Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease...Sometimes

They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but right now  my “gears” are all rusted up, and I have no reservations when it comes to grinding and scraping these tired, rusted parts in the vain hope that someone will hear me.

Tuesday was the first day of FCAT Science testing, and the fifth day (in the past six school days) my students have been assessed.  They have been great.  Have they been a little anxious?  Yes.  Do they get a little squirrelly right after the test?  Yes.  Have they been focused and serious?  Absolutely.

So, why am I taking up another ten minutes of your day to read over another “squeaky wheel” rant?  Here’s why.  Lately, it seems that no matter what I say or how emphatically I say it,  I cannot  create a strong enough argument (for some people) as to why using test scores – more specifically FCAT test scores – as half – that’s 50 percent - of the formula to determine teacher pay is such a BAD IDEA (Insert grease here).  That is until Tuesday – I think.  Let me give you a little insight into the lives of six of the 22 students in my class who took the FCAT Science test on Tuesday.

Let’s start with Sally.  Sally’s name has been changed to protect her identity (and my job). Sally, like all 5th grade students, had 55 minutes to complete Session 5 of the Science Sunshine State Standards Test.  Sally was “done” in less than 20 minutes.  State law prohibits me from asking questions or engaging students in any way during the test.  After the test, I spoke to Sally.  I said, “You know, you have 55 minutes to work on the test.  You were done kind of early.  You really should read back over all the questions just to make sure you didn’t make any mistakes.”  Her response was, “I don’t care what I get on it.” (Insert more grease)

Next, there was Caroline.  As the proctor of this assessment, I am required to read the Test Administration Manual, verbatim, each day.  Tuesday was the fifth day of testing, so my students had heard the phrase, “If you draw a line or an X through an answer that you think is wrong and the mark goes into a bubble, that bubble might be counted as your answer” FIVE times prior to taking the test.  Within the first few minutes after the test started, I glanced at Caroline’s test book.  Despite five warnings, five urgings not to do so, she had drawn lines through many of the answers!  Again, I am prohibited from speaking to her or making any comments that might be construed as “helpful”, so I simply walked away.

Then there was Star.  While walking into class Tuesday morning, Star made the following statement, “Mr. Mucci, I was in the emergency room last night.  The doctor said I have gastrointestinitis.”  My initial thought was, “Why are you here then?”  Then, I remembered – it’s FCAT testing.  Students can’t be sick during FCAT testing.  Star took the test.  By lunch time, she was queasy and sick.  She went home.

Let’s not forget Larry.  Monday during recess, Larry fell while playing soccer.  Tuesday morning, Larry showed up at school with a bandage around his arm.  “I sprained my wrist yesterday,” he tells me.  “Does it hurt?” a classmate asks.  “A little,” Larry replies, “but the doctor gave me some pain medicine, so it doesn’t hurt that much now.”  (Big sigh. More grease.  Additional wrinkle lines on my face).  Larry joined Gary, who broke his ankle the week before and has been wearing a boot. Not to mention, two students stayed home on Monday, recovering from cases of strep throat that has swept through our school district.

So what?  What does all this have to do with the price of tea in China (or oil in Saudi Arabia)?  I’m getting to that.  Senate Bill 630, which will soon become law, ties teacher pay to student performance.  In a class of 22 kids, six of my kids were either absent, sick, medicated, did not follow directions or “done” before ½ the time had expired.  Of the remaining 16 (actually 15 because one withdrew from school that day), I have one student who just exited the ESOL program.  I have one student is a “consultative ESE student”, and one of my student has a 504 plan, which provides him additional time to work on assessments because his ADHD is so severe he cannot concentrate long enough to complete the questions in the allotted time.  When all was said and done on Tuesday, I had12 students (out of 21) who had no “mitigating circumstances” that could impact these students’ test results.  (Lots and lots of grease needed here)

Cue dramatic music – perhaps something from Inherit the Wind – as I make my closing arguments.  IF all 12 of the remaining 21 students score on grade level, my success rate would be a whopping 57%!  O.K., O.K. maybe not so dramatic, so for argument sake, let’s add the kid with the broken foot, the ESOL student, the kid on pain medication and the student who crossed out the wrong answers.  That would give me 16 out of 21 students who should have “reliable” test scores.  IF all 16 score a 3.0 or higher (at or above grade level), my success rate would jump to 76% - a C, average, satisfactory – certainly not highly effective or exemplary.  Certainly not something that screams “bonus worthy.”

Last month, Representative Seth McKeel told me “the public deserve accountability” and that “good teachers need to be recognized for the work they do” as two of his reason why he was supporting SB 630.  I could not argue with either point.  I can argue, however, that ONE test – an assessment designed to “guide instruction” – is NOT the appropriate tool to gauge a teacher’s job performance.

Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak.  I will continue to squeak, speak, type, complain and rant in the hopes that enough people – or the right person – will hear my pleas and/or get the message.  A colleague of mine likes to use the expression, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.  The only thing that matters in the end is that you get a naked cat.”  There is more than one way to assess student achievement.  Shouldn’t there be more than one way to measure the effectiveness of a teacher?

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