Monday, May 11, 2009

Observations of an Inner-City School Teacher - State Testing

I am beginning the third week of administering our state standardized tests to my sixth graders. This is my fifth year teaching in an inner-city environment. I previously spent 12 years teaching in elementary schools that served primarily wealthy families steeped in education. As I watch my class work on these tests, I notice the following differences between my present and previous teaching assignments:

  • State tests do not show a student's progress. If I have a child who moved from a 2nd grade reading level to a 4th grade level, the test does not take this into account. If the child cannot pass a sixth grade test, he or she is marked as a failure. Since most of my present kids start out significantly below grade level, most of them will be deemed failures regardless of any progress made. By testing level instead of progress, inner-city students face barriers that most suburban students do not.
  • Since these tests use a high level of academic vocabulary, most of my current students face a natural disadvantage because this level of vocabulary is not typically used at home. My suburban students would have been raised hearing this level of vocabulary.
  • My suburban students had a much higher concern for grades and test scores than my present students. For many suburban kids, grades were tied to their allowance, vacations, or sports opportunities. Failure to get certain grades meant loss of privileges. Since most of the parents were highly educated, the culture in the home stated that grades matter. My inner-city students have little of that, so typically grades and scores mean little to them. When I give a test to my inner-city students, there is rarely any interest shown by them for their test results. My suburban kids would be asking me a half hour later if I had corrected them yet... they WANTED to know what they got. This gives suburban students a significant advantage in state testing... they have been conditioned to CARE about any test.
  • Inner-City students tend to be more dependent on assistance than suburban students. Because they have not received the same support and oversight at home as their suburban counterparts, and because much of their schooling has been remedial, they are more teacher dependent. This puts them in a much less secure position when having to be completely independent for a high stakes test.
Again, these are just anecdotal observations and are by no means scientific. But as I see it, there is an unfair disparity when judging students by state tests. To piggy back on an example above, you can have a child who has advanced two grade levels in one year deemed a failure; whereas a child who has made little advancement in a year, but still can achieve grade level, is a success.

In any case, according to No Child Left Behind, all of these results will be placed at the teacher's feet... though they have little control over so many of these factors.

Observations of an Inner-City School Teacher: Part 1


Sarea said...

Excellent observations as you have once again proven that you are a voice that needs to be heard!
Thank you also for putting my mind to rest regarding my sons scores on his first ever state test! I have been anxiously waiting on the results for several reasons:

1) This will rate my teaching ability . (This theory has been very effectively debunked by you, however since I am the only teacher and it is a 1 on 1, or a 1 on 3 rather, situation, it applies in my opinion)

2) I will find out how "normal" he is. (This is ridiculous, and I realize that, but I still can't help but want to see him fall in the "above average" category!)

3) I will realize that this isn't my calling and put him in public/private school. (This is my way of 'punishing' myself if he does poorly)

All these reasons are valid ONLY because they are my feelings . . as for any other reason, you have given me the grace that I seem to not give myself. Many thanks for your passion for these kids, and really caring about them applying themselves!

ejb said...

Amen, Amen, Amen!! Can I have another AMEN?!?!

Anonymous said...

I just happened on your blog and feel you are my soulmate already. I too teach sixth grade in an inner city school. When will anyone wake up!!! Bill Cosby is right!!! I feel for these students.. many of them live in survival mode and honestly I don't know how many of them even do the work,,, It has been said if we make the work interesting and relevant they will rise to the occasion. I agree but it is really difficult to make everything interesting and relevant!!! Motivation is a huge factor. The comment you made on how the students are much more dependent on the teacher is dead on.. I know it is true but never could put a name to it.!! I have had an ok day today but it really is a battle,,, many days,,,, Thank you for making me feel like I am not alone.But what is the answer? I repeat: what is the answer?

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