This letter from a teacher in Chicago public schools shows how gaming the system has become more important than helping each and every child achieve their best.
Data matter more than students.
Data matter more than learning.
Numbers trump education and equity.
The advice: focus on the kids closest to passing. Forget those at the top and the bottom: They don’t matter.
Here is the message:
Today we had a grade level meeting about the NWEA scores for the fourth grade students at my school. We teachers were all given printouts of our students’ most recent scores: RIT bands, percentiles, the whole shebang.
Then we were instructed to highlight the students in our classes who had scored between the 37th and 50th percentile. These students, the admin informed us, are the most important students in the class; they are the ones most likely to reach the 51st percentile when students take the NWEA again in May.
Making the 51st percentile is VERY important to CPS, and thus to principals, literacy coordinators, test specialists and teachers-who-don’t-want-to-lose-their-jobs.
It might not be important to individual students, their parents or anyone else, but it is life or death in Chicago Public Schools.
We nodded, wide-eyed. These students, our guide continued, should be your primary focus. Make sure they get whatever they need to bring them up to that percentile. Sign them up for any and all academic programs, meet with them daily in small groups, give them extra homework, have them work with available tutors…whatever it takes.
What about the kids at the very bottom, one teacher wondered, the kids under the 20th percentile…shouldn’t they be offered more support too? The admin squirmed a bit. Well, they don’t really have any chance of hitting the goal, so for right now, no. There was silence.
Left unsaid was what might, could, will happen to any school that does NOT have enough students meet that magic number. No one really needs to say it. We all saw the 50 schools that got closed down last year. We see the charters multiplying around us. We’ve also seen the steady stream of displaced teachers come through our school doors as substitutes. We know that we could be next.