Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Distinguished has no zipcode.


It's officially the first week of PSSAs.  If you're not from Pennsylvania, substitute your own state's acronym for whatever proficiency exams have been deemed worthy of testing the heck out of your students to the point of tears, and you'll easily recognize the stress that has befallen the hallowed halls. 


You know it's a big deal when the front page of the local paper carries color photographs of children in school hallways under banners encouraging their "distinguished performance" alongside quotes from small children about the value of the tests, or the disruptions they feel in their lives as a result.   The comments ranged from frustration over the cutting of time to study history and science in favor of prepping for math and reading tests, to how difficult it is for a student to be prepared for a big test given so early in the morning.

Oh, and PSSAs are now only administered to kids in grades 3 - 8.  High Schoolers will be facing Keystone Exams in Algebra, Biology, and Literature the same weeks that the upperclassmen will be taking AP exams.

So, basically, there is not a whole lot of teaching going on, as students are pulled for testing for a variety of reasons.

Distinguished has no Zipcode.

To say that kids are stressed about the tests is an understatement.  "Get a good night's sleep."  "Eat a GOOD breakfast." Kids can chew gum, drink water, and engage in all sorts of stretching and stimulating activities reserved for special occasions, like big tests, apparently.

Teachers are stressed as well.  Kids score as Advanced, Proficient, Basic, or Below Basic, with the latter two being undesirable.  Such ratings are one factor in the calculation of the number known as the SPP (School Performance Profile) which is calculated into each and every teacher's year end evaluation.  

It is then that teachers know whether they are deemed effective or ineffective.

I don't teach a tested subject, yet my job performance evaluation weighs heavily on the success of my little cherubs at the junior high, and, surprisingly, at the intermediate school.  (Where I have no students at all, but the intermediate school's score counts toward the SPP of the Primary School, where I do teach 2 hours a week.)

An administrator in our district has muttered the phrase, "Nobody lives in Distinguished," more than once.  In fact, it's a sort of battle cry for many of us.

Teachers will be evaluated as Distinguished, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement, or Unsatisfactory, based upon their own performance, and the students in a variety of places in their district who might factor into a related SPP.

And yes, there are teachers in this country who could be Teacher of the Year in the eyes of some, and receive a failing grade.

Distinguished sounds nice.  Sort of like a well-tailored and well-groomed gentleman who takes a walk with a closed umbrella at the ready.

And we all know how often that is seen on the streets these days!