Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is a child really more than a test score?

That's the line I'm going to be hearing in about two weeks at the NEA annual meeting; "A child is more than a test score".

I have to wonder, if they are truly, really more than a test score.

Case in point-- one of my former students, who, according to my ethics when it comes to this blog, shall remain nameless. Their situation is not unique; I've encountered it several times before.

Student X is completely unmotivated, yet grasps the subject matter for one of two reasons; either they've gotten it before in another class from another teacher, or they are interested enough in what I've been teaching so that they have shown a real aptitude on quizzes and tests (which I give too damn many of).

Throughout the year, they have been as lazy as the day is long, sloughing off homework assignments, coming late to class, cutting class and so on and so forth.

When the state standardized tests are given and the results have been returned, they pass. Not just pass, but pass with flying colors. Yet they fail miserably each and every quarter they're my student. At the end of the year, they have no mathematical snowball's chance in hell of passing (I average final grades based on percentage, not a 4.0 scale).

But keep in mind they've passed....the standardized test administered by the state for my subject. The only thing administrators in my district (or state) cannot fudge to get this kid to walk across the stage for their graduation. Which, by the way, won't happen for another two years.

So what do I do? Do I pass them? Do I fail them? Sure, they've answered questions about the subject matter in class and dazzled me (and astounded their classmates) with their brilliance, but that isn't the Puritanical work ethic that diplomas are made of, is it? I mean, I could pass them for my class, but would that devalue their diploma? Or the diploma of the countless others before and after them?

I remember being pulled aside by one of the senior teachers in my building, the chapter chair, actually. Keep in mind I teach in an urban district, and my students have about 1,678,456 more issues that they deal with than a suburban kid. I know this because I grew up in a suburban district.

My first year of teaching, there was a student who was a senior that failed me. Hard. I didn't fill out the paperwork to notify the central office that they were going to fail my course (one required for graduation) in time. I was a new teacher, so shoot me.

The CC pulled me aside and asked me about the student. I gave the lengthy details. They asked me:

"Are you going to be the stopper for this kid?"

I said 'What do you mean?'.

"Well," said the CC, "this kid has already made it through 11 or 12 years of school. They've successfully navigated around gangs, family problems, neighborhood issues and the like."

"I don't see what you're getting at." I said to the CC.

"The fact that they could fail your class would deny them a diploma. They're going to face other stoppers in life.

"Are you going to be their stopper?" I was asked by the CC.

I thought about it for a quick second and replied "No". The grade was changed and the kid graduated.

When I was entering grades at the end of the school year, I came upon student X. Failed my class each and every quarter, yet still passed the state exam with flying colors, and I asked myself--

"Am I going to be the stopper?"

I said no. Student X passed.


Anonymous said...

Great Post!

Ryan said...

What Gina said. This gets right to the heart of what we do and why we do it, doesn't it?

Glad to see you back, Doc, and have a great time at NEA!

Anonymous said...

What an honest post about what it's really like. Sometimes teachers have to make some pretty tough decisions. A lot of kids feel that the state tests are more important than anything else that they do in school. How sad.

Pissedoffteacher said...

I would have passed the student also. But, our state tests do not measure anything, I wonder if yours are any better.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should just let it go? Their laziness will be punished by life's experiences. You don't have to be the cop that arrests them.

Treating bedbugs

Dawn said...

Why aren't we questioning the fact that we put so much stock into the tests?!

loonyhiker said...

Great post! This also goes for the student who passes the class with flying colors and gets test anxiety and can't pass the test. The test is not everything.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure you did this student any favors. He's only a sophomore. I think it was your responsibility to make him accountable and learn the hard lesson, early. I would have been the "stopper". Let's make a statement, passing the state test isn't enough. Better yet, take a hand in guiding these children to be responsible citizens. Isn't that our job too. When he's dazzling you in class, pull him aside afterwards and pump him up to be more than he is. Engage him in a conversation about his strengths and potential to go to college. Relate with him you know what it's like to be a student, boredom, and get him excited about life and what he can do with his abilities to improve it. And then, continue to engage him in these types of conversations. Let's not enable complacency.


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