INSTANT ABACUS

abacusjpegIt’s Week 2 of the California Standards Test and students are fingering their math facts like an abacus.  Many of our children couldn’t wait for the math portion of the CST.  They are descendants of the Mayans and ancient astronomers of the Yucatan.  They know mathematics.  It flows through their blood in algebraic platelets and word problems with multiple right answers. 

Math is our advantage.

But these are also the children of the video game and “Guitar Hero”; the dance step and :30 second wait for an Original Dream Machine with an extra energy boost.  They call upon the internet and it responds immediately– or they will divine a better connection.

The response is immediate.  The results appear promptly.  And the sociologists decry us all as the generation(s) somehow spoiled in our expectation of instant gratification.  And they may be right.

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But when it comes to the standardized testing game, we receive anything but instant gratification.  In fact, we will wait three months for the results.  They will come in late July, most likely the first week after our teachers return from a brief summer nap.  By then they will already have met their new students and new colleagues and new parents.  And right about the time that they are adjusting to the idiosyncracies and learning styles and potential and challenges of a new class, last year’s data will arrive with a crash on the doorstep.  Like the morning paper thrown too hard from a passing car.  One that slams the screen door at the bottom and sends the frightened cat racing through the house with her ears pinned back.  Scared shitless.   

The test results will of course make headlines in the local section of the Union-Tribune.  There will be a complete analysis.  They will be posted school by school on the internet.  And those of us who strain every day against an odd alignment of conflicting systems, will immediately recognize that no matter how good the news or how bad the news… there is not a thing that can be done now to change our history.

Schools will go into Program Improvement.  There will be sanctions and consequences.  Administrators will be shuffled.  Teachers will be placed on assistance plans.  But none of those steps can change the outcomes from a group of children who have now come and gone.  

So if the California Standards Test is so important that it can change lives and careers and entire communities… why does it tak three months to get the results?

This is after all the age of technology.  Instant gratification.  If it is so high a priority, tell us how our students did on this morning’s math assessment… but tell us now.  I’ll even give you a week. No excuses.  I don’t want to hear how many schools there are in California and the hundreds of thousands of tests that have to be scanned or the logistics of reporting it all back or any of those other stock complaints.  When we were chided about our low API a few years ago, no one wanted to hear about our families in crisis or our children who have lived in multiple foster homes or the child attending his 22nd different school or the inherent struggles for second language learners.  The mantra of the “Age of Accountability” is “No Excuses!  So we will push our students up the mountain side in search of miraculous growth.  We will keep them whole and alive.  We will challenge and cajole and celebrate them.  And we will test them.  

testAnd this morning, they will each complete question number 21– a pre-algebraic word problem with one absurd possible answer choice, one answer choice that will trick a number of children who aren’t yet test-savvy enough to smell a rat, one answer choice that is correct and one answer choice that goes down smoothly…a sugar sweet placebo to remind us all that standardized, multiple-choice tests are to the disadvantage of the children that actually think. But they don’t know if they got question #21 right. They don’t know if they fell for the tricks and the traps so they cannot make mid-flight adjustments like they do on their video games. They’ll never know.

And by the time the results come back they won’t care!  Because kids are like that. They want to know the results right now… or heck with it.  By next July they’ll have other fish to fry.  For teachers it is a different story.  The percentage of children that tanked on #21 will be instructive.  Sort of.

giftsBut imagine what our teachers might do with the data if they could get it back next Tuesday. As they unwrap the tangled trends: 

• They could review the results with students so they know where they are strong and what areas they need to work on with 5 weeks left in this academic year.

• They could create an individualized summer learning plan for students so they could bridge some gaps in their learning before the next school year starts.

• They could meet with parents and triangulate the CST results with evidence of classroom work and other local assessments.  By then, parents would know exactly what level their children are on– their academic strengths and areas for growth.

• They could provide parents a summer reading list based on the CST lexile report.

• They could bring some closure to the school year and prepare each child’s file for transferring on to the next teacher.

• They could identify appropriate grade level placements for the next school year.

• They could meet with next year’s teacher with definitive data.

• Grade levels could re-group around the data and identify areas that need to be re-taught, or celebrated, or re-enforced, or tossed out altogether.  

• They could make informed decisions about the programs and policies and approaches and innovations that were successful and the ones that weren’t.

• They could fully capitalize on their expertise in using data to leverage informed, strategic change.

And of course we do all of these things in time.  But if the system were better aligned, and the data were returned to us, and the legislators and test bureaucrats in Sacramento had to stretch as much as we did… we would all have the tools we need when those tools would have the greatest impact.

At El Milagro we are in search of results.  Now.  Instantly.  No excuses.

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, public education, standardized testing, teaching

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