Saturday, October 20, 2012

High Achieving Schools

You might be an educator if testing and data are on your brain. In talking to educators who teach and observing the work students are assigned at 'high achieving' schools I've made a few alarming discoveries.

Eighty percent or more of students can pass a standardized test without ever having been taught the content or concepts. This may sound untrue given that so many districts and schools have 'earned' failing status, but I can assure you that it is quite true. An educator said to me, "Tracy, I can tell you in all honestly that my grade-level did not teach writing. We just didn't have time in our schedule and we were told to focus on raising reading scores. Yet, eighty percent of our kids scored goal or higher on the writing." What makes this school so special that they don't have to teach something and their students still do overwhelmingly well? Socio-economics. These students come from homes that have a substantial amount of money. I know, you're probably thinking, not this excuse again, but this clearly demonstrates how socio-economics is not an excuse.

High quality teaching does not raise test scores. I recently asked an educator, "Ninety-six percent of your students scored goal or higher on the CMT. What did you all do to make that happen?" His response: "For two months before the test we cram test prep down their throats. We stop teaching content and just teach to the test." I have a friend (now retired) that used to do the same thing, and one hundred percent of her students would score goal or higher on the yearly test. This is where socio-economics does not make much of a difference. These two educators worked with contrasting demographics. Another educator who works in a low income school does the same thing and senventy to eighty percent of her students score goal or higher. I should probably mention that these high scores are achieved on all sections of the tests. All because of direct test prep.

One thing that I have noticed when visiting schools is the staggering amount that have students completing worksheets or worksheet-like tasks. It does not matter if they are a public school that claims to teach 21st Century Skills, a magnet school that claims to use project-based learning, or a charter school that claims to integrate. I can concede that even a worksheet could possibly incorporate higher level thinking that is required of these teaching approaches. However, the worksheets are designed similarly to the standardized test. The educators and/or schools who do this, consider themselves to be embedding test prep into their instruction. I suppose this could be considered cramming for the test like above, but the diffence with this approach is that it is happening on a daily or weekly basis.

There may be some that think it doesn't matter what is done to raise test scores as long as they are raised. However, it creates misleading data. Because inevitably when high test scores are sensationalized in the media it never states socio-economics, lack of teaching, worksheets, or test prep as the cause. It states whatever unique and ground-breaking approach they are implementing as the direct correlation to high scores. Quite bluntly, we are lied to.