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Testing, Teaching, Leadership and the Achievement Gap

Posted By: Fred Welfare on November 2, 2014
Teachers do not teach curriculum, teachers teach students. The ridiculing of testing, of teaching to the test, and even of reasoning has missed the point that students need to learn a topic to mastery, to know the reasons why. There is no point is moving onto to the next topic in the curriculum if the students have not learned the current topic to mastery. This is where the entire system has gone wrong. Teachers were directed to address a topic and then move onto the next topic on schedule. There was no review, no reteaching, no scaffolding in any sense. If a group of students cannot effectively address a problem that will be formally tested, then the teacher should focus on that weakness by repeated lessons and from different tactics, perspectives or activities. But, the history of the educational system has been to follow a curricular schedule. How did the rich adapt: tutors outside of school.

Likewise, if a school district is performing poorly, then the leadership should address this problem by adding more services like more security personnel, more supervisors, more staff, and more professional developers. Leadership should also reduce class size and increase the number of counselors. Has any district ever done this? Until charter schools arrived, it was unspeakable at the leadership level. However, what do the richer districts do: decrease class size, reduce teaching loads, increase security and counselors, provide rich professional development like paid conferences for ALL teachers. So, the claim that poverty schools are forever stuck at the bottom is the result of the ideology of the leadership. If the city increases the per student funding rate, the suburbs jack up their tax rates so that the per student funding rate is at least twice that of any city district, and the same for city teachers' pay: suburban teachers typically make twice as much and their jobs are easier because their students have more social capital.

The claim that the Common Core was the cause of the decrease in test scores is nonsense. The cause of the decrease in test scores was the result of the automated test scoring system recently implemented. For years, teachers graded their own students' tests, but in 2013, all scoring was automated so that teachers had to score hundreds of tests from students who they did not know. What motive did these teachers have for carefully reading an unknown student's written answer; whether they clicked right or incorrect did not matter - no test score of any item could be reviewed and even if the results of a test were reviewed afterwards and it was found that test items were incorrectly graded, no changes were accepted. Typically, 2 teachers would grade each student's test answers and arrive at a determination of its correctness. In cases were a student was on the edge near a passing score, teachers would review the test to locate their own errors in grading. This process of grading was called pejoratively "scrubbing." This is in fact a fair procedure for determining an accurate test score, but the leadership was embarrassed when they heard of the procedure because they thought that normally perspicacious teachers were wildly cheating. Perhaps teachers were cheating but they were cheating by not addressing curricular tasks to ensure students had mastery. These students had no chance of reaching a nearly passing score. The result of the automated scoring produced an overly objective test scoring system which eliminated the need for a fair assessment. In effect, why not simply design all tests as multiple choice items and eliminate the interpretation of student responses altogether.

The achievement gap is a product of unfair funding. The state administration knows that tax levies in rich districts supplement the distribution of tax revenues at a formulaic rate. These tax levies supplement state funds dramatically. In fact, state judicial agencies have had to limit these tax levies to 3-4% a year! because so many people were getting hit with 5-9% tax increases per year!! The increase in each non-urban district easily dwarfs what the city can provide from the state formula-funding mechanism: teachers are paid double the salary of the city teachers, the schools are all new buildings, air-conditioned, with special sports facilities. Many teachers make 30-40% in addition to their salary through extracurricular activities while city teachers drag themselves home stressed out from over-crowded classrooms with hostile students. Often, the city hires coaches from non-teaching positions to meet the demand for coaching. Extracurricular overtime hours are often unpaid because no one wants the job. City schools are mandated to provide tutoring, but no students show up!

The blame can be put squarely on the shoulders of the leadership who fail to make necessary changes to counter the achievement gap: smaller class size, more resources for impoverished schools, more highly qualified teachers and a system where privileges, like sports, are earned. In fact, there needs to be a complete paradigm shift as to how learning happens in a school, imagine the isolated teacher!!! At least we can thank recent events for revealing the nonsense going on in sports. Consider that a high school has over 26 sports teams per year but gym classes with 50 students per teacher and then add that in to your awareness of test scores and the necessity of studying. Schools are spaces of intense contestation and until that tension is dissolved by proper supervision and expectations, the achievement gap and its attendant indicators of low property value and segregation will persist.
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 Testing, Teaching, Leadership and the Achievement Gap by Fred Welfare on November 2, 2014
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