A Change Is Gonna Come

** Full Disclosure- This post is long and no photos**

Assessment is a huge pillar in the institution of Education. Informal, formal, verbal, written, quizzes, chapter tests, field tests, and exams. The lightening rod in American education right now is Standardized Testing. The ideology being ‘if we establish benchmarks of where students should be academically by a certain grade level, then we can better assess where the weak points are and adjust accordingly.’ This statement is quickly followed (most times in the same breathe) by the promise that standardized testing by no means is a tool to assess teachers.  Now in theory, all that sounds idealistic and well intentioned. But in reality surely no one with the authority to demand standardized tests believes that this plan has a chance to stay wholesome and achieve its motive. Human nature dictates otherwise.

First off, there are so many variables to student achievement, it would make your head spin. When I was a teacher, I had all kinds of classes. I had classes that were segregated according to academic ability by the students (and presumably their families) themselves and other classes that were by fate simply a great mix or a toxic mix of students. They come to use as a package of individuals with different levels of intelligence, different buttons for being motivated and different personal backgrounds affecting their behaviors and abilities. One year I was highly commended for being an ‘effective’ teacher as evidenced by my Standardized Test scores for that class. the very next year, I was asked why my Test scores were so low in a similar class. I was the same teacher with the EXACT same methods and lesson plans. I would even say I was a slightly better teacher who had learned how to improve from the previous year.

Secondly, testing intrinsically makes people want to do better. Especially if there is any significance attached to the test. The teacher wants their students to do well and they, too, professionally want to perform well. So with the nature of people pushing in that direction, it is only a matter of time before the theory turns into the practice of “teaching to the test”. Even if the teacher has the most uncorrupt and pure intentions, the inertia of competitiveness and performance will pull them into compromising actions. I am not saying teachers will straight up cheat and break the rules for good scores, but more and more will adhere to ‘the ends justify the means’.

Back to Georgia…

For some reason, my co-teachers have been testing their students more than normal (normal being never). But the process is a work-in-progress. This post will be a challenge to my skills of descriptive writing, which will be needed to fully demonstrate the assessment status of my school specifically and what I can only imagine to be widespread in Georgian education in general.

My school is recently renovated. That means that we have amenities that a lot of schools don’t, especially village schools. We have computers printers in various states of disrepair. We have wireless Internet with ebbs and flows of effectiveness. I deduce that is because the school is build of concrete and the router itself is in a concrete walled room. So we are doing pretty well, comparatively. But we don’t have other things like chalk in every classroom. We tend to always have to scramble for ¼ inch fragments of chalk left by the other teacher. And we have what I would call a shortage of paper. But my assessment is biases from teaching in the States in a school that rained paper. I know that the director usually has a secret stash of paper literally in his office safe. But the teachers have to beg for it or produce their own. I witnessed the Director tell a teacher to collect money from the students to purchase a pack of paper. Although that seems to be the norm, the practice obviously left a bad taste in the teacher’s mouth.

Students commonly have notebooks for their individual classes. These notebooks are reminiscent of the ‘blue books’ from college days. The kids take notes in these notebooks. And if needed, they tear out pages for purposes of turning in work, i.e. spelling tests. But teachers don’t take up work as often as in the States. Usually the teacher walks around and spot checks the work or they simply have the students hold up the notebooks in the air.

Three weeks ago, my lead English teacher discovered that there were tests already prepared on the CD’s in the back of the teacher’s manual. She had me to help her open them on the computer and choose an appropriate one for her class. Then she had me print them for her.

** Aside** Printer companies operate an authorized racket. Insurance companies command my top spot for sheer repulsiveness as a legal business model. But printer company’s accessories run a close second. Printer ink cartridges are criminally overpriced, even for the States. Printing large quantities of documents on a printer is equivalent to burning money.

She asked me to print twenty-five 6- page tests for this one class. Even with my shrinking/ multiple paging skills, it still ended up being a 3-page test. I cringed through the whole process. Other teachers looked at me with detached animosity, as page after page after page churned out of the determined computer. To add insult to injury, I recommended that the students not write answers on the test, so they can be reused. That piece of advice wasn’t understood or heeded.

I hate grading papers. It is the WORST part of teaching, in my opinion. Apparently my co teacher had not experienced correcting a lengthy test (50 questions plus a writing assignment) of this kind.  Four days later, she still hadn’t graded them. She asked for me to read the students response as she checked them. Even that was taking a LONG time. So I took the tests and used my method of grading perfected and sharpened after years of repetition. Although she was impressed, I think she was secretly questioning the accuracy of my process.

She had me help in choosing more tests for her other three classes. But the Director said that we absolutely could not print classroom sets. My co teacher was distraught. “What to do?”, she asked?  My solution was to project the test on the wall with a projector and have the students answer the questions on their own paper. You would have thought I discovered the Philosopher’s Stone. Hugs and kisses!  The only part of the plan that she deviated was, she supplied the paper for the students.

It baffles me that there is not a precedent for taking tests at my school (presumably all of Georgia).  Two issues come to mind. First is the blatant cheating. Its not only rampant and common practice, the teachers seem to turn a blind eye by “Oh, I wonder what’s outside the window today? Or, this paper I’m looking at is the most interesting I have ever seen!” So, there’s that.

Then there is the issue of how it is apparent they have not taken tests to any degree of frequency. I am used to, although still bewildered when students forget to put their names on their papers. But these students have to have classroom instruction on how to answer the questions. Verbatim:

“First is section 1.”

“On your paper, write ‘Ex. 1’ and beside it #1.”

“Beside #1, your choices for answers are A, B or C. Choose one and write either A, B or C.”

“Do this for all of the choices in section one.”

“Next write ‘Ex 2’ on your paper and beside it #1”

“Chose the correct word that make the sentence correct and ONLY write that word (or fragment) beside #1”…

(Most still did it incorrectly)

But I must say, by the fourth test, my co-teacher was much better in explaining the directions to the kids. So the silver lining in all this is things are progressing. The downside is my co teacher is resistant to learn how to operate the computer herself. So although I am helping her construct PowerPoint with video and audio, she doesn’t really want to learn how to create it herself… yet.

The other downside is I think they are testing for the sake of testing. I’m pretty sure the grades are not going to be used for seeing where the students are weak or looking for ways to improve instruction.

One step at a time.

***

There were times when I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gone come, oh yes it will

A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

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