Saturday, April 7, 2018

STOP 3rd Grade SOUL THEFT by Jackie Conrad

I teach third grade. Every one of my kids, age 8 or 9, has talents and dreams. This past Wednesday, we had a circle of friendship. That’s when we sit on the carpet in a circle and take turns saying something nice about each other.
The desks were all spread far apart, since we have been MAP testing in Reading, Math, and Science this week on computers. So we had plenty of space.
The first time I did a circle of friendship, it was hot, early in the year. We kept having to unclasp our hands because they were sweating. The kids were uncomfortable.
This time, right after lunch, I told them we were doing a circle, and they cheered. See, they look forward to the affirmations. From peers and from me.
I ended up talking the most, because when they were done, I did the whole circle.
I told them that I know them really well now. And I named the things I saw in them, each one. Their abilities, their struggles, how they had grown over the year, and I ended up telling them that I believed in each and every one of them.
Later, I asked them to trace their hand on the blue paper and write about what they thought I would say about them at conferences.
One student, who has struggled, wrote that I would say he has gotten his anger under control, that he was smart, that he was good in math, and that he liked to dance.
These are PEOPLE.
I put their essays in their conference folders.
We took our MAP Reading test the next day. The test is on a computer. Everyone gets different questions, depending on how they are doing, they get harder or easier questions. They worked really hard, since a score of 196 during one of the tests can equal promotion under the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee.
Less than half of my class has met a promotion score so far. Only a few more surpassed the 196 that day. And that is to be expected, since the nationwide mean is 198.6 at the END of the year. But this is technically the END OF THE YEAR. April. Because in order for the State of Ohio to decide what sort of a job I have done for my evaluation, we need scores by early May.
I have some kids that need to score a 672 or higher on the AIR/TIDE test, which we are taking next week. If they don’t, they will have to attend summer school attended then take MORE tests.
Like the MAP, the AIR test has passages we have never seen, questions we have never seen, it is taken on a computer, and the kids have to read 2 passages and then write an essay which includes evidence cited from both passages.
It is going to be scored by a computer.
The computer cannot read.
The computer is looking for conventions like capitalization, end punctuation, an introduction, use of transitional words, and a conclusion.
The prompt asks them to write a “multiparagraph essay”. The same rubric is used for grades 3-5. The “exemplars”, which are essays written by I-don’t-know-whom, but are available on the ODE website, are mostly beyond what my kids can do.
Children who are 8 or 9 are not developmentally ready for keyboarding, based on their fine motor skills. Nor have they entered the cognitive level of formal operations. But let’s ask them to do this, because we can defeat them easily at this age.
And so, today, in the Plain Dealer, appears this article:

Computers mis-grade 5,300 state tests after programming error by American Institutes for Research

There are days I can’t wait to get to school. There are days I would prefer not to go. But I do, anyway.
I love my kids. I raise butterflies in the summer, and teaching is better than butterflies, but in some ways, the same. It’s seeing the potential. The egg hatches into a caterpillar, and if you provide what it needs, you end up with a butterfly.
Teaching can be like that.
Honestly, though, I am feeling defeated tonight.
I know that computers can’t read. I don’t buy into the snake oil…I don’t want to live in a world with self-driving cars. I don’t see technology as the answer to everything. I look at my kids and no matter how hard I try, I don’t see data points.
I see organic people. They have strengths. They have weaknesses. We have a culture in the classroom that allows us to say that out loud. As a teacher, I too have strengths and weaknesses. So does EVERYBODY.
And I feel very WEAK. Right now.

Because what I know about those people in my class doesn’t mean jack squat. What the computer “knows” means EVERYTHING. Except WHEN IT SCREWS UP.

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