from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Education - a personal offering 

have nothing to offer this Saturday about education on the broad scale. It is not that there are no stories and reports about which I could write, because I could always find something about which it would be worth notifying readers. The political news is so overwhelming and will be so much of the focus that any posting on other subjects is likely to quickly disappear. Thus I choose instead to take a more personal focus. To discover what that means, I apologize, but you will have to continue reading, even if that means scrolling down.

As long-time readers know, I have been participating in the process known as National Board for Professional Teacher Standards certification. I previously diaried about it here back on March 31st, shortly after I had completed the process of submitting my portfolio.

Yesterday was the day the scores of applicants for the 2004-2005 cycle were posted online. We had been informed late last week that Friday would be our judgment day. Shortly before 9 AM I was finally able to get my scores.

To my surprise - and my great relief -- I had passed on my first go-around. I did not exceed the cut score by a particularly large margin, but it did not matter - a pass, is a pass is a pass.

Of far greater importance, at least two other teachers in my building also passed (about one we do not know because she was out of town and might not have had access to the internet where she was). Since only about 1/3 of applicants pass on the first attempt to complete this grueling process, we were all excited, and as word began to spread around the building we also began to get congratulations from our colleagues. When I first found out I was in my homeroom, 30 students (mainly 10th by also some juniors and seniors) in an Advanced Placement US Government class. I told them, and they immediately began applauding. Among the students in my other classes was the son of a science teacher who did not pass until his second try, and the son of one of the members of this cohort, who like me was relieved and excited to know that the process was complete.

For us this was a high stakes procedure. No, failure to meet the necessary level would not have cost us our jobs. And we could still have resubmitted those parts of the portfolio adjudged not to be of sufficient quality, but even that is no guarantee: yesterday I was contacted by someone from this site whose wife had resubmitted the part that had been scored at a 1.0 level (out of a 4.0 rubric) only to have the resubmission graded at a 1.25 level. She ws devastated and he wondered (not even knowing when he contacted me that I had passed) if I could be of any help to her.

So it is not of high stakes in the normal sense, but it can be devastating not to succeed, because all one gets is the scores on each part, with NO EXPLANATION of why that part was so graded. I know that as a teacher I really have to give my students feedback on work , not merely give them a score. We go over tests, land I write explanatory comments and suggestions on work. Sometimes if there is a pattern of incorrect responses, it serves as feedback to me what I need to re-teach, because a common misunderstanding is far more likely to be my responsibility in not being clear enough in its teaching.

We know that our portfolios are graded only by other teachers. Each part is graded by several teachers, and if there is significant disagreement on how to score that part it is further examined. This is a normal process in scoring via rubric - whether on AP examinations, state examinations or things like portfolios.

I have said that this is not high stakes in the conventional sense. The results, however, do have serious consequences, even beyond the emotional impact - who wants to be told that they don’t measure up when you have put your heart and soul into your submission? And even those of us who pass can still feel hurt - as I examined the scores I received on the individual parts of my submission, I really do not understand several, scored somewhat lower than I would have expected even in my conservative estimate of how my work would be scored. I was lucky that the one part that is not judged by how it actually relates to teaching -- the assessment center exercise, which tested my content knowledge - I got almost perfect scores, and that provided me with a margin sufficient to make up for what I believe were low scores elsewhere. I knew I had aced those essays, but that is the only part actually scored as I expected. One part of the other material was actually scored higher than I believe it should have been according to the guidelines I was supposed to follow.

The other real consequence is not one that affects all who complete the process. For the first year I will receive an additional stipend of $5,000, and for the nine following years $4,000. Since I am on an elevated pay scale because I have a Masters + 60 credits (and completion of my abandoned doctorate would only have increased that rate of pay by about $600), this is most the significant increase in pay I am likely to see in what is left of my teaching career. And given that I turn 60 in may, I am likely to have that additional remuneration for the est of my career, unless the state and county both go broke (which they could, given the executive and legislative leadership at both levels -- but that is a tale for a different time).

My wife took me out to celebrate late last night. It was late because at the end of my second period one of my students asked if I were coming to see the play. I made sure to go (it was The Miracle Worker and he was playing the son, quite well as it happens). I usually try to see my students in their endeavors outside my classroom. When I am specifically asked as happened yesterday, it becomes my top priority, even over my own celebration. Somehow that part of my approach to teaching, which I believe is a key ot my success, is something that cannot be accounted for in any evaluation of teaching. It is not part of my annual review, and while the administrators covering the events see me, it does not become a part of any official report. I am not “observed” on that as I am in my classroom. And there was no way to include it in my submissions for national board certification.

So what does all this mean, besides the additional pay? Well, most states will accept this certification in lieu of their own, so I could easily move to a district in Virginia or some other state, except that I have no desire to leave my school. It will garner those of us who succeeded recognition in school publications (the newsletter to the parents, on the school website, etc.) and recognition at a Board of Education Meeting, either in December or in January. It is an accomplishment we can put on our CVs and about which we can if we choose brag in our handouts to our next groups of students.

I am glad that I went through it. Knowing how I would have felt had I not made it (and I did not succeed by a particularly large margin) makes me all that more firmly opposed to the way we impose high stakes single shot tests upon our students. The frustration I feel about the lack of feedback or explanation for the scores exactly mirrors that of students who belatedly receive cores on tests imposed from the outside but rarely receive any specific guidance and certainly not in a manner or a fashion timely enough to provide any information from which they can benefit. It is far too often for them merely that they passed or they didn’t. I do not understand how that kind of approach is either pedagogically sound or even humane.

Enough. I am happy for myself. I am proud of how my school did. And I have imposed enough on those of you who have read this far.

Have a nice weekend.
Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?