We have, I believe, twelve instructional days until our high stakes testing begins – the FCAT here in Florida. I have nothing in particular against this test. I think it is a fairly good indicator of where a student is academically and sets rigorous standards for instruction.
Here’s the thing. Achievement testing, back in the day, was a useful tool to diagnose strengths and deficiencies in a child’s learning. That lead to appropriate remediation or acceleration for that child. It also let teachers and parents know how their child was doing compared to the general population of students.
Ah, the good old days. Now, a child’s test score indicates whether that child will pass or fail. Whether they have a good teacher or not, whether the entire school is performing well or is a “low performing school”, and by 2014, in the state of Florida, whether a teacher deserves a raise or even his or her job.
Well, shouldn’t teachers be accountable? Shouldn’t principals have ultimate responsibility for their schools? Yes and yes. But I wish legislators had any kind of a tiny clue as to how to accomplish this. They know data. They get data. Numbers are simple and easy to figure out. A test score is a piece of data. From one test, given one day. So far, the use of a single series of tests given over two weeks in March is the only tool our state and federal governments seem to know how to use to evaluate an entire year in a child’s academic life.
I have had students take the FCAT days after a grandparent died. We’ve had kids who’ve come to school so sick they’ve thrown up on their tests (which invalidates their scores, by the way). Right now, I have two students whose brother and uncle were just arrested and charged with racketeering. These young men are looking at 30 year prison sentences and my two students are dealing with the emotional fallout from this. I have a homeless student who is being given a room at a neighborhood church. One of my students fell apart on me two days ago and told me his mother had tried to commit suicide. How do you think their little pieces of data are going to look twelve days from now?
This is not to say I should not be responsible for their learning. But could we perhaps look at their growth over the course of an entire school year? I had students come into reading on a second grade level. If I get them to a fourth grade level, they’ve made two years growth in one, but the data shows they are not performing on grade level. So am I a hero or a failure? Are they? On the flip side, if I have a student who comes in reading on a 6th grade level and leaves on a 6th grade level, I feel like I failed him or her, but according to the data, I did a good job. Did I? Did the child?
Both these hypothetical children will be left behind, one way or another.