29 March 2007

We Never Talk Anymore

I spent some time the last two days at an assessment conference. I learned some valuable things, but not just from the presenters. Some of the things admins from my district did (or in one case, didn't) say gave me a lot of pause for thought. If anything, it really highlighted for me all of the disconnect in the district.

  • Principals don't seem to think that they have the power or ability to get rid of bad (i.e. ineffectual) teachers. My assumption has always been that they do, but that taking this on is more work than it's worth. It means a ton of documentation, ongoing Union hassles, and as one put it, political suicide. I'm not thinking that swinging the pendulum over to the "hire and fire at will" power for principals, but if admins can't help kids by getting the worst teachers out of the classrooms, who can? One of the admins thought that peer observation protocols would be the avenue for this. I don't see that happening. Teachers are not evaluators of other teachers (at least not publickly). There's no authority there. Meanwhile, why would an admin ask a great teacher to throw herself under the bus when he's already admitted that such things are political suicide?
  • There are too many expectations of admins (including my own). Time is a precious commodity. We in Curriculum would do well to keep the words of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1471-1530) more in the forefront of our minds: Be very very careful what you put into that head, because you will never ever get it out. In particular, if we share tools and strategies with admins, we need to remember that at least some of them will latch onto these ideas like lifesavers. Not all of these ideas are good...and not all of the people who convey them understand the power of their role. Ouch.
  • While we understand that in the classroom that only a small fraction of kids are going to get what we're teaching the first or second time around, we don't apply that concept to working with adults. There is an underlying assumption that because an e-mail was sent, a mention of something occurred at a meeting, or information was presented in another format, that everyone retains every morsel of this. Beyond that, there is this indignation (I'm definitely including myself with all of this, by the way) when all of the parties involved don't remember things in an identical manner. An admin was saying today that Curriculum has no idea what his staff needs...we never ask. And yet, we just completed a major survey to find out and have several groups of teachers providing feedback to us on an ongoing basis. Was the survey completely forgotten, I wondered? Or was it that the information was returned in a way that he didn't recognize---perhaps things didn't look like he thought they should?
There are other examples I could give from the last two days, but the heart of the matter is that we're all misunderstood in one way or another. I don't know how to fix it other than many more opportunities to cuss and discuss the issues---which takes a lot of time that no one seems to have. Yet, until we each all have some level of common understanding about what is happening in our schools, no meaningful change is going to occur. It feels overwhelming in the face of the continued expectations placed on schools, but we have to figure out a way to make it happen.


Amerloc said...

And the same disconnects occur in teacher-parent or parent-teacher communications. Until we trust each other enough (and care about each other enough) to say, "Slow down. What did you mean?", to get those clarifications that enable understanding, the system will feel more like the bureaucracy it is than the series of partnerships it has to be in order to work.

Top to bottom, side to side, we are, after all, all on the same side...

Anonymous said...

Dear Science Goddess,

Apologies for asking a question that isn't directly related to your post here. Elsewhere on your blog, I ran into the statement "AP is not standards-based, which makes it a vastly different animal than other courses in our department. I am training some biology thoroughbreds to run a race at the end of the year. It is a race in which they are competing against one another---and well over 100,000 other students. Only the top 20% of them can get the most desirable score of "5." Not everyone can "pass" the test and it is designed to make very specific distinctions in what students know. This is a contrast to the WASL---in which every student can pass (although not all of them do)."

Do you have a citation I could look at? Everything else I can find about AP tests says they *are* criterion-referenced tests. Thanks.

The Science Goddess said...

AP tests are an odd sort of animal. On one hand, you can look at them as being criterion-referenced because there is a prescribed curriculum with certain percentages for each topic allotted for the test; however, the construction of the test itself is designed to have both general knowledge items and more "nit-picky" ones which will spread students out across the whole scale. This part of the design is meant to help the cream rise to the top.

Here's the Really Big But:

Results are not reported in a criterion referenced format. Only the top 20% of scores are assigned a 5, the next 20% get 4's, etc. The distribution is set up so that not all kids can earn "passing" scores. The number of items a student needs to answer correctly can vary from year to year.

Does that help?

The Science Goddess said...

I forgot!

Check AP Central for more info on the distributions: http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/Pageflows/usermanagement/logout/home.do