Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sixty percent is not okay

There's a simple thing any former honors student can tell you: sixty percent is not okay. Sixty percent is anything but okay. I don't get Ds, I don't even get Cs. As far as I am generally concerned, sixty percent is like barely even bothering to show up.

Sixty percent is exactly the rate of passing my three ELA classes have shown on a mock TAKS test (called a benchmark exam) my students took this week. We take the actual writing TAKS in one month. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but this certainly wasn't this. Yesterday as I was leaving school (heading towards two days in San Antonio for our All-Texas TFA conference) Hector, one of our content specialists, asked me if I wanted to see my scores. Since I am quite the TFA convert and love data, I didn't hesitate to take a look. Sixty percent of my students met the standard on the multiple choice grammar and editing test. Forty percent of my students are not passing a test they take for real in thirty days. Talk about deflating my three-day weekend.

There are so many things that go into the fact that my students aren't passing their test, but it's still hard not to just blame it all on myself. In all reality, I am dealing with students who have serious holes in their grammar background. When a seventh grader can't automatically identify a noun, you know you're in trouble. How am I to teach my students the correct way to combine a sentence when they can't readily identify a subject and a predicate?

I have to admit I take quite a lot of the blame in my scores. I was aware of much of my students' deficits, but had so much on my plate that I taught to my strengths. I have to say I am a much stronger reading teacher than I am a writing teacher. This might seem strange coming from a journalist, but really, have you ever tried to unpack years of knowledge? It's hard. I understand English grammar to the point that I can identify correct and incorrect sentences without being able to tell you exactly why it's wrong or right. It is hard to explain the dynamics of a complex sentence when you've been writing them for years. And when you have to explain them to someone who doesn't understand very many of the basics and, in many cases, isn't a native speaker, things get even more challenging. So given my strength in teaching in reading and the enormous pressure from the district to perform well on our (mainly) reading tests, I've focused to heavily on that subject.

Perhaps what is more depressing is my administration's response to my scores. Because my scores are the highest of all of the seventh grade ELA teachers, I'm golden. Technically, my scores are already meeting the state passing standard of sixty-one percent if you take into account the students who just didn't test in the most ideal circumstances and after another 30 days of prep will most definitely pass. I don't know what is more depressing, the fact that I have a sixty percent pass rate or the fact that this is acceptable.

I'm rather depressed about my scores, but I think this is simply because I've yet to formulate a plan. Right now I've got data, but no plan. This means I'm in the black hole of no hope. But, as any overachieving honors student can tell you, the black hole of no hope only lasts as long as you let it. Sixty percent ends today.

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