Sunday, November 23, 2014

When Teachers Drop the Ball on Uncontrolled Testing: A Guest Post by Daniel Hornberger

Due to an administrative error at the high school where I teach, a large group of students fell through the cracks and were not given the state-mandated tests. When the state’s idiotic State Performance Profile was released two weeks ago, the school’s number had dropped significantly...due to the above “problem.” So when the high school principal addressed the faculty, he explained that, yes, the number did drop, and, yes, it was due to miscommunication among the outgoing and incoming administration. He closed by saying this wouldn’t happen again and we would all need to work together to ensure that number would increase.
When he finished his report, I walked to the front of the LGI and, armed with a simple PowerPoint, explained to the entire faculty exactly how the SPP is calculated: 90% of the score comes from test data...including SAT participation. I asked the staff, “Can anyone tell me why that makes sense?” A few shook their heads. When I showed them that the final 10% considers graduation rate, attendance rate, and PSAT participation, I anticipated they’d quickly become as angry as I was. But I was wrong. They simply stared at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. I tried to make them understand that it makes no sense at all to include scores from tests created by the College Board let alone the PSSA tests, which are highly invalid, ineffective, and damaging to kids.
One colleague said, “But the SPP is still out there and realtors use it on Zillow when they sell homes.”
I responded, “So we’re using kids’ test scores to establish real estate value?”
Someone diverted the discussion into complaining about our district’s lack of strong leadership. The principal and assistant principal didn’t comment because they had departed before I even began. I leaned against a table and listened as they attempted to deflect all of the district’s ills onto the administration. One quote in particular made me laugh. A colleague said, “Well, we probably shouldn’t complain about our current administrators. If they leave, we have no idea who we’ll get.”
That vapid remark almost sparked my departure, but another colleague asked, “Aren’t our evaluations and salaries based on these scores?”
I wanted to yell, “OUR SALARIES ARE DETERMINED BY THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT! AND IF WE REFUSE TO ADMINISTER THE TESTS, THEN THEY CAN’T USE THE DATA IN OUR EVALUATIONS!” At that precise moment, I thought of something Dr. Mark Naison said to me: “Pennsylvania won’t take the lead. It’ll be New York, New Jersey or even California who will. People in Pennsylvania tend to wait until other states make the big decisions.”
Most of my colleagues simply don’t care. It’s easier to follow orders. It’s easier to nod in agreement with whatever the administration says. It’s easier to complain about the lousy free breakfast during Education Week or not having enough “Wear Blue Jeans Days."
I simply shook my head and said, “Look, if you’re okay perpetuating something that harms kids in order to pad your own wallets, that’s on you.” I picked up my laptop and walked out. I’m disgusted and disillusioned. Dr. Naison hit the nail on the head.