Friday, May 23, 2008

Mixed Results

This week, our school got back the results of what those in the public eye view as the ultimate, singular measure of public education's performance: the TAKS test scores. I'm proud to say that, having dedicated four weeks prior to the actual exam (under compulsion), of the 77 students in my preAP and AP classes that took the TAKS test, all but 9 earned "commended" status, as they should have. A sparkling 88%. I've certifiably now a B+ teacher.

It is at this point that I would like to remind everyone that the TAKS test, although noticeably more comprehensive marginally more challenging in recent years, and not just because of the more confusing current formula chart, is still a test of minimum skills. It is a test that our society says is the LEAST that each high school graduate should know. Have no doubt that our schools teach these requisite skills, reteach these skills, and re-re teach them. We place so much emphasis on teaching to this "bottom line," that it requires a very determined student to NOT pick up the skills. Yet every year, and this year is no exception, our school failed to be recognized, which means that not only did our students not earn 100 percent passing, but far, far less.

The state breaks the results down into every imaginable subgroup demographic, and every school must make measurable advances each year to meet state mandated requirements, lest they fail to earn the title of "Blue Ribbon," "Commended," "Relatively Awesome!" "Modicum of Sufficiency," or "Certified Crappy." It's not enough to make significant advances overall. No, we as a school must make statistically significant strides in our Hispanic, African-American, ESL, Low Socio-Economic, Polish-speaking, and Unwilling to Learn subpopulations. A failure to advance any single group, from the twenty five year-old sophomores, to the grey-haired juniors, to the apathetic freshman with a biological predisposition for caffeine-induced insomnia and a soporific proclivity sparked by the sound of an instructor's voice, means that we, as "incompetent" teachers get a cursory pat on the back and a giant, deliberate wallop on the arse.

And being a math teacher, means we get a free extra wallop, as it's usually the math scores that are the culprit. In fact, at a faculty meeting the other morning to announce our "shimmering" results, the news was followed by the words "but the math scores . . ." This lead to a collective sigh of "yeah, those math people, if only they . . ." from the group of "Free Ice Cream and Video Games" teachers sitting behind me. I turned around and snidely remarked, "You expect me to actually try to teach a subject that practically teaches itself? Hey, I only get paid to assign abstrusely incomprehensible worksheets." I don't think they sensed my mirth. I wish teaching math went as smoothly as getting a student to realize that a "carnivore" will eat a "toad" over a "rock," or that there's more to "The Diary of Anne Frank" than its lack of alliteration.

Although I'm not dissatisfied with the performance of my preAP and AP students, unfortunately, not ALL my students earned Kudos. Aside from the nine students who did not perform at the highest level acknowledged by our great state, but nonetheless passed, eleven of my most important students didn't even make the cut. These are the students who were assigned to be specifically because they were at risk of not passing. I took on the challenge with my usual faithful commitment to those great kids. But despite my daily, diligent, determined, damned-good efforts since December to pound and inculcate TAKS math (and a host of prerequisite skills and insight) into them, often against their will, eleven out of twelve did not pass the test. With intensive, daily, invigorating, entertaining, and sacacious lessons, I was still unable to penetrate the the students' brains.

On one hand, I feel like I have let them down. Many of them had genuine interest in learning an wanted to pass the test, I am very grateful for the one girl who did, but most of them just had too far to progress to be at a level they and I wanted to be at on test day. On the other hand, I know (hope) that my positive relationship with them has given them some renewed confidence and enthusiasm for learning that will lift them to the winner's platform next year. Until then, I'll keep my fingers crossed.


Anonymous said...

no comment.

Brenda said...

You didn't let them down.

Anonymous said...

You can't save them all.

kwkorpi said...

What's with the "no comment" comment. Doesn't that defeat the purpose. It mathematical literary circles, we would call that a statement with eccentricity greater than 1!

Say something positive or save it for the teacher's lounge!