How do we measure teacher and student success? This is THE hottest topic in education today. Another way to ask it seems to be, “Who can we blame if Johnny fails?” The answer is not easy medicine to swallow, and, sorry Mary Poppins, no amount of sugar will help this medicine go down.
For several years, I have taught a summer remedial class to prepare students for the reading portion of the Ohio Graduation Test. The class is ten hours of test taking tips, individualized instruction on the student’s weakest areas, and practice, practice, and more practice. Students take quizzes individually, with a partner, or as a group.
How do I measure my success? It is easy, did the student pass the test? The first year I taught this class I had a 100% success rate. The next year, test scores slipped. Two students did not pass. Perhaps I am trying to deflect the blame. After all, we like to do that in America. So here is my defense; the two students who did not pass are not native English speakers. They had been in the United States for about four years. Is asking someone to read at the tenth grade level after four years of a language fair? How much should I be held accountable for the results when I only had ten hours with them?
Last year I again had two students not pass after ten hours of instruction. One was a student from another country again, and the other was a student who had the attitude of I-know-how-to-pass-this-test-better-than-you. Let me call him Jason. Jason told me all he needed to do was answer the multiple choice questions. He could pass without answering the short answer and extended response questions. Even after I asked him, “How did that work out for you the first time?” he did not feel he was wrong. After we took a practice quiz, and he missed 6 out of 10 multiple choice questions, he still believed in his test-taking technique. (I should have checked his math scores.) I pulled out every trick I know to convince Jason to try it a different way. However, he was too stubborn to admit he might be wrong or I might know what I was doing. How much should I be held accountable? How much should Jason be held accountable?
This past summer, I had one student fail. Her parents signed her up for four review classes. Erica (not her real name) had to sit in class for 9 hours a day in the summer, and she is a special education student. (She has trouble concentrating for extended periods of time.) Instead of helping her succeed in one or two tests that she was within a few points of passing, she failed four tests again. We focused on her weak areas, but she also missed some class due to a court date. How much should I be held accountable? How much should her parents be held accountable? How much should Erica be held accountable?
Whenever politicians and real people discuss merit pay and teacher evaluations, we need to discuss accountability. And such discussion is not an easy pill to swallow. It reminds me of my children when I ask, “Who broke the lamp?” I always get four answers of “Not me!” Do we blame the teacher who has no control over who takes the class? Do we blame the student who gets placed in a situation that is not best for her? Do we blame the parents who trying to do what they think is best for their daughter? Perhaps, we should do as my children do; they eventually admit the dog broke the lamp. I am willing to let my dog be the scapegoat.