Friday, December 3, 2010

Mixture of Emotions

I'm currently experiencing a mixture of emotions that are all over the place.  I think they're canceling one another out to equal blah.

I spent the day at a Professional Development. Throughout the fall, public school districts hold professional development days (or teacher institute, staff development, whatever) to "professionally develop" the teachers while the students are at home sleeping or playing video games or the like.  Thankfully, our administration tries to keep the meetings short and the preparation time long... meaning lots of time to plan, prepare for students, collaborate, etc...  Today, however, was one of those all-day-meetings.  No complaints though. From what I've heard and seen, we have it pretty lucky when it comes to these days (where I work anyway...)

Maybe you're wondering... "Emotions from professional development?"

We spent the last hour of the day discussing ACT scores.  Now, since I teach music, I'm a little out of the loop when it comes to certain things in the building.  However, all juniors in the state of Illinois recently took a practice ACT.  They take it in the fall and we get their results around this time of year so that they have a few months to improve their scores before the official school-wide test in April.  There are several times they can take the test throughout the year, but the school administers the test for free in April to all junior level students. 

For those of you who have been out of high school for a while, the ACT is scored out of 36 - a composite score that is made up of an English, Math, Science, and Reading tests as well as a written portion.  This is one of 2 main tests used on college applications, the other standardized test being the SAT.  Colleges generally accept a score from one or the other, and the ACT is the more common test midwest area schools use.

The average score at the high school from which I graduated is 24.6 (2009-2010 junior class).
The average score at the high school where I currently teach is 16.1 (2009-2010 junior class).

I learned a lot during our P.D. today.  The students who teachers think are the "top students" in our school - students who take AP and honors classes, students who are over achievers in every area, students who have good attendance and 3.8 GPAs (for better or worse, I was one of these kids in high school...) they are scoring between 16 and 19 on average.  The highest score in the building last year was a 26.  In case your math is fuzzy, that's less than 2 points above the AVERAGE score at Prospect  High School in Mount Prospect, IL.  (where there are always a couple kids who score the test perfectly each year.)  Granted, Prospect is higher than the state average and it's a very good high school.  (The average composite score for the state of IL is 20.4.) 

But, what I was so hung up on was these "honors kids."  These top kids.  These kids who teachers in my school give A's to.  Supposedly they are learning... Why aren't they scoring better?  I know not everyone is a test-taker.  But at least one out of those 400 kids has to be a "test taker."  And many of them sat through 10 Saturdays of ACT prep class. 

There are all sorts of theories.  Teachers blame the tests.  The test writers blame the teachers. The kids blame themselves.  Everyone points fingers.  And there probably isn't just one reason for the gap. 

I'm not so concerned however about the gap between the kids I grew up with and the kids I teach.  I'm concerned about the kids I teach. Period.  The kids I teach are smart.  they are intelligent.  They enjoy learning.  (Side note - you should see the look on some people's face when I tell them that in person... and rightfully so.  With all the horror stories the media presents about Chicago's terrible south side schools, it's no wonder that someone I was with before I started working at Simeon literally called the kids there "animals," not that he knew any of them personally. That was just his educated assumption...) 

Anyway, a lot of the kids I teach are lacking skills, but not because they don't want them.  This is a major generalization, and mostly just me randomly processing my thoughts... but they don't know how.  They don't know how to learn.  They don't know how to comprehend.  They don't know how to "BS" a well written essay.  They don't know the language of the questions.  They just don't know.  and yet we're giving them A's in school.  Passing them through.  this is a  HUGE problem.

so, for the emotions...

Astounded - at the low scores.  In fact, the lowest composite score in our building was a 10.  Several students scored at a 10.  That is lower than the score you would receive (according to the stats) if you randomly guessed on every question throughout the test.

Frustrated - at the gap. 

Confused - what to do?  How do we move the scores?  Especially the scores of the students who are bright, creative thinkers.

Encouraged - I really like the administration at our school.  He has a whatever-it-takes attitude.  Tell them truth lovingly... your score is not competitive for good state schools.  If you want to go to _______ for college, we need to work hard to raise that score.  They are looking a positive school-wide strategies for raising the scores of the kids and they are taking lots of teacher input.

Irritated -  by teachers who don't take any responsibility for their teaching and blame everything bad on the kids.  Oh wait, but all the positives are the teacher's doing...

Hopeful - Simeon is on the right track.  These students have the ability.  This is not a hell hole or a drop-out factory.  These kids are bright, creative, intelligent, and have lots of potential  (especially the new freshmen class). 

Intrigued - Teaching music, I don't think a lot about ACT scores.  But it's changing my outlook - given the freedom in my curriculum (um, I don't have any standards or assigned teaching curriculum goals), what can I do in my classroom to help prepare these kids for college?

Confident - the Lord brought me to Simeon for a reason.  He has given me a supernatural love for these students and I will seek His guidance and wisdom about this job. 

Thankful - for the education I received and for the Lord's goodness in my life.

So, what about you?  Do you read about education in the news?  Ideas for raising the scores?  Ideas about the roots of the gap?  I'm interested to know what people think...

A local teacher who is refusing to get caught up in the mumbo-jumbo of protests and teachers unions, but rather work at my teaching practices to best educate the students,

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