Honest!

by Publius

I’ve been reviewing my standardized testing scores. They suck. Thank you, Sweet Jesus. By every indication, I teach in a low performing, ghetto school filled with poor whites, poor Blacks and dozens of disadvantaged immigrants. So my scores suck. My scores from my regular classes suck, and even my college credit kids did poorly. I’m relieved. I give a lot of standardized tests. Fortunately, I don’t give THE STATE TEST, in which we gained a gazillion points and scored 93%.

Educators around the country are in a panic. At last count, almost 200 educators in Atlanta were caught cheating on THE STATE TEST. There’s talk of indictments. These clowns had cheating parties, in which whole faculties changed answers on scantrons. Personally, I’m not shocked by the cheating. I am impressed by the chutzpah.

In truth, my school didn’t cheat on THE STATE TEST this year. We tried that last year. One guy just wrote the answers on the board, indicating also who would get what answers wrong. That drove our scores up so high that we had to have a huge increase in this year.

So this year, we didn’t cheat on the test. We just rigged who took it. And the state is fine with this. Indeed, it provided guidelines for fair and square cheating. In some districts, you can exclude kids you know will flunk the test. The school can exclude kids who flunked last year. You can exclude kids who are special ed., who don’t speak English, and you can exclude kids who don’t have 100% attendance. At a meeting, I asked if we could exclude kids whose feet can still be used for gripping. But a lot of this we just couldn’t use. First, 95% of our kids passed, because the central office decided we need a 95% graduation rate. Secondly, we often get 100% attendance from our future felons, because the parents don’t want the kid at home any more than we want the kid in our classroom. So that left the foot inspection. We stuffed special ed. classes to the max, and decided that a kid doesn’t speak English if that kid has a vaguely foreign sounding last name.

The Metropolitan School District is one step below full accreditation. Thus are there several other means used to measure the school besides THE STATE TEST scores. I just mentioned graduation rates. So this year, we had a 95% graduation rate. I presume the 5% who flunked were chosen by dart – put 100 names on a wall, take five darts, you get the rest. Then there’s college acceptance. Of our 95% graduates, 100% applied and were accepted into a college of their choice or not. The junior college has open admissions, so everyone, regardless of reluctance, ambivalence or even outright opposition, everyone applies and is accepted by the junior college. In cases where the kid refuses to apply, a counselor fills-in the application and just has the kid sign. This is considered perfectly acceptable by the state. There’s no follow-up. The kid just has to be accepted. Nobody cares if the kid attends.

The state provides us with all the previous tests. Oh, yea, and this year the state fired the folks who grade the test. Budgetary cut-backs. So all the kids have to do is bubble-in scantrons. No essays, no nothing that requires more than a minimum wage temp, one temp mind you, to feed one automatic grader machine with a hundred thousand scantrons.

So we cheated fair and square. And the state is just fine with this. They never question it. Indeed, a state pooh-bah signs-off on all this. The state wants all this gone as much as we want all this out of our lives. The state knows, just as districts know, that everyone is stuck with a political attempt to solve an educational problem, an attempt, however well intended initially, that has gone terribly wrong.

But, thanks to Atlanta, someone has got to hang. And if it wasn’t Atlanta, it would have been Boston. And if it wasn’t Boston, it would have been this one or that one.

So no doubt there’s a coming shit storm. And we’re talking projectile defecating. It’s not like it would be hard to discover cheating here. Even an inexperienced investigative reporter would question attendance, for example. One measure for the state accreditation is attendance. So, in the last few weeks of the academic year, everyone is marked present. Everyone. The whole district. Some of us turn in our attendance sheets first thing in the morning, before we even go to our classes. An inner city school district with 100% attendance for weeks on end. Really? That and our school scored 93% on THE STATE TEST. An investigative reporter wouldn’t have to look hard. Luckily for the Metropolitan School District, our newspaper doesn’t have many investigative reporters left, another institution that’s been gutted.

When did I ever think it would be in my best interest to shout from the school rooftop, “MY SCORES SUCK! Hey, look, my scores obviously — obviously — reflect that I teach in a low performing ghetto school. YOU JUST CAN’T FAKE THAT! … or, well, you can I guess, I guess if you can fake good scores, then you can fake bad, but I didn’t … AND I HAVE NEVER GIVEN THE STATE TEST! HONEST!”

When we demand that a school increase a yearly test score by some impossible number, we don’t simply ask way too much of the school. We ask too much of human nature. Too much from a teacher with a kid in Cornell. Too much from a principal with a mortgage. As for the children, a buddy put it well when he referred to such testing test as “just one more thing for a ghetto kid to fail.” When overwhelmed with anxiety, people will use every means to decrease the anxiety, and, in this case, increase the test scores.

Not long ago, a student teacher asked me, “What is the greatest change you’ve seen in the last ten or fifteen years?” My answer surprised me as much as it surprised her. I answered with a question. ‘When did testing become morally ambiguous?’

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