Thursday, January 02, 2014

Bubble Kids

Very soon it will be back to school time after winter break.  In this day and age, what that really means in Texas is "back to cramming for the STAAR tests" time. 

I'd like to share with you some things I found out in my years as a public school teacher about how that works.  You might want to get something to bite.

First of all, if you have not worked in a public school in the last decade, you would be pretty astounded at the number of staff hours that are devoted to analyzing STAAR (formerly TAKS) test data.  Regardless of whether your students are so poor and live in such a violent neighborhood that it is a first class miracle that they make it to school hungry each morning or whether your students speak English at all, or whether they will ever have the developmental ability to read a sentence - they are going to have to pass those tests or your school will be severely punished.  Poverty, societal violence, pollution, lead poisoning, head injuries - none of that matters: it is all the responsibility of the individual teacher or school.  Get with it.  The stakes are high.  If you fail, you have to spend more time and money on testing, and more and can definitely get worse.  No one is taking any chances.

Each school has a testing coordinator - an assistant principal or counselor or someone -  who is in charge of testing for that year.  That person spends a whole lot of time that could be spent on disciplining or counseling students or supporting and helping teachers in their classroom goals for students instead sequestered in the Super-Secret-Sam Testing Cave That None Can Enter.  They have to do many mysterious and detail-oriented things to the coding of each student's test, etc.  I do not have a very complete idea of what all of that entails, beyond the parts that are detailed in the really long manual we all have to read, because None Can Enter.  That person tends to have a lot of stress.  And people miss them a lot.  It sure does not stop there, though.

All test administrators - teachers and everyone else who gets pulled in and all the people who have to be trained in case someone gets sick or has to go to the bathroom (bathroom procedures - a whole other post) have to attend a training.  They have to read a manual.  They have to Sign An Oath (I am not kidding) that they have done these things and will comply with All The Rules (All The Rules include word for word scripts that must be read completely accurately at perfectly timed intervals to students during testing and careful instructions on who can touch what piece of paper - again, a whole other post). 

But that is nothing.

Teachers generally get one 45-minute planning period per day in which to prepare their lessons, grade papers, etc.  Some of these are regularly sacrificed for a variety of Meetings.  These days, those meetings concern STAAR data. Teachers and counselors and administrators are expected to run detailed reports on the previous STAAR testing performance of each and every student in their class/school.  They are expected to give the students benchmark tests through which they can hopefully gauge student progress on each and every standard on the tests.  The State contracts with expensive Testing Industry Specialists who help provide templates on how exactly certain forms of past performance will predict future performance. Sometimes teachers have to get subs and take days out of teaching to further analyze this data - always teachers spend hours and hours of after-school time doing this.  These templates provide guidance for the individual plans teachers must make for each student in order to assist each student's progress toward passing the STAAR tests.  Sort of.

Teachers are not afraid of hard work, mind you.  The bad part is what teachers are forced to do with the data. 

All the number crunching comes down to the concept of Bubble Kids.  

See, the Testing Industry has it all figured out.  Some students are obviously going to pass the tests based on their past performance.  Some students - well, they pretty clearly are not going to pass (especially when their teachers and administrators are forced to spend so much time on testing preparation).  It's the other students - the ones with past performance in a certain range of scores above and below passing - those are the ones teachers are told to zone in on: The Bubble Kids. 

 See - if you spend extra time on the Bubble Kids - get them in for after school tutoring, design your classroom lessons heavy on the specific standards with which they need more help - well, you are going to get more results in terms of more kids passing than if you target your efforts equally towards them and the students who are probably going to pass without your help and the kids who probably are not going to pass no matter how much you help.

The Bubble Kids are where you get the most bang for your buck, where you can most effectively raise your school's all-important passing rates.

Teachers are firmly, firmly, firmly instructed to focus their strategies on those Bubble Kids.  

They are color-coded.  

The teachers know them all by name. 

I'm not kidding.  

This is what is going on in your kid's public school, very much against the will of the teachers and other fine folks who work there. 

See why you needed something to bite?

Feel free to talk to your legislators about testing.  Testing has, thankfully, been somewhat de-emphasized in high school since last Session, in the sense that there are fewer tests, but that does not help the elementary and middle school students at all. 

Bubble kids.  Don't forget.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Sounds like a great way to turn teachers and kids into robots. Sigh.