Monday, July 25, 2011

When "jargon" became more important than kids

Every profession has its share of jargon that only those in the profession fully understand (or care to understand).  Acronyms, abbreviations and Greek and Latin terms are normally used to either expedite communication or to clarify (or in many cases specify) exactly what process, test, or procedure is needed.  In education, however, acronyms have an entirely different purpose – accountability.  Think you understand education jargon?  See how well you do understanding this scenario:
 Pablo is a 10-year old ESOL student, who recently enrolled in a new school.  The AP at his new school reviews his CUM folder and SIF folder and enters his name into TERMS.  She discovers that Pablo has an active IEP.  Originally, he had a 504-Plan, but after extensive class time spent in an RtI group, which was established in response to NCLB, he was referred for additional testing.  Using a Connors (to make sure he is not ADHD), an IQ test and other ESE testing instruments, it was determined that Pablo was SLD.   The 504-Plan was closed and an IEP was written because students cannot have both designations.   Due to the ADA of 1990, Pablo was placed in his least restrictive environment – a regular education class.  The AP notes that Pablo’s IEP minutes will be met through pull-out services.  Pablo’s most recent FCAT scores show that he is a Level 1 reader and a Level 1 math student.   He attended a six-week Summer Reading Camp at the end of third grade and scored at the 51st percentile on the SAT 10.  The AP makes a notation that Pablo’s new teacher and the Reading Strategies Coach will need to continue to provide both Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction and that Pablo’s progress in reading will be monitored using bi-weekly ORF and MAZE assessments and quarterly using FAIR.  These scores will be entered into AIMS and printouts of his scores will be kept in his SIF folder.  During math instruction, Pablo will be pulled out of his regular education class and placed in a Tier 3 or  “triple I” group with other ESE students.  His ORF, MAZE, FAIR and FASTT Math scores, along with scores on his Reading and Math Benchmark Assessments, will be entered by the school district into Performance Matters.  Pablo’s classroom teacher will print these scores and keep them in a Data Monitoring notebook. Data Monitoring notebooks will be reviewed twice a quarter to ensure that Pablo’s classroom teacher, ESE teacher and the Reading Coach are recording data, analyzing Pablo’s strengths and weaknesses and differentiating instruction to meet Pablo’s needs.  Pablo’s classroom teacher will also document in his lesson plans all the SSS and Access Points that are covered in each lesson, not to mention the ESOL strategies.  Finally, the AP then sends an email to Pablo’s new teacher suggesting that he write his IPDP based on how well Pablo (and the other ESE and ESOL students in his class) do on FCAT Reading this year.  She notes that if these students do well,  the school might achieve AYP.
Some will argue that these programs, student designations and assessment measures were needed to make teachers, administrators and school districts more accountable for student learning.  Others will tell you that quality instruction, teacher-driven assessment, cooperative learning and critical thinking, have been sacrificed as a result of a numbers-driven mentality.  Norm-referenced assessments, like those accumulated in the most recent NAEP report, show that students in Florida – and across America – have made little gains in reading, math and science over the past 25 years despite these measures. 
How do we fix this problem?  There is no panacea.  We can do a few simple things, though.  We can start by eliminating high-stakes testing.  One test is not an accurate reflection of student learning.   Secondly, we need to stop the ridiculous practice of “categorical funding” that separate facilities and operations money.   Finally, and most important, we need to move educational decision-making away from the federal and state levels and return it to the local level.  Who knows better what students in our schools need than the teachers and administrators who work with them every day? 
The students I taught 20 plus years ago are now the doctors, lawyers, and teachers you see today. Apparently, we didn’t do too bad of a job before all the jargon.