This week consisted of a series of ups and downs. I feel like I have been on a roller coaster. One day I would be happy and content only to find myself disconnected and anxious the next. We had a LOT of testing and test prep this week. On Tuesday, my co-teacher took over the bell-ringer (ISTEP test prep) activities. We are alternating each week. Just before the start of the day, the mentor teacher told her that she received an email from the administration announcing a change in schedule; we had to complete all bell-ringers for the week by Tuesday in order to administer the “scrimmage,” a test that simulates the ISTEP, on Wednesday. My co-teacher had to adjust her plan on the fly and ended up taking the whole class period to do ISTEP test prep on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, we had to administer to “Scrimmage.” This test consisted of six questions, only one of which covered material we had already covered with them in the prior two weeks of test prep. Each student’s answers are sent downtown to the district offices to be scored and compared with other schools in the district. Additionally, our mentor teacher announced that this test was not only a district scrimmage, but it would also count as a test grade for this class. “We have to get these kids to take this seriously this year.” So the long and short of it is, by the third day of this week, over 60% of instructional time was devoted to testing and test prep.
Then on Thursday, we learned why the bell-ringers and scrimmage schedule was compressed: to make room for Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) testing. This is an aptitude test administered on the computer that determines a student’s Lexile score (which roughly determines the grade level at which a student can read). A few of our students were reading at or above grade level. I would estimate the total out of 160 students to be around 10 so less than 10%. Another larger group of our students came in at 6-7th grade level, maybe around 25-30%. Then we had some as low as 1st through 5th grade reading level. When someone scored 500 or lower, they knew it was bad, even though we tried our best to be upbeat about it. We even had a handful who scored 0. It was devastating to see their faces. I didn’t believe the 0 scores. We reset the test and had the ones who scored 0 try again the next day just to make sure there wasn’t a computer glitch. Unfortunately they had a repeat performance. We made them suffer through that humiliation twice.
In addition losing the entire day on Thursday to SRI testing, many classes did not complete the testing on Thursday due to room scheduling mix-ups, computers not working, and general misbehavior that caused us to delay getting started with the testing. Makeups were scheduled for Friday for anyone who was absent or did not complete the test on Thursday, so Friday was also sacrificed to testing. Those who were lucky enough to complete on Thursday got to stay in the classroom on Friday and…. DRUMROLL PLEASE…… go over the ISTEP scrimmage test results! All in all, I was completely demoralized by the end of the week and even reconsidered whether I want to teach English. Maybe it would be easier in a different subject area that is not the subject of so much high stakes testing and scrutiny.
My sense of demoralization was enhanced by an incident on Friday where my mentor teacher requested that I accompany a group of students down to the computer lab to complete their SRI testing, while she stayed in the classroom and review the scrimmage results with students. I was happy to do it. I felt comfortable with the task since I could help students if they computer problems more easily than my mentor teacher anyway. I returned to the lab where we tested the day before with about 8 students. A different teacher was in the lab with a group of students, so we had to find a different place to go. I knew that the Special Education teacher in our room had taken a different group of students to the Media Center (Library) to complete their tests, so I decided to go there with my growingly restless cadre of students. When we arrived to the Media Center, I made sure the students were all quiet before entering the library. We approached the front desk and I asked the Librarian’s Assistant where we should go to finish our testing. She started berating me about not pushing in my chair the last time I was in the library, in front of my students! Okay, I’m trying to keep a large number of often unruly students on task long enough to take a test and I’m getting berated for forgetting to push in a chair?? I apologized and repeated my question: “Where would you like us to go?” She pointed to a group of computers in Section B of the media center and we got settled in. Many of the computers were not ready for the SRI test, so I had to go around one by one and set them up. I was hoping against hope that they would all still be able to finish in the time remaining for that class. We had already lost a lot of time to going to the other room first.
As I was setting up the computers for the students to use, the assistant approached me and asked who my lead teacher is. I could not believe it. She was going to report me for not pushing in my chair!? Good lord! Now I know how the students must feel when they are berated for things that seem irrelevant and are humiliated for not following rules or conventions that they did not even understand are there.
Within a few minutes, I noticed a computer specialist had entered the Media Center. She seemed frustrated, and I realized that she was the same woman who had been upset with our class for being in the “wrong room” yesterday (it turns out she had sent out the wrong room number to Mrs. M. and Ms. K.). Then it dawned on me, the library assistant had not reported me, she had reported my mentor teacher for sending me to the wrong place. I found Ms. K. working with her group of students in a different part of the Media Center and told her, “I think we are getting in trouble,” and motioned toward the ruckus at the library desk. Just then the computer specialist came over to speak to Ms. K. She chewed Ms. K. out in a normal to loud voice in the middle of the library! We apparently are not supposed to be in the media center administering the test on Friday.
The students were distracted from taking their tests. Some were mimicking the computer specialist’s gestures and admonishments. So in the course of 15 minutes both myself and the Special Ed. teacher were verbally admonished in front of our students. I’m thinking the main message the students received was, “Shit rolls downhill, and I better duck for cover.”
It turns out we were supposed to be in Room 228, accessible from the library. I can’t believe that when I walked in and asked the Library assistant where she wanted us, she didn’t just say, “You are supposed to be in Room 228 today.” Instead, she called the Assistant Principal, who then called the computer specialist to come up and humiliate us in front of our students. Ms. K. had also asked where she was supposed to be. The library assistant had done an ID and dress code check of each of her students before letting them enter the library, a ritual from which she thankfully spared my students.
After some of my students had completed their tests, I suggested they browse for a book or magazine until we were all ready to go back to class. Four boys found a magazine each and sat down at a table talking quietly occasionally about something they saw in the magazine they were reading. I was called over to the front desk–AGAIN. She told me to “thump them on the head” for not taking care of the magazines properly. The students were reading seated at a table! Not one magazine was torn or spindled or mutilated. But of course I had to go say something or risk getting my lead teacher in trouble again. I went over to the table and reminded the students to be extra careful with the magazines since they are delicate and we want to make sure all students have a chance to read them.
The kicker of it all is, no one was in the library except us. We weren’t disturbing anyone, except apparently the staff whose philosophy is apparently, “the less we make this place inviting, the fewer students we have to deal with.” Well, they are succeeding.
The very next class after the Media Center incident, Mrs. M. asked me to accompany the 11th grade honors students to do some computer research for a project they are working on. My understanding is since I am not going to be teaching the 11th graders, I should get that time to prepare for my graduate coursework, but I decided to go ahead and help her out. I wanted a good experience with some students. When she gave me the pass to the Media Center, I told her that I wanted to help out, but I couldn’t go there again until I was given a specific list of responsibilities and expectations. I seem to violate some unwritten rule every time I enter that space. Mrs. M. respected that and we ended up going to the Learning Resource Center instead.
In retrospect, it appears to me that this whole incident could have been avoided if the library assistant had just been helpful and told us which room to go to rather than let us violate some procedure we didn’t even know existed (that makeup tests were supposed to be in a certain room). I think that her actions could have been motivated by some economics of scarcity. Everyone knows that at the end of this year 51% of staff must be turned over. If you can file a negative report against a teacher, that may help your chances later on.
So by Friday, I had spent 4 solid days either preparing students for tests, administering tests, administering make-up tests, or going over test results. That’s 80% of our week.
I want to be a middle school teacher, but I don’t want to be primarily a test administrator. I wanted to teach English, but maybe there’s a different subject that is not so highly scrutinized by the state where we can actually teach students.