If you pay any attention to education news and politics, you know that the newest version of high stakes testing has been a big deal. As teachers, they told us that we should expect our test scores to plummet because the tests were much harder, especially because they included four writing assignments. My students’ pass rates have consistently been between 85-95%, depending on the grade level, the make-up of the class, family and health situations the night before and the morning of, the status of the moon, and the weather. I am not making that up.
We have been waiting anxiously on our scores since December 2014. I got my individual student scores back today, nearly 11 months to the day since my students took the test.
About two weeks ago, I had been warned that I only had a pass rate of about 40%. I kept thinking in the back of my mind that my scores couldn’t have been that bad; our school only offers honors classes, and most of the kids take their grades very seriously.
What I found out today is this: Each student’s score was mathed into three different “scores:”
- A scale score. I’m an English teacher and have no clue what that means, and since it is not part of my evaluation or what the public sees of my success/failure as a teacher: Don’t care.
- A rubric-like scale of four parts: beginning learner, developing learner, proficient learner, and distinguished learner. This is called the “Achievement Level.” Very, very frustrated by this.
- A Grade Conversion Score: All their data was magically morphed into a number between 0 and 100 that could be used on a report card. To quote one of my new favorite TV characters, this is the part where I am “extremely very not happy.”
Students who earned a grade scale conversion 70 to a 79 are listed as Developing Learners. Under a 70, they’re listed as a Beginning Learner. And, according to the infinite idiocy of the bureaucrats in charge, if the grade scale conversion score is under an 80, it’s considered failing for the teachers and is reported as such.
In the classroom, grades from 70-100 are considered passing. So riddle me this: If a kid earns a 78 in my class and passes it, and a 79 on the GMAS and fails it, how the heck does that make any sense?
Lemme tell you: It doesn’t.
If and when this stupidity actually counts against the kids, their grade scale conversion will be 20% of their classroom grade. I’m not totally fine with that, but I’m also not opposed to end of course testing, but that’s another post altogether.
What I am opposed to is a double standard. If a 70 is passing for a student, and enough to earn that student course credit, why is the same score not considered passing for me?
Let’s look at the math (the ELA teacher said, ironically.)
In December 2014, I had 33 ninth grade lit students sit for the GMAS. Here is my grade conversion breakdown, by students in that range:
Below 69: 4
According to the state, because they say anything under an 80 is failing, 24 of my 33 kids fail. According to common grading practice, I only had 4 kids fail.
That is the difference between, “Teacher X had a 59% failure rate.” And “Teacher X had a 12% failure rate.”
Or in the reverse, “Teacher X had a 39% pass rate” or “Teacher X had an 88% pass rate.”
My paycheck could/will soon be dependent on this distinction, and even a lowly ELA teacher like myself can recognize the huge difference in how those two statistics look on paper AND mathematically.
Ideally? Yes, I’d love to bring those kids in the 60s and 70s up. Absolutely. But for a group of
lab rats freshmen who had to take a two-day, three-session test of more than four hours for ONE class, the Monday after Thanksgiving break, I’m pretty damned proud of them.
Also, given that we got the actual “this is what will be on the test” document a MONTH before testing, I’m pretty damned proud of myself. And, there was a section on the GMAS that wasn’t even in the 9th grade curriculum at the time.
So yeah: I am PROUD of my students. They worked hard, and they put effort into a test that they knew going into it wouldn’t count for them. I’m not sure if the roles were reversed that I’d’ve done the same.
Please consider contacting your state representatives, and complain about the way that testing is being used against students and teachers in the State of Georgia. Consider calling the Governor’s office, as it is his education commission who is pushing for scores only-based paychecks and evaluations for teachers. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a testing system that’s a hot mess.
Consider contacting your kids’ teachers and thanking them for the work they do against obstacles designed to paint them in the most negative light possible; nobody wins in that situation. And when your children’s teachers are tired, demoralized, and beaten down by state-level politics and stupidity, that bleeds into their work environment. Your child’s learning environment is his teacher’s work environment.
Notice, I did not say call your local school board members or the superintendent’s office. They have no control over this, although if they could add their voices to the rising nationwide Opt Out movement, that’d be great. I’d love to see our local officials on the news condemning how these scores are reported and used against teachers and students alike. But this is me not holding my breath on that one.
In the end, it is the students that matter; and telling them that they failed something that they sort of actually really passed, is just flat wrong. And since character education is part and parcel of every teacher’s classroom, how can the state possibly justify this?