Monday, April 18, 2011

When Bad Teachers Grade Students

This largely from Living in Dialogue:

Have you ever had that experience - where somebody asks you a question and you fumble the answer, only to clarify your thinking hours later? "I wish I'd said that instead."

Superintendent John Kuhn of the Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in Texas had the experience recently when he testified before the Public Ed. Committee of the Texas House of Representatives on behalf of a bill that would initiate a two-year moratorium on standardized testing.

He opened by saying,
I have a dilemma: I personally believe state testing is morally compromised because TEA has overwrought test security to the point that it is a parody of big government interference and micromanagement, because testing has turned the adventure of education into something that feels more like an assembly line, because Austin has nudged our teachers from behind their podiums and has said Pearson can assess better than they can, because student creativity is being sacrificed in favor of standardization, because scores are used to unfairly punish schools and teachers that embrace the neediest students, and because test scores have been used during the past five years to drive a labeling process that has systematically concealed the fact that some schools are comparatively underfunded. Is a high target revenue "recognized" school really any better than a low target revenue "acceptable" school? Texas has published these labels with no mention of funding disadvantages, leaving the public to assume underperforming schools do so for no other reason than they are less competent institutions. I'm worried STAAR will continue this kind of railroading of our local schools.

So my dilemma is this: I would prefer that my son not participate in this test, to avoid the weaponization of his data, and the perversion of his education. People say ending testing will water down education. I see test prep as watering down education. But as a superintendent, my school needs my son's score to help my school's rating--assuming he will pass. My board would likely not appreciate it if I held my son out of testing. I haven't decided what I will do.
After Kuhn said we should treat teachers like we want them to treat students, a representative made what Kuhn called a very straightforward and honest point: teachers give students grades all the time...why shouldn't they be graded?

He stumbled on his answer, but later that night, unable to sleep, he came up with what was bothering him about the whole thing. He imagined how he should have answered.
Representative, you make a good point. The state has adopted the role of teacher, and teachers are the students. And this is the root of the problem--you are a bad teacher, and that is why we students are getting rowdy now. That is why we are passing notes to one another saying how mean you are. We are not upset that you grade us. We are upset that your grading system is arbitrary and capricious. We are upset at the way you hang our grades on the wall for everyone to see, instead of laying our papers face down on our desks when you pass them back. We are upset because when you treat us unfairly there is no principal we can go to, to report you for being unjust. There is no one but you and us, ruler and ruled. Your assignments are so complicated and sometimes seem so pointless. You never give us a break, never a free day or a curve. And we heard you in the teacher's lounge talking about how lazy we are. You stay behind your desk, only coming out to give us work or gripe at us. You never come to our games; you didn't ask me how I did in the one-act-play.

Representative Hochberg, the problem isn't that Texas wants to grade us; the problem is that Texas is THAT teacher, the one who punishes the whole class for the misbehaviors of a few bad apples, who worries more about control than relationships, who inadvertently treats all kids as if they are the problem kids. This approach has made you the teacher all the kids dread. The one who builds fear instead of trust, who never takes late work or asks how our weekend was. You are the teacher and we are the student, and if you want us to mind, you should create a happy classroom, work with us, relate to us, build trust with us, seek our input, and ask our opinions once in awhile. Give us choices. Give us room to experiment and permission to risk new things in your classroom, permission to try and fail without disappointing you.

Thanks Mikey


Fayette said...

Well said, Mr. Kuhn.

A system that relies almost entirely on test scores to judge schools and teachers is one that is out of balance and that may result in unintended consequences in the classroom.

Fayette Advocates for Balance in the Classroom is a newly formed group voicing concerns about test-driven instruction in our public schools. Please visit our website at to learn more.

Anonymous said...

I'm so pleased parents are turning their backs on Stu and has test-driven instruction.

Richard Day said...

With the change of local school district administration here locally, and better definition of competing issues in education news nationally, Fayette County now finds itself with an opportunity to talk about the kind of schools the community wants.

Strong superintendents benefit from a strong board.

At the same time, the state's (and arguably the nation's) best state-wide pro-public school citizen's advocacy group is making an important transition.

Articulating the right vision will impact how the business community, in particular, thinks about schooling.

It's the perfect time for Fayette Countians to have this talk.

FayetteABC said...

FayetteABC is keenly interested in a new superintendent who, with public support, can initiate conversations about the many steps necessary to improve learning and the dangers of focusing on test scores alone as indicators of schools' success.

The founders of FayetteABC have strong concerns about test-driven instruction as described in our petition. However, we acknowledge and are grateful for Stu Silberman's positive contributions and his strong commitment to education. We can not speak for all petition signers. However, we feel strongly that, as a community, we will move forward by acknowledging each other's strengths and having frank and respectful conversations about our different viewpoints.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps fayetteabc.web

could speak to what they see as

Silberman's strengths. Does

FayetteABC see Silberman's

commitment to education being any

stronger than the average teacher?

901384915 said...

I feel that the way Superintendent Kuhn worded his "revamp" of his statement in the Court room was very well thought out. He managed to take the situation and put it in a different context, a different mind set, so that when looking at it or thinking about it, it makes a lot more sense. The "student-teacher" analogy was one that, when I read it, I thought "Wow, that is so true! I can definitely see where he is coming from." I enjoyed this article very much and may look into it further.

901415091 said...

I can totally identify with Superintendent Kuhn and that feeling of coming up with a brilliant rebuttal a few hours too late. However, he was able to get the rebuttal out, and that is what matters. I applaud Kuhn for his willingness to speak his mind. Especially during a time when it seems as though some administrators seem too afraid of losing favor with government officials to say what needs to be said. I had never thought of the relationship between public education and the government like that before, but it's a veritable analogy. I wish more administrators would take a stand, like Kuhn did.

Cory Rogers said...

After reading this article I agree with the statements of Mr. Kuhn. I, having gone through the Kentucky education system and having been involved in the CATS testing, found that when I would be taught my different subjects that the only thing that seemed to really matter was how we are being prepared for the CATS test. And as this concern from the teacher would come up, it would just drive most of us students to not care about the test. I know that most of my piers including me would ask, "what is the point". I always felt like the emphasis was just on how well I did on this one test, and not how I did in my other subjects. I also feel that the way the state funds the schools according to these test is wrong. How can a state say a school is "bad" just by one test? And I am curious if the state knows how the students feel about the test, and how this effects the students performance. I agree with Mr. Kuhn when he said the state is "that" teacher that everyone talks about. The state is the teacher that has ten year and with that has the power to do what ever they want. I never liked this type of teacher because this teacher never cared about their students. All that mattered to this teacher was how they could show off to the students.