Hall of Mirrors

Our school is on the cusp of being a “level four” school. What is a level four school, you ask?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts defines a Level 4 school as one that has performed poorly on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) in both the Math and English Language Arts sections over a four-year span and hasn’t shown signs of “substantial improvement.” Level four schools are threatened with essentially being taken over by “outside operators;” the principal can be fired, staff reassigned or let go.
In order to forestall state-takeover, our district is scrambling to find ways to make “substantial improvement.” By improvement, of course we mean in our MCAS scores. One way we are responding is to get a private company called “Achievement Net” or “A-Net” to help us administer standardized tests throughout the year, which are “tailored” for our curriculum. Every student will take a total of 12 of these tests this year. We put an entire grade into lockdown mode, administer the test, and send the bubble sheets off to be corrected. They come back with lots of statistics and forms to fill out. We spend hours poring over the results, breaking kids into daily half-hour pull-out groups, filling out A-Net forms handed to us that have questions like, “Today I will _ to make sure my students understand the material,” or “Today I will reteach _ to make sure my students understand the concept of_.”
A good teacher doesn’t need to waste time filling out such formulaic tripe; a lousy teacher won’t be helped by it. This is merely the way that Achievement Net helps to justify its fees: it is coaching us. Most of the people I have met from A-Net were teachers for a couple of years, realized it was a suckers’ game, and went for the easy money: private test prep.
Me being a sucker, here I am looking at one set of standardized test scores to figure out ways to get the students to pass ¬†another set of standardized tests. Before you know it, we’ll be hiring a second test-prep company to help us do better on the A-Net tests.

5 thoughts on “Hall of Mirrors

  1. Investigating Ed

    I love your description of ANet: using one standardized test to prepare students for another standardized test.

    Out of curiosity, what’s discipline like at your school?

  2. Sporks Post author

    Discipline is not too bad for a middle school. We work really hard at our school to foster a positive and respectful atmosphere, and it really does seem to pay off (mostly).

  3. Mr. G

    I’m 100% with you that ANet is a scam. In my school, the math department refuses to align our curriculum with ANet, which assumes that students come in on grade level. We spend the first four months of the school year teaching 4th-5th grade information to catch students up, so we our always four months behind the ANet schedule, meaning students have not been taught a single thing on any ANet test they take.

    Then on data days we go through the same charade you discussed with the analyzing data/reteaching the stuff that’s never been taught and fill out “reteach plans” to send to administrators. Our math department head justifies this to all of us by saying, “we’ll pretend they’re diagnostics.” Pretty sure that our administration does not know that these tests are worthless (other than demoralizing students who have to repeatedly take long tests on material they have never seen before).

    1. MathMan

      It’s not about the students.
      It’s about administrators playing along with what their bosses are teling them. Many of them hope to be part of the high-paying world of administrative edu-consultants.
      The students are just commodities.

      1. Sporks Post author

        I suspect my administrators aren’t so much angling for a better position than to simply keep the one they have. Everyone is feeling paranoid, and some respond by toeing the line as hard as they can, others by continuing to teach the way they think is best. And some just quit. It’s tempting.


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