They joys of being adequate

We made AYP this year. Sigh (the big relieved kind). For those of you not familiar with every acronym out there, AYP stands for adequate yearly progress. It is part of No Child Left Behind, and therefore, the bane of my existance.

Although AYP doesn’t exactly impact me directly, my school hasn’t made the cut off for the last couple of years. We were on some sort of super secret probation as a result. Well, I guess it wasn’t really secret as each year at about this time, the numbers come out and school names get posted in the paper. I think last year we were the only school in our district who didn’t make it. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that at our corporation wide meetings, the superintendant praises every school that does and the principals smuggly gloat at their greatness, even though when we get the same kids at the high school level, they are barely able to write their own name. Sigh (the frustrated kind).

But according to the latest scores, we made it! And, this year the bar was set higher than in previous years. In fact, two of our three elementary schools did not make AYP. Only two high schools in our county did make it. And several schools, including two of the top 20 public high schools in the state (which happens to be right down the street), didn’t make it.

Now, I’m not bragging here. I happen to think those two schools are pretty darn good schools. I don’t think we are somehow superior educators (well, except for me), and I know we don’t have the financial or building resources some of our surrounding schools do. What we do have is a faculty and administration worried about not passing and therefore doing everything in our power to pass. The other, more affluent schools, who had always made it, may have gotten a little comfortable.

Or then again, it may have been they got screwed by the system. It is a very flawed pass/fail system where failing even one of the categories means the school fails the entire process. I’m not quite sure how that makes any sort of sense. After all, if a student failed one assignment, there is no way we could justify having them fail the entire class. Even colleges are not that rigorous. And yet, not meeting just one of the criteria for AYP, means your school is inadequate.

The criteria for passing pretty much boil down to state test scores and graduation rates. It’s not enough to meet the state pass rate for the test (which we always do). With AYP, all sub categories of students, must meet the state pass level. These sub categories include minority students (focusing primarily on African American scores), students who live in poverty and special education students. Every year what holds us back (and what held one of those top 20 schools–they missed it by 1 kid) is the percent of our special education students passing state mandated tests.

This is ludicrous. Some of my special education students are so low functioning that they cannot spell simple words like hidden correctly (I got it with one d, and it was not a typo) or write paragraphs with more than three or four sentences. I mean, sure, they can load paragraphs with things that look like sentences, but they don’t have the subjects and verbs to actually make them sentences. And no amount of individual attention seems to help some of them understand why those “sentences” aren’t sentences. Of the four special education students in my remedial English class, all passed the class (which moved at a painfully slow pace), but only one of them passed the state mandated test.

The only reason they passed the class is because they worked hard and showed real improvement. They put there all into the class. They wrote and rewrote essays. They studied for tests. They asked countless questions and got one on one attention. And yet, their ability levels are so low that even after six solid weeks of pure test prep activities, they didn’t pass the test (I don’t yet have their spring scores…but I have my fingers crossed for one of them).

I won’t even go in to my rant about the completely ridiculous nature of compulsory standardized testing (especially with really flawed tests), nor the exhausting (and unachievable) goals of No Child Left Behind on the public education system. I will, however, say it depressed me greatly that I am excited we are finally average, especially when we are a really good school with very high expectations that the majority of our student body rise to meet.

Believe me, I’ve taught at bad schools. I know what they are like. We are not merely adequate. Too bad the government has no clue.

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Filed under bad days, good days, life as a teacher, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, what makes me me

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