Saturday, January 16, 2010

Budget Woes, Testing Dilemmas and Math Standards

The governor released the budget yesterday and I've got a headache today. He thinks we need three more furlough days before June. He thinks wrong. We're already cancelling summer school. We're already doing more this year than we've ever done and expected to stay later and later and meet on non-meeting days with no compensation.

We also got a memo from the governor discussing legislation concerning The Race to the Top and merit pay - where half of our salary would come from student gains. Uh, really Sonny? Have you met these rascals I teach? They don't care if they write down a spelling assignment. I'm not tying my house payment and groceries to these incompentent rugrats.

While non-teachers think we've got it made, they've never dealt with the stress of getting these kids ready for a state test. And seriously, that is ALL education in this state has come down to - getting them ready to pass a test. (Remember that cheating scandal? The judge who sentenced one of them said he didn't agree with what had been done, but he understood the stress teachers and administrators found themselves under during testing.)

The passing score is only an 800 but this score is meaningless. Parents think that Johnny gets an 800 and all is right with the world when, in fact, Johnny makes an 800 and he's only mastered 40% of what he needs to know to go on to the next grade. What rattles my world is the fact that schools let everybody pass, no matter what the test score until they get to 5th grade and THEN they get KRAZY about their scores. I've got kids who failed the state test in math in 3rd and 4th grade and now we're expected to get them ready to pass the 5th grade test.

A few years ago, people complained that the state standards were a mile wide and an inch deep. Now, they're a mile wide and a mile deep. I have to teach 153 standards in math alone. Got that? I'm talking technology, fractions, geometry, data, decimals, and number sense. Yet I still have students counting on their damned fingers to add. Are you kidding me?

We were able to put a man on the moon in 1969 when I was starting 4th grade. That year, I learned my multiplication tables. I was not on the fast track to all this other stuff - I was able to learn (LEARN) these vital facts until they became a part of my being. Then we learned how to do multiplication problems. Then we learned division. And how to do long division.

We spent six months on fractions. And decimals.

In order to survive higher level math, students need to master - MASTER - everything about fractions and decimals. If you can't find an equivalent fraction or add decimals properly, you don't need to be finding the circumference of a circle when you're 10. There's no need for it.

When we put Neil Armstrong on the moon, we did it with guys who had mastered math like I did and they managed to do those higher level calculations with freaking slide rules.

We have overloaded and overwhelmed these kids with so much, they don't have a chance to master anything. Granted, there are always kids who get it and need to go on. But, there are so many kids who don't have any number sense that I am constantly banging my head against the wall, trying to fill in their gaps. And the gaps are pothole wide.

We have screwed over education so badly in this state and in this country, the ramifications are going to be devestating. The high school math in this district is senseless. People ask why my daughters go to private school while I teach in the public school. While the mess in discipline at the middle and high school was one issue, I also point to high school math in my district. My daughters are math geniuses (okay, maybe not geniuses, but they are girls and pretty damned great) and I was not about to let some idiots in the county mess up their futures. The spiral crap in high school math they teach confounds the best teachers.

How about we try something and see how it goes for a decade or so? We never see if something works for more than a year or two in this district? My school has decided to push Larry Bell's words this year. WTF? Who is Larry Bell and why does his take on test verbs really matter? Oh - wait. Next year, it won't. Sorry.

I have digressed, but I think I've made my point. The ship is sinking and no one is coming to the rescue.

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Blogger Lennye said...

AMEN! I teach 5th grade in a Title 1 school. They come to me not understanding how we write paragraphs, but I'm expected to get them ready to pass the 5th grade writing test with a 90% success rate. They can't read, do math, much less know the eight parts of speech.

Funny thing is I'm the one whose health is in the toliet. The one already having anxiety attacks when I lay down at night, because God forbid I be the reason our school fails to meet AYP. Wonder if the K, 1st, and 2nd grade teachers go through that kind of stress?

Oh and if I fail to produce I can rest knowing that my administrator will point out my short comings in front of the entire staff using a graph comparison of homeroom test results!

Thank you for your post! You speak for us all!!!! (My children all go to private school too.)

1/16/2010 12:22 PM  
Blogger cupcake said...

Sing it, sister. Sing it loud and proud.

We fear the state is about to slither up our ass because we are in danger of not showing growth for the third year in a row, mostly thanks to an increasingly large stable of unmotivated students. How do you keep kids in school who refuse to show up for class? You can't pay them; that's been done before, and it tends to get people in trouble.

And our President thinks that teacher pay needs to be tied to student performance. That's just rich, isn't it? The very standard that seems to be exempt from every other profession is applied to ours.

My children attend public school and it'll stay that way until the one private school in town becomes concerned about teaching their kids something as opposed to avoiding lawsuits for molestation and raising money for new soccer fields. Unfortunately, those parents happily pay $15,000 a year for their little babies to avoid having to attend class with the great unwashed. I find it humorous every year to read where their graduates go to college as opposed to those from the public schools. Percentage-wise, we send a far greater number to the top tier schools than the private school does. So in my town, private school is not an option.

And now I must go prepare for a new semester of students, including yet another class of sophomores whom I have to hoodwink, beg and shame into performing well on the 10th grade writing assessment. That test, you see, has no student accountability whatsoever. You don't pass? Oh, well. But for us teachers? We cost the school money, we contribute to lack of growth, and we risk losing jobs and pay due to our students' poor performance.

Teaching is a GREAT career, non?

1/16/2010 2:09 PM  
Blogger Mom on the Run said...

We went through the Saxon math debacle a few years back when I swear the supt. was getting soon as he was gone, so was Saxon math. In and of itself, I think Saxon math is probably a pretty good thing, but not if you throw it down as a blanket over all the kids in the district. With that you have to start at the beginning, not in algebra. You know my story about my poor kid and being the rollout class for the new Math curriculum, so he has once again failed Math and will go to summer school for the third straight year. And he used to be good in and like math.

If we only had a couple kids I'm not sure that we wouldn't have sent them to private school, although our high school's IB program is awesome (Cobb's....not so much, that woman is nuts and they off total crapola for sixth subjects....but I digress). For my more average boys, public high school sucks the big one.

I don't know how you do it, but thank you for doing it. Rant away.

1/16/2010 5:18 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I totally hear you on this post. So I teach kindergarten and I conducted a little unintentional experiment (also risky, but I have tenure now and no merit pay so oh well) on my kids. Last year I prepped them for our testing (DIBELS) like none other. I am talking we did practice "tests"(course they didn't know it was that) every morning. All my kids passed.

This year I didn't bother with that I just taught normally. 9 kids didn't pass. Some of those kids are reading. My whole class is farther along in reading than my class was last year, but yet- since I didn't prep them for the test they didn't do as well.

Hmm...quality education huh?
Haven't had the meeting about the test yet and I am probably going to get in trouble. Looks like the test prep is going to come back to kindergarten. Sweet.

1/16/2010 8:03 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Oh and ps. Lennye- can't speak for your school but at my school the K-2 teachers DO go through that kind of stress, yipee!

1/16/2010 8:04 PM  
Blogger BabelBabe said...

as the parent of two public school students (both of whom are admittedly in gifted ed and are the kids who "get it and can go on"), I have to tell you how much I for one (an there are plenty more like me) really, truly appreciate all you guys do. I know it's not easy, and state requirements make your life harder, and I wish they didn't so you could just teach which I know the majority of you are incredibly gifted at...long and short of it, thank you. Not that that solves anything, but you ARE appreciated.

1/18/2010 8:41 AM  
Blogger teachergirl said...

Thanks for the encouraging words! I can't tell you how much it means to have someone say thanks and to appreciate what we do on a daily basis. I've always said that if I were a superintendent (local or state), I would make everyone in the office stay in the classroom. Too many people district and state offices have lost touch with reality and have no idea what's going on in the real world.

Cupcake: where in the world have you been? I have missed you crazy.

People who understand our dilemma understand it. People who don't just don't. I'm having the same panic attacks and the same nightmares. We have the same faculty meetings where everyone turns around and stares at the fifth grade team - but when we ROCK the test, there isn't any affirmation at all.

And MOTR - first off, it sucks that your kid is getting the raw end of this deal. I just don't understand how he's getting the shaft like this. And second, you're still having summer school? Our beloved county threw that out six months ago. We're going to have to have summer school during the end of the school year - prepping the kids who failed the state test the first time. Really? Can't wait.

1/18/2010 10:09 AM  
Blogger Melissa B. said...

And wait 'til they start linking our pay to the performance of our cherubs. Can't wait for THAT. Sounds like your guv might be kissin' cousins to our superintendent. Not a pretty picture!

1/18/2010 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I probably shouldn't even comment because no one is making me read this. I understand all your concerns with the testing. However, you really seem so negative about teaching I don't understand why you continue. Also, we are to be relocating to your area from our terrific PA schools and you have me terrified!

1/20/2010 3:18 PM  
Blogger teachergirl said...

Anonymous, make sure you understand the facts: I love the teaching part - it's the constant state, local and federal intervention into my classroom I am negative about. Perhaps you don't understand all my concerns about testing: by the year 2014, all students in grade 5, regardless of economic disadvantage, crackhead parents, ESOL status, Special Education status, gifted status or average kid status, will be required to pass the state test. This puts us all into an awkward situation - educate the whole child or teach to the test. Tie this to the fact that our governor and president want to tie my salary to student performance and you get a bitter teacher.

Perhaps you should check out teacher blogs across the country. You would get an eye opening.

1/20/2010 5:10 PM  
Blogger Ginger Snaps said...

I can SOOOO related to the constant changes made district and statewide! Standards are constantly rewritten, programs are given a shot for about a year and then after we've already tried something else, they realized that our test scores went up from the program before!

I was just ranting about the same sort of thing on my "rant" blog - - about how we also have these crazy students who disrupt class and affect everyone elses learning and then us teachers are held accountable! WTF is up that!?

Okay, I'm done. haha I'm bout to have a nervous break down, for real!

1/21/2010 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to teach school before I had my children. Luckily it was before No child left behind and the subsequent testing that followed. I can see the problems here in PA as well. I only read your blog posts b/c I was trying to learn about Georgia schools. It really has left me with a bad feeling about coming to Cobb County. We were looking at schools in the Marietta area. Please tell me something good about coming to your schools!!!


1/22/2010 2:40 AM  
Blogger Mom on the Run said...

Elizabeth, I live in the area and I can give you my opinion....been here 25 years and seen a lot. If you want to email me, you can click on my profile and find my address.

1/22/2010 9:30 AM  

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