In the mailbag today. I don’t know this person:
I am an 8th grade teacher. I love your comments on testing, but I wanted to ask if you were going to add anything about how the tests are not just high-stakes for students but teachers? I’m sure you know there is a great deal of discussion over tying salaries and tenure to test scores.
I’m in NYC where the testing situation for teachers is particularly bad. Principals get bonuses based on the test growth. Even though test results are not officially supposed to be part of teacher evaluations right now in NYC, they definitely factor in. The sole form of evaluation of teachers (as far as I know and have experienced) is the formal observation system in which principals or assistant principals have the right to give any rating they want for a lesson without any official rubric or guideline for what should ideally constitute a satisfactory lesson plan.
Just about every NYC teacher is supposed to have a “data binder” where they are required to have all testing data, including item analyses for every reading test question on every Acuity test the students have taken. This is supposed to help us decide what specific reading skills to focus our lessons on (inferring context clues vs. inferring cause and effect, vs. inferring drawing conclusions, vs. identifying the main idea, etc). I used to teach a 4th grade class in which about half of the students read well below grade level. During book 1 of the ELA test, one of the few students who was a hopeful “3” was observed spending about 20 minutes on one test question. He repeatedly ignored the test proctor’s warnings about time left and scrambled to fill out the bubbles randomly at the last minute. Sure enough, he ended up with a 2 and this result was cited by the principal as proof of my poor teaching. A colleague told me of a similar situation: One of her students fell asleep during the test. She immediately notified her principal but this student’s poor test result was still used as documentation of her alleged incompetence.
Also, teachers are frequently pulled out of the classroom for long meetings about the tests while students either sit in school auditoriums watching a movie or are left to wreak havoc with substitute teachers being paid by the hour.
By the way, those ridiculous letter grades in the NYC schools are also based on the number of reported suspensions, so many principals avoid giving appropriate consequences for violent incidents because they don’t want to jack up their suspension rates and harm their grades.
Well, OK, then. Thank you for writing, teacher! You guys have the hardest and most important job in the universe. You have given us public school parents more reasons to kill ourselves, but this is not your fault!