Ahhhh, were does the time go? I think the reason this week has been so spare for me in blog land is that there really isn't anything new happening in my classroom at the moment. I have really been pushing my friends to finish their research reports, and today was the day we had to be done. It's been funny to see how my friends reacted to my "gentle nudging" to not waste time and stay on task. They really kicked it into high gear and worked like authors on fire!
On Tuesday, we had a new student join our class. He's just moved to New Jersey from a far away state that shall remain nameless. I think he's a little overwhelmed at our work pace and the expectations. While we were finishing up the research reports, I gave him one of our benchmark writing assessments to get a feel for his writing ability. After reading it, I began to think about continuity in expectations at each grade level across the country. I am getting the feel that what was considered exceptional work for this child in his previous school would be considered average work here in my school. I'm just saying for this particular child, from the particular school he was in, the level of proficiency expected seems to be a lot lower there than what we require in my particular school, in my classroom.
This then got me thinking about about the common core standards. They should go a long way in making sure that content across the country is similar. However, I don't know how we can make sure the levels of proficiency are the same. This falls to the state testing, but then not every state takes the same test or takes it under the same conditions. In New Jersey, across the state students are required to take the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge or NJASK at various grade levels. When my friends take the test, we are required to remove any and all teaching posters or visuals from the room. We can't leave anything up that may in any way help the students. Our classrooms are absolutely bare during the week of state testing. However, I know in some states, that's not required. Some states allow you to leave up any posters or charts that are part of your normal instruction. So, how fair is that? Also, how do these state tests compare in rigor across the country? Shouldn't they all be similar?
I then started thinking about merit pay based on student achievement. I simply don't understand how this can be fairly applied to teachers with any continuity. Let's take my new friend from the far away state as an example. His previous report cards and his test scores are excellent. His previous teacher, if being evaluated on student achievement for merit pay, would fare very well. According to all indicators, this child is achieving and doing so quite nicely. Now, take this same child and plunk him down in my classroom and it's a different story. Based on the work samples I have, this friend would not be receiving the same high grades in my school. I also suspect when taking the NJASK he will not score as well as his did on the other state's assessment. So, is this a reflection on me? Does this mean I'm not meeting his needs? And, should I be paid accordingly even though the standards seem to vary?
I'm always suspect when I hear people demanding merit pay for teachers. I'm especially suspect when I know the multitude of variables that impact a child's achievement, many of which are beyond our control. I don't think looking at student achievement as small part of teacher evaluation is a terrible idea, but we are a long, long way from being ready to do it. There has to be continuity in this evaluation for all teachers across the country. And, how do they plan to account for all those variables that teachers just don't control? I also want to know how you plan to evaluate special teachers under the same system. I don't have any answers to any of this. To be honest, I wonder if anyone will be able to resolve this in a fair and impartial way. I just needed to brain dump a little tonight!
But, here is what I do know. I love what I do. Regardless of any of this, teaching my friends has never been the problem. I know I am doing my best everyday to ensure that my friends are learning and making progress. Perhaps, I might even be encouraging them to have fun (GASP!) while doing it! And in that spirit, I will be posting on Saturday and Sunday afternoon since I missed out this week. The new posts will be the ones I promised here. If you don't make it back to my little blog over the weekend, have a great one!