Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teachers and Test Scores

I always have such mixed feelings when I hear about a mass firing of teachers.

Yesterday, 241 teachers in Washington, D.C. lost their jobs. It's hard for me to imagine that many teachers being let go since the town in which I worked only had a few more than that in the entire district. It's also hard for me to believe that that many teachers are doing such a poor job that they deserve to be fired.

If the teachers are truly incompetent, then letting them go probably benefits everyone, including the teachers. What I want to know is how that many incompetent teachers got hired in the first place. That certainly isn't the fault of the teachers, but of the personnel director (or whoever does the hiring). Doesn't anyone check on the applicant's competency levels at the time of hiring?

I also think that being fired because of the student's test scores is terribly unfair. Yes, I know that the only way we have to judge what the students are learning is through standardized testing, but I also know how students take these tests. Too many of them don't read the questions. Many simply make designs on their answer sheets. I actually had students who tried to get a low score so that no one would expect anything of them. Some mark wrong answers just to be defiant. One student I had was upset that his mother had recently married a man that he didn't like. In an effort to hurt her, he did nothing in school or on standardized tests.

I also know that in some schools the courses are not divided evenly. In other words, some teachers may get all the top classes with the best students, while others get assigned remedial classes with the lowest performing students. It's obvious which teachers will appear to be doing the best job. The fact of the matter is that just because students are performing badly on tests doesn't mean the teachers are doing a bad job. It might mean that, but it might not.

I think I've said before that when I started teaching I taught remedial classes all day long. Teachers who had been there longer always got the higher level classes. My students showed improvement. Often I was able to raise their scores from a 3rd grade level to a 6th grade level. Sound's good, doesn't it? Unfortunately, these were 9th grade students who were still performing three levels below their grade. Does that mean I would have been fired because my students were still getting low test scores? Possibly.

I guess I just want to watch and see what happens. Can 241 competent teachers be hired in the next few weeks? And in a year, if the test scores are still low (which I imagine they will be), will another 241 teachers lose their jobs and another 241 be hired? I wonder how many times that will have to happen before someone realizes that it's not just the teachers' fault. It's probably time some started looking at other causes and other solutions.
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