14 March 2005

Ethical Dilemma

Some of you have been haunting this blog long enough that you might remember me talking about a plan that my department has. You see, NCLB requires that districts test students in science at 3 points in their scholastic journey---but, whether or not scores improve isn't factored into "Adequate Yearly Progress." In other words, while we have to test kids, it's okay to "leave them behind" in the case of science. Washington state, however, will require passing the science test as a graduation requirement for the class of 2010. My district---and certainly the building I work in---are scrambling to see what we can do to help kids meet the standards. Science is not used to being accountable.

But, back to my department. On Wednesday, we will hold the first of two "tutoring" sessions for kids who are in danger of not meeting the standard. Not all of the kids---just those that are so close that they would benefit from just a little boost.

There are 2 people in my building who are fuming over this. (One of the teachers is part-time in my department...both of them teach math.) It's completely unethical to do this! In tutoring these kids, you are consciously neglecting the students at the lower end! I sort of understand where they're coming from. We do need to do what we can to move all kids toward proficiency with the standards. But this "tutoring" is only one part of our overall plan for helping kids. Frankly, I think we're sort of revolutionary. How much money do schools pour out each year for low end (SPED) and high end (gifted, AP, etc.) kids? When was the last time we looked at the ones in the middle and lent them some support?

All of the kids who are participating on Wednesday have been asked. Each teacher has talked to the students about what their strengths and weaknesses are and why we think they might benefit. Nearly every kid we identified (through data) has been interested---and relieved. They want to succeed and seem genuinely grateful for some extra attention. Should we leave them to their own devices merely because of parity issues...because the "low" kids aren't getting the same presentation?

Part of me feels like lashing out at my naysaying colleagues. When was the last time the math department sat down and looked at data on current students and strategized to help them? I want to tell them, "You go to your church and we'll go to ours," in terms of how we address student needs. I want to tell my students to blow off the math WASL---but won't, since scores will be on their transcripts.

What I will tell my kids is that I care about whether or not they have the knowledge and skills to pass the WASL next month. And it's not because the scores are reported under my name or because there is some sort of pressure from upper echalons for improvement. It is because I believe that if they can kick butt on that test, those kids will know how to apply science to their daily lives. These are the kids who will read a research study in the paper and determine for themselves whether or not it is reasonable. These are the kids who will be able to ask intelligent questions of their healthcare providers. These are the kids who can think critically about information. Is there anything so wrong with that?

1 comment:

Rob said...

My guess is that it doesn't matter that you're leaving out the low end. Chances are good that your chronic poor performers wouldn't be all that interested in being tutored.

I tutored for a while at a local school where they took the low performers and tried to get them to go to free tutoring provided by volunteers like me. I quit after five sessions because out of the five times I had showed up to tutor a student, only once did a student actually show up. That one time, it went very well, the girl was sharp as a tack and picked up geometry with incredible ease (I had to wonder why she was flunking when she was obviously gifted). It was just too much trouble to drive all the way over there for nothing (also, I felt sorry at how embarassed the adults were when the kids didn't show).

In this case, the teachers and on-site, full-time NGO employee pleaded with the students. They even offered them bribes in the form of cupons for free fast food. They even made the tutoring sessions during the day, letting kids out of class five minutes early so they could hit the cafeteria early and have time for a tutoring session during lunch (staying after school was a non-starter).

That school was really, really bad. They didn't even let students take their textbooks out of the classroom (too many were being lost and the parents wouldn't pay to replace them). How is a kid supposed to study with no book? The teachers tried to make do with "worksheets" that the students could take home, but it's pretty hard to be teaching and writing your own textbook at the same time. It was also a scary school, the police were there often and some of the students had pretty threatening manners.

In the end, I was glad to be out of it.