02 July 2006

Hard Questions

I've talked with lots of parents over the last couple of weeks---parents of kids who didn't pass the state test (WASL) this spring. Most of the kids missed it by that much, as Maxwell Smart used to say. Others were way below the mark. Regardless, there were several hard questions I was asked by parents.

The hardest of all? "How come my kid got a 'B' in Honors English, but didn't pass the Reading and Writing tests?" I also had a math version of this question asked this week: "How come the teacher didn't prepare my son for the test?"

The Honors English parent was angry---she admitted as much, because she didn't want me to think she was mad at me. But my answer didn't make her feel any better about things. What I had to say was that the teacher didn't choose to focus on the standards, and instead evaluated the student on different expectations from what the state said a 10th grader should know. Because the teacher didn't use the standards for instruction, her assessment of student skills wasn't close to the state assessment. You can imagine the follow-up question: "Why didn't she do that?" The only one who can answer that is the teacher, although the parent might also like to pose the question to the principal, who is responsible for monitoring the instruction.

To be fair, the 10th grade test should be a culmination of all of the efforts k - 10. It's easy to point to the 10th grade teacher, but there were lots of people along the way who should have been building student skills. I pointed this out to the Math Parent, who was mad not only about his kid not being prepared to pass, but also being stuck with a poor teacher (in his opinion) all year. Mr., you're going to have to call The Union on that one---they're the ones who protect bad teachers.

In two years, kids are going to have to pass the science test in order to get their diplomas. The best reason for me to do this summer work for the district is to get a "heads up" about what the interventions are going to look like before we have to be added to the mix. I've already been delivering a very unpopular message with teachers all year: if you can't document that you've done what you were required by state law to do (teach the standards assigned to you), parents can come back and sue you. Teachers don't like that idea. If you have your own personal idea of what "biology" should look like, then why would you bother seeing what the state thinks is important?

Parents are going to ask us a lot of hard questions in two short years. I hope I can help teachers see that they're going to have to be prepared to answer.


Anonymous said...

Bad parents are the problem.

Even the worst teachers must complete a college degree, but any bigot, batterer, or bully can reproduce and then squawk about the poor quality of our public eduacation system.

Hey, did you catch that spelling mistake? Damn teachers.

Stephen said...

And then there's the student.

My 9 year old recently said, "I'm not doing my homework, and you can't make me."

Fortunately, i had a reply. "The evidence is against you.". And it's true. I always get him to do his homework. But what of the student without such a helpful and persuasive parent?

While i'm planning how to get him through Calculus in seven second attention span chunks, i now have to plan how to get him through science. And my standards are a good deal higher than the state's. His first test may be as soon as in three years.