I returned to school this August with bated breath: How did I do on the California Standards Test (CST)?
Of course, I hadn't taken the test myself. My students had. But, in the era of Evaluate Teachers Using Standardized Test Scores Because Lazy/Incompetent Teachers Are- The Problem In Public Education, I couldn't help but take my student's scores personally-a reflection of my success or failure as a teacher.
Well, I failed. Maybe.
On the one hand, I noted with chagrin that, while the 4th Grade at Kitayama Elementary did pretty well last year--with 72% of our students proficient or advanced in Language Arts (12 points above the state average) and 78% proficient or advance in math (18 points above), I (my students) garnered 61% and 73% respectively---still above the state average, but below my colleagues' scores.
I was the 4th grade's weak link last year. I guess I ought to hang my head in shame, cower in my classroom.
On the other hand, my scores the previous year exceeded both the state's and Kitayama's 4th grade average--which was ironic since it was my first year teaching 4th grade. Go figure!
Perhaps all can be explained by the fact that two-thirds of my students last year were Title 1 (poor, low-performing), more than in any other class.
And yet, one of my colleagues had a preponderance of English-Language-Learners in his class, and they did fine on the CST. So, really, I have no excuse.
U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would like to publish my CST scores so parents could choose the best teacher for their children.
Eeeks! Would parents remember that I have a masters degree, 27 years of experience? That I was once a mentor teacher, a teacher trainer, a teacher of the year?
Probably not. Parents of the best students would see my abysmal CST scores from last year and insist the principal place their children anywhere but with me--thus ensuring that my scores would drop even more this year. What a disaster that would be!
I can take comfort in the fact that there's a movement to use, not raw test scores to evaluate teachers, but value-added scores: By how much did my students improve?
Well, 21 of my 33 kids improved in Language Arts, and 18 in math, some by two categories; rising, for example, from Below Basic to Proficient, and from Basic to Advanced in just one year! Only 1 of my students went down in Language Arts, and just 3 in math. Not too shabby! (How can any child's skills get worse?)
Educators in the know, however, understand that the 3rd grade CST is much more demanding than the 2nd or 4th grade tests. So, despite their best efforts, most 3rd grade teachers see kids' scores decline, while their 4th grade counterparts enjoy the opposite.
Do my students' improved scores mean anything at all? And, if Duncan succeeds in publishing teachers' CST scores, would anyone at all dare to teach 3rd grade? Or Title 1 students?
I lamented my CST failure to my friend and principal, who replied with a wry smile, "You know, Dave, it's not all about you." (Damn! She knows me too well.) "There are so many factors that influence test scores, a myriad of uncontrolled variables. The best thing you can do is to let go of your ego, and to utilize the test like we used to: Investigate which sections your students found the most difficult on the exam, compare those results to other measures of their skills, then adjust your instruction accordingly.
"And remember," my principal added, "your primary job is not to raise test scores, but to prepare children to live a great life by instilling in them essential skills and knowledge, a love of reading and learning, self confidence, critical thinking, and joy. That's what really matters."
Tell that to Arnie Duncan.