Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Goal is LEARNING

Got some insight the other day into my eldest's 1st quarter grades. Apparently, her "Marking Period Exams" that she took in her core classes are tests that are given district-wide to every student in those classes. And apparently, almost all the kids do poorly on them.

I'm struggling with how I feel about these tests, as a parent and as a teacher. I understand why they do this. They want each teacher to be accountable for teaching the content the course is supposed to cover. They want uniformity in results across the district. They want an A in Mrs. Jones' Geometry class at North High to mean the same thing as an A in Mrs. Smith's Geometry class at West High.

However, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Smith have different students, coming from different starting places, with different learning styles and different life situations . . . it really is very hard to make education uniform and make it quality as well. That's when teachers end up "teaching to the test", rather than teaching the child.

The problem with this system, I believe, is the time factor. An effective teacher, I think, should be able to get almost all of his students to the point of passing a district-wide established "Marking Period Exam" . . . but they may not get all of them there in nine weeks. Some kids will be there in three. Some will take a full semester.

Now, it's true that at some point, kids have to figure out how to accommodate someone else's schedule -- if it takes Joey longer to figure out his Geometry than the rest of the class, he has to put more time into it outside of class. But that time will need to be with a teacher if it's going to help him, and so teachers need to have the flexibility to give that extra time.

Good teachers already give hours and hours of their "personal time" for their students. But I think there should be a way for them to be compensated for that. And a way to make it more feasible for students who need extra time to get it. In an effort to manage masses of students going in and out of their doors, schools have had to set up artificial boundaries and time schedules and guidelines that have little to do with effective learning.

Case in point: when I taught in the at-risk student program at Hutch High, we wanted to arrange things so that a student who finished all the requirements for a class early in the year could stop coming to school for that hour. We knew that would be a huge motivation for these kids. But the law states that, to get credit for high school Geometry, you have to not only complete the required coursework, you have to sit in the classroom for a certain number of hours . . . whether you're learning or not . . .

Let's remember, folks, the goal here is learning . . .

1 comment:

Robin said...

When I taught at Gloucester County Alternative high school, the other English teacher and I were paid in the summer (up to 10 hours of paid time - we put in MUCH more time) to create individual learning packets so students could master the core curriculum required by the state. That way, if student finished their entire junior year curriculum, they could start on their senior year. Motivated students (and we had some) could finish two years in one.

It lasted one marking period. Parents didn't understand. They complained. It was confusing to them because it was different. The school scrapped the idea, and we went back to droning away in the front of the classroom while the motivated students got bored and the unmotivated students slowed us all down.

Learning was not the goal there, either. Making it look like parents thought it should look was the goal.