Monday, November 07, 2005


Mitch Informs Me That Herr Professor Is Approaching. What Movie?

Here's a nice letter that came to my inbox. You might guess that the red part is my reaction. I'm quite the complainer.

These dates mark the first administration of the CaHSEE for Juniors and Seniors who have yet to pass the test. As you will recall from our last faculty meeting presentations, student performance on standardized assessments is a key factor in determining the school's success at meeting expectations for AYP.

In addition to being the first administration of the CaHSEE, the tests are also our first opportunity as a faculty and staff to demonstrate to our students the importance of these exams. (I thought the importance of the exam was demonstrated by the fact that the students need to pass it to graduate. If they don't care about graduation, if graduation isn't important to them, what other importance, however strenuously we impart it to them, are they going to find relevant?) The CaHSEE is not simply another "burden" in an already burden-laden day. The CaHSEE is an absolutely crucial component of a student's efforts to obtain a high school diploma. (So why can't we just say you must pass this test to get a diploma? What more needs to be said? And is there any Junior or Senior - who has even the remotest chance of graduating - who does not know that passing the CaHSEE is a graduation requirement?)

Here are some general facts about this upcoming testing session.

We have approximately 300 students (Juniors and Seniors) that need to take the CaHSEE. Some of these students have failed one or both parts, and some students have never taken the test. This administration is particularly important for Seniors. It is the penultimate administration before graduation in May. (All facts, no "mission" - good paragraph.)

The test is divided into two sections, Math and ELA. The ELA portion includes two tests, for a total of 4.5 hours (which includes proctoring responsibilities). The ELA tests are administered on the first day of testing. The Math portion also includes two tests and must be conducted on the second day of testing. The two math exams total 4 hours of testing. (More facts, no "mission" - good paragraph.)

The test should be administered to groups of 20-25 students. This would require approximately 8-9 rooms and test proctors.

I am asking for your assistance to address a few of the important challenges ahead:

1. How can we provide students with an appropriate testing environment? (Here's an environment: reasonably comfortable seat, pencil, some table-like surface, Like in the cafeteria! Problem solved!) Herding cattle (aka students) into a cafeteria or gymnasium for a mass administration of the exam is simply not fair to our students. (Why, or how, is it "simply not fair" to have a mass administration of the exam. This is stated as if it is so clearly obvious that only a complete moron could not see the evils of having everyone in the same room to take the test. I'm sure this must be "research-based." Has this research been peer reviewed? Is it reproducible? Having people in a room, all of whom for which the sole focus is passing the test, would seem to create an environment that is, well, focused on passing the test. Which would seem to be the environment we would want if we want our students to, you know, pass the test. So, why again is it simply not fair?) We will need to explore an alternative bell schedule and testing students in their "regular" classes. (Oh, I see I was simply being impatient. Obviously, having several kids who need to take the test in a room with a bunch of other kids who have passed and are working on some sort of lesson, is a much better and less distracting environment. Since everyone knows that crowded classrooms are virtual cones of silence, in which one can hear literal pins drop, kids with multiple tasks in the same space is no problem, and by their very nature are far and away much better environments for testing than a specific area dedicated to the test, with people who are dedicated to passing the test. I need a check for understanding, cause I don't.) Impossible you say? No. Difficult, yes. Forcing us to think outside the box and really test our commitment to student success on standardized tests? Absolutely. (Should the students be committed to student success? Apparently not.)

2. How can we prepare students for the test both emotionally and academically? Answering questions correctly is a majority of the battle. (Funny, I never knew that a student who answered every question wrong, but with self-confidence, would pass the test. The only thing our students have an abundance of is a hugely overinflated sense of self worth. And it's research based! The research? The fact that a large number of kids at our school have no regard for any adult authority. 123 tardy detentions, for one period, of one day, ring a bell, anyone?) Understanding the importance of the test and having the self-confidence and determination to pass it is another part of the battle. (As you can surmise, this is served by telling the students, as noted above, that this test must be passed to get a diploma. Nothing else matters. And if graduating doesn't matter, neither will anything else. There's a reason why people say things like "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." They say it, and keep saying it, over years, decades, and even centuries, because there is a fundamental truth to it. If it never applied, and was true in no cases, people wouldn't keep repeating it.) As you can surmise, this is an issue of school culture.

3. What can we do as a staff to recognize our students for putting forth their best effort on the test? (Here's one way to recognize them: IF THEY PASS THE TEST, THEY CAN GET THEIR DIPLOMA! Awwww, you tried. Congratulations for trying. At least you made an effort. Maybe if we weren't so busy falling all over ourselves to praise failure just because they managed to put pencil to paper instead of staring at the ceiling the whole time, our kids wouldn't have such a screwed up sense of achievement. More research based examples: students who honestly think they should get a passing grade if they simply show up for a class, even if they do no work.)

Hopefully you are reading this brief diatribe and wondering, "How can I help?" Please consider one of the two following options:

1) Send your written thoughts and comments (directed toward solving our challenges with plausible solutions (which I think means no thoughts or comments on the ridiculousness of everything written so far in this letter)) to me via email or in my mailbox.

2) Join me in my office at 2:15pm after school for our first Testing Committee Meeting. We will meet to review input submitted to me via email/mailbox and discuss additional suggestions for meeting these testing challenges.

Remember, testing is a year-long responsibility for all faculty and staff. Let us meet these testing challenges and unequivocally demonstrate to our students that we will do what it takes for them to be successful. (Once again, the responsibility of faculty, the responsibility of staff, we will do what it takes for them to be successful. At this point the complete lack of necessity of any student effort or responsibility made me wonder if "we will do what it takes for them to be successful" meant some sort of "adjusting the answers" sort of thing. Which I know is not true, and this person would never suggest that; my brain was just so awhirl with the other ludicrous notions above that the thought just slipped in there. Since the author of this letter will accept only comments intended to solve the problems, said author would not be interested in reading this email.)

Blah Blah Blah

But don't pity me, pity this poor Ed student who's just beginning on the path to the glories of public school teaching.
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