernon Local SD

Reading 63 88.9 12.7 31.7 44.4 6.3 4.8

  Mathematics 63 87.3 44.4 23.8 19.0 7.9 4.8

  Writing 63 84.1 0.0 38.1 46.0 12.7 3.2

  Science 63 79.4 28.6 19.0 31.7 15.9 4.8

  Social Studies 63 77.8 27.0 12.7 38.1 9.5 12.7

  All Five 63 69.8

  Clay Local SD

Reading 52 92.3 7.7 28.8 55.8 3.8 3.8

  Mathematics 52 82.7 36.5 23.1 23.1 7.7 9.6

  Writing 52 69.2 0.0 26.9 42.3 26.9 3.8

  Science 52 73.1 11.5 26.9 34.6 23.1 3.8

  Social Studies 52 78.8 26.9 13.5 38.5 13.5 7.7

  All Five 52 57.7

  Green Local SD

Reading 47 87.2 19.1 31.9 36.2 10.6 2.1

  Mathematics 47 80.9 46.8 14.9 19.1 12.8 6.4

  Writing 47 72.3 0.0 31.9 40.4 25.5 2.1

  Science 47 76.6 21.3 27.7 27.7 17.0 6.4

  Social Studies 47 89.4 46.8 19.1 23.4 8.5 2.1

  All Five 47 68.1

  Minford Local SD

Reading 107 89.7 17.8 34.6 37.4 2.8 7.5

  Mathematics 107 79.4 41.1 19.6 18.7 13.1 7.5

  Writing 107 84.1 0.9 51.4 31.8 8.4 7.5

  Science 107 78.5 26.2 28.0 24.3 15.9 5.6

  Social Studies 107 86.9 47.7 19.6 19.6 5.6 7.5

  All Five 107 69.2

  New Boston Local SD

Reading 38 71.1 15.8 21.1 34.2 18.4 10.5

  Mathematics 38 78.9 28.9 18.4 31.6 5.3 15.8

  Writing 38 73.7 0.0 26.3 47.4 21.1 5.3

  Science 38 57.9 15.8 5.3 36.8 23.7 18.4

  Social Studies 38 63.2 34.2 10.5 18.4 13.2 23.7

  All Five 38 50.0

  Northwest Local SD

Reading 119 84.9 12.6 26.1 46.2 5.9 9.2

  Mathematics 119 82.4 34.5 21.8 26.1 8.4 9.2

  Writing 119 84.9 0.0 29.4 55.5 7.6 7.6

  Science 119 66.4 13.4 15.1 37.8 24.4 9.2

  Social Studies 119 73.9 23.5 16.8 33.6 15.1 10.9

  All Five 119 59.7

  Portsmouth City SD

Reading 124 79.0 9.7 29.8 39.5 8.9 12.1

  Mathematics 124 75.0 35.5 19.4 20.2 11.3 13.7

  Writing 124 75.8 0.0 25.0 50.8 15.3 8.9

  Science 124 54.0 10.5 16.1 27.4 30.6 15.3

  Social Studies 124 78.2 28.2 19.4 30.6 9.7 12.1

  All Five 124 46.8

  Valley Local SD

Reading 73 84.9 12.3 31.5 41.1 5.5 9.6

  Mathematics 73 84.9 41.1 24.7 19.2 9.6 5.5

  Writing 73 80.8 1.4 43.8 35.6 13.7 5.5

  Science 73 67.1 24.7 16.4 26.0 23.3 9.6

  Social Studies 73 74.0 30.1 12.3 31.5 16.4 9.6

  All Five 73 63.0

  Washington-Nile Local SD

Reading 108 83.3 13.9 39.8 29.6 9.3 7.4

  Mathematics 108 84.3 37.0 24.1 23.1 5.6 10.2

  Writing 108 81.5 0.9 34.3 46.3 8.3 10.2

  Science 108 71.3 24.1 19.4 27.8 17.6 11.1

  Social Studies 108 73.1 34.3 18.5 20.4 11.1 15.7

  All Five 108 63.9

  Wheelersburg Local SD

Reading 115 94.8 22.6 53.0 19.1 2.6 2.6

  Mathematics 115 90.4 52.2 25.2 13.0 5.2 4.3

  Writing 115 97.4 9.6 71.3 16.5 0.9 1.7

  Science 115 88.7 41.7 17.4 29.6 8.7 2.6

  Social Studies 115 92.2 64.3 20.0 7.8 3.5 4.3

  All Five 115 85.2

Districts with fewer than 10 students tested in any subject are not listed; their results are included in the totals.
Results are not reported for a subject if the number of students tested is less than 10. The data are replaced by *.
Community schools are included in the public totals; individual schools are listed in another report.
Pct. Prof. or Above = percent proficient or above; this meets the graduation standard.
Percent Adv. = percent advanced; Percent Accel. = percent accelerated; Percent Prof. = percent proficient.
All Five = students took all five tests; Pct. Prof.or Above = percent met graduation standard on all five tests.

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