Monday, January 29, 2018

In Global Studies, It's Martin Luther (NOT) King by Dr. Michael Flanagan

This weekend many New York City teachers graded the New York State Regents exams. I graded the Global History and Geography exam. Regents are given at the end of each school year, and students can retake them again in January and August if they do not pass the first time. At this time, students must pass five of these exams in order to graduate, making the Regents a high-stakes standardized test. And for the high school teachers who have  20% - 40% of their APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) being comprised of these student Regents scores, they are high-stakes as well. Essentially, the students’ futures, and our careers, ride on these state tests.

In NYC, teachers are not trusted enough to grade their own students’ exams in their own schools. Instead the grading is done in regional grading sites -- schools in other, very often inconveniently, located areas of the city. During “Regents Week” in January and June, teachers and exams are both shipped to these locations during regular school hours. When there is not enough time in the regular school day to complete the grading, the Department of Education hires teachers for overtime pay, known as per session hours. Most of us affectionately refer to this gig as “blood money”, but to be honest, the extra cash is nice.

The majority of teachers grading these exams are student-centered and caring professionals who have the students' interests at heart. They are there to fight for points in order to give the kids every chance to pass. But that doesn't mean we can't find the humor in the occasional entries from the “out of the mouths of babes” files -- the amusing things kids write in their essays shared at the tables to break up the monotony of scoring. Some actual quotes from this weekend:

- When Gandhi got out of prison the first thing he did was take a walk around the city

- If Hitler sees Jews he kills them in an instant

- Galileo used the microscope to prove the sun was the center of the earth, but they didn't believe him.

- Martin Luther was an exceptional person he read a really great book by god. The Bible I believe it was called.

- Nelson Mandela took a six week ass whuppin for his people

- Martin Luther had 99 problems. He was awoke.

Then there are the kids that throw the Hail Mary, and abandon the essay altogether to plead for the grader’s mercy:  

“This is the hardest test I ever took so please pass me" or,

"I have not taken this class since 9th grade, and didn't go to the review classes, so I know I failed and will have to take it again in June. So I will have more time to study. Have a blessed day. "

While the graders could share a chuckle over these lines, we stopped laughing once we realized we were in the midst of a grave epidemic. The Martin Luther (Not) King Massacre.

As global studies teachers one of the first things that we teach our kids during instruction of the Protestant Reformation and again during Regents review, is that if you see Martin Luther, it is not, not, not, Martin Luther KING! Any teacher worth his or her weight knows this. It is like cops pulling the old “good cop bad cop routine” or a sales person pulling a “bait and switch”. You know it is coming, you need to expect it,  and should never fall for it. For the Global Regents you are not even supposed to mention the United States, except in reference to other world events.

This year’s thematic essay question asked students to select two individuals who brought about change, and for each describe the historical circumstances around the individual, describe the action taken, and discuss the extent to which the action was successful.  Basically a six part question, and one of two essays on the exam.

This essay question appears in some form every couple of years and the Board of Regents, knowing that many students stress in this kind of high pressure test, is kind enough to offer suggestions on who to choose for this essay. Gandhi. Mandela. Galileo. And inevitably, Martin Luther.

Martin Luther, the Monk.

Protestant Revolution Martin Luther.

The guy from Germany who nailed stuff on the church door.

As in: NOT the American civil rights leader. Ever.

I myself read dozens of papers discussing Dr. King. Some graders began keeping more precise tallies. One teacher counted 52 essays. Another 61.  

None of those essays can receive credit.

So many kids.

I am angry.

Angry at the kid for falling for the trick.

Angry at the teachers who did not drill that fact in deeply enough.

Then I think of myself. I taught seniors in government this past semester, and some of them had to retake that global history exam again. I should have reviewed more with them, but I was too focused on teaching my own content.

But mostly I am angry at the state for pulling this crap on students, once again.

The state's got jokes. They think it's funny to waste our students’ time by throwing this dirty trick at them, particularly in January when most of the test takers are special needs and ELL students who have already failed this Global Regents at least once before. Some have not seen the content all year. Many of the students taking the test are seniors trying to graduate, and have not even sat in a global class for two or three years.  

However, all that aside, putting Martin Luther on this test, knowing full well that students might fall for this trick…is a cheap shot.

But bigger than that, the fact that students are forced to take and pass these standardized exams in order to graduate -- and that their scores are tied to their teachers evaluations -- is the real problem. The very students who fall into the Martin Luther (NOT) King trap are the students who often times will never pass these tests. They may not have the ability, the resources or be given the support necessary to pass. They are therefore denied their high school diploma.

We as teachers have to remember that many of these kids are set up to fail. We need to be better at preparing them to meet the challenges facing them. We also have to remember that the kids who failed these tests previously, are going to have an even harder time passing the second and third times around. Sometimes, what they need might be different than what we are directed to do. We -- I -- need to be better. So I leave my fellow global studies teachers with this piece of advice: remember the Martin Luther (Not) King massacre of January 2018. And let's give our students every opportunity to pass these high stakes exams.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Dr Flanagan for seeing the challenges the students and teachers face wirh clear eyes and a healthy dose of reality. You inspire learning.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.