Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When ARE we going to talk about my kids?...Part 2

Today I decided to support the National Resolution on High Stakes Testing. http://timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution/ I support the resolution because I feel the same way most teachers do about high stakes testing. I also wanted to take a moment to describe how the testing culture trickles down into classrooms that serve students with more pronounced cognitive limitations...you know, my kids. My kids have to complete a NYS Alternate Assessment Datafolio. Each grade level has "alternate level grade indicators." (AGLI) Teachers choose 2 ELA, 2 Math and for some grades Social Studies and/ or Science in elementary school. In high school, it's all subjects. We can chose discrete trial samples, video evidence or work samples to prove progress in each AGLI. There is a handy manual about 1000 pages long with samples of tasks. Sounds reasonable so far, right? Unfortunately, it never seems to go as simply as it should. First of all, most AA teachers will tell you that working most children to complete a worksheet is like pulling teeth. Gathering video evidence requires parents of the student AND their peers to sign and return a consent form. That's harder than you think. Using work samples is the most simple way to complete a datafolio. Secondly, one can't just take a few samples of work the students are already doing. Teachers have to be sure that each work sample has directions written on it in the exact same language as the state. And of course, sometimes the language is nebulous. "SHow you can distinguish fact from opinion by selecting and identifying statements of fact and opinion from a fact based text." True story - a coach told me that the fact based text I chose for this one wasn't good enough, because the fact based text I used wasn't cited. The facts I was trying to get the student to identify were: A weatherperson tell us the weather. They will tell us if it will be hot or cold. I had to design a new task. Also - teachers are charged with scoring these pieces of work with a % of answers that are correct AND a level of independence. The levels of independence are from 0 to 100. What does an independence level of 47% mean vs. 54%? And yes, they do "count" on a school's report card and stuff. WHen the datafolios are sent to the state, students scores can be thrown out if a teacher misnumbers the pages or even if a student makes an errant mark on the page that a teacher didn't write "student made errant mark" and does not initial it. The scorers do not have access to the students IEPs or any other evaluations. So, if I choose simple AGLIs without weird language, give the kids work that's easy for them and they can do independently, give them a fresh sheet if they doodle on it, and number the pages correctly....they get 4s. Or, I could give them difficult work and do it hand over hand and then they get a 4 for correct answers and a 1 for independence? Or I could just lie. Or even do it myself - we can give them tasks that are cutting and gluing. Then I look like a highly effective teacher and maybe get a bonus! Not only is this process really easy to skew, it's more a test of the teacher's ability to dot bureaucratic i's and cross bureaucratic t's. Finally, it's also gigantic time consuming, money sucking, tree-killing pain in the ass.