Tag Archives: testing

Ups and Downs

This comes from a conversation I had recently with a college friend. I thought I’d share my personal reflections on teaching in the below message more widely.

I’ve transitioned slowly over the last seven years, from teaching all math, to half math / half engineering, to all engineering this year for the first time. Over the last six years that I’ve been involved on the engineering side of things, I also helped build, grow, and strengthen the engineering program at my high school.

While there have been some issues with students at my urban public high school (few do any homework; it is challenging to motivate all of them to do engineering and math; poor attendance; one kid swung at me last year with scissors), these are minor compared to my frustrations with administration and with the direction teaching is headed in.

To make a long story short, my dissatisfaction comes largely from dealing with a dysfunctional school administration and an outright evil district administration.

But also, more generally than my own local problems, and tying in perhaps with the national mood, I do believe standardized testing, and the more recent trend to hold teachers ‘accountable’ for student gains in standardized testing, is lessening the creativity and fun of teaching that I really enjoyed five years ago.

This is not to say I don’t still find fun in the job. Last week, I really loved teaching a group of three students some programming and number base conversions they need to compete in a virtual robot maze competition coming up soon. And a few days ago I was talking to a student about the types of bridges for more than an hour and that was great. And a month ago I got to really geek out with another math teacher as we worked together to figure out an explicit formula for the number of triangles of all sizes in a triangle subdivided into smaller triangles with n on a side. And yesterday I brought a group of students on an engineering field trip that was awesome! [Another example not in the original message: the pride I feel in what my fall semester manufacturing students accomplished.]

But still, I am feeling more and more frustrated. I’d say I do enjoy teaching still, but not all the b.s. that comes with it.

Anyway, only one more day until spring break! Yay!

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This week are the big-deal high-stakes bubble-in multiple-choice standardized tests, that Maryland calls the High School Assessments (HSAs).

For about five years, it has been a graduation requirement that all students pass the four HSAs, in Algebra I / Data Analysis, Biology, Government, and 10th grade English. Depending on a school’s and a student’s schedule, the exams are administered in May near the end of the relevant course, spread out over several years anywhere from 8th to 11th grade. Some recent changes, relaxing the graduation requirement slightly, have been to allow combined scores of 1602 instead of passing all four tests (1602 is the sum of the minima required to pass each test, this means a high score in one subject can balance out a low/failing score in another); also Maryland has allowed some students to demonstrate content knowledge in each subject by “bridge projects” after trying and failing to pass the HSA.

Over the next year or two, HSA scores will begin to factor into a teacher’s evaluation, by a Maryland state law passed last year. They have for years counted in a school’s evaluation, and it is primarily because of our low HSA scores that our school is undergoing the turnaround EGO process.

The English HSA was yesterday; I shall be proctoring the Biology HSA today. Algebra follows tomorrow, and Government on Thursday. Good luck throughout this week to the students at my school, to the students in Baltimore, and to students across the state!

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