Thursday, February 08, 2007

Benchmarks


As I was browsing different blogs recently, I came across the minutes from a consultation meeting in a Queens HS. The first item on the agenda, 70% passing benchmark in all classes drew me into reading further. It seems this is an empowerment school and while there is no real bottom standard for a passing percentage, it is imperative that passing percentages go up. The administrator is planning on visiting all classes with passing percentages less than 70% to see what is going on and what can be done to help the students. He said there is no reason for faculty to feel intimidated.

I don't know this principal well. I've met him. He seemed very personable and caring but, I met him at a meeting where he was addressing the parents of future students, not teachers. I attended the meeting, trying to get a feel for what the school would be like and to see if it would be a school I would consider transferring to.

After reading these minutes, I am glad that I stayed where I am. I don't believe that this administrator will not be blaming some teachers for their poor statistics. Being an empowerment school, he must achieve or he gets the boot. He must show he is working for improvement every day. Someone must be responsible for the children being left behind.

I don't think it is fair to hold teachers accountable for problems beyond their control. Last semester I had two M&C classes. In one class I had 92% pass. In the other I had 54% pass. Both classes were taught identical lessons and took identical tests. The classes were back to back so there was no possible way for the kids to get the answers. Besides, I make them show all work or there is no credit given. One class was made up of mostly 10th graders. They were in a grade appropriate class and were genuinely good kids who cared about doing well and about the consequences dished out by their parents if they didn't succeed. The other class was predominately juniors and seniors with a history of multiple failures. There was a high truancy rate and two of the kids were on some sort of behavioral medication. When they went off, it set the other kids off. Years ago, I had three geometry classes with passing rates of 27%, 54% and 79%. Again, I am the same teacher, doing the same thing in three classes and look at the disparity.

The principal of this school claims that he is going to look into problems like these. He is going to try to make sure that not too many of the difficult kids are in the same class. My question is why is it the statistics making him do this now? These are real problems that teachers in my school have been complaining about for years. A few years ago I had a difficult class. Mid year I got a new student. As soon as he walked in he high-fived two of my trouble makers. I asked my AP to not give me this kid as the class was difficult enough. He said "No problem" and went to another teacher and said "Who is your worst student?" Needless to say, that kid ended up in my class. (He is now in jail as an accessory to murder). Not exactly helpful, was he?

The school where this is being done is a small school. While they might have fewer difficult kids, they also have fewer classes to change them into. While the principal has the right idea, he has no place to put them. He can't change kids difficult home lives, he can't make them come to school if they don't want to and he can't forcibly make them smart if they are not. I fear, the only solution to the improvement policy will be "BLAME THE TEACHER!"

5 comments:

Jonathan said...

70% pass rates in the classes. That's not as rough as 70% pass rates on all the regents - think of comparing Math B and Physics to all the others - and the admins without content knowledge, what are they going to say?

Empowerment is a sham, and now they are going to force more schools into it.

Schools can pick one of the 4 new super-regions instead, but the school indicates its preference, and doesn't necessarily get that preference. Wonder if they are going to rotate LSOs? (Learning Support Organizations. Learn that name - it will be historical trivia in about 3 years)

Pissed Off said...

My school always has great regents results. We get 99% passing math A and our math M B, even off track is in the mid 80's. The problem is getting the kids in class to actually deserve passing grades. Too many kids pass the regents without deserving creit for the class.

Anonymous said...

You wrote:
> I don't think it is fair to hold
> teachers accountable for problems
> beyond their control. Last
> semester I had two M&C classes.
> In one class I
> had 92% pass. In the other I had
> 54% pass. Both classes were
> taught identical lessons and
> took identical tests.

Is it possible that the two classes having different students should not have been taught identical lessons?

jonathan said...

It would be nice to adapt every lesson to every particular class.

But New York State, in its clearly finite wisdom, has established that every child needs to pass the exact same tests. They can't manage to adapt assessment to different groups of students (even though thy knew how to do exactly that for decades).

So, we work against lock-step curricula, to keep up with the state.

But just in case we could modify our instruction, even in the face of the lousy, inflexible regents, NY City thinks it is ok to jam 34 students into a class, making 'differentiated instruction' nothing more than a punchline to a sad joke.

In a class of 20, dealing with truants, laziness, and hyperactivity can be tough. It's more than twice as hard with 34.

Pissed Off said...

Jonathan you couldn't have said it better. Even if it was allowable to teach different topics, no teacher has the time or energy to cater lessons to so many different kids. And in a class of 34, a teacher might be dealing with 3 or 4 totally different levels of ability which also makes it impossible to indiviualize. While I admit, there are some teachers that can do this, I can't. I did this years ago, in a class of 12 students and a para.