Wednesday, May 20, 2009

15 Minutes of What?

To follow up on "The Spanish Inquisition," it seems the Grand High Inquisitor after he left my classroom last week declared to my principal and A.P. that my class was nothing more than "a Regents prep class." See, the children were working on writing projects, an assignment of my own design based on the Literary Response essay task on the ELA Regents (Session Two, Part A). They were assigned, in groups, to come up with questions about each of the two passages, and about the writing task. Therefore, since he "did not see anything else going on," he concluded that I taught nothing but Regents prep, with no other meaningful content.

Forget the fact that the ELA Regents Exam, like any other standardized test, is designed to measure certain specific skills (not content knowledge) that students are expected to learn in high school English. Forget, also, that the ELA Regents is actually an excellent tool for developing those skills, as it is not a content-based exam; indeed, the content changes with each Regents administration. The tasks are always the same, but the material which the students are given to use in performing those tasks is always new and cannot be studied in advance. And forget the fact that I explained to this person while he was here the function of this particular assignment in the grand scheme of my English syllabus.

The point is that this person came into my class for 15 minutes, asked me a few questions, had me explain and show him a great many things, took a few notes, and concluded that the thing he saw for those 15 minutes must be the only thing that ever goes on in my classroom. Does anyone else see the flaw in the logic here?

There are 180 days in the school year. Each class is 47 minutes long. That means this person saw 15 minutes out of an 8,460-minute course, less than 1/5 of 1% (0.18%). Yet that 0.18% was enough for this person to make a broad, conclusory generalization about the other 99.72%, none of which he saw.

Obviously it did not occur to this person that any academic course is going to have a Regents-prep component. We would not be doing our jobs if we simply ignored the existence, and requirements, of these high-stakes exams. But contrary to the complaints of the no-teaching-to-the-test crowd, it is possible to incorporate and develop the skills associated with standardized tests without "teaching to the test." This is especially true with the ELA Regents, given its task/content duality.

I have always been irked by administrators and others who spend a few minutes in a classroom, or a few seconds standing outside the door, and conclude that whatever they see and hear during those few minutes or seconds is "all that ever goes on" in that class. The disgusting, demented gargoyle of a principal I had at that phony, corrupt so-called "School of the Arts" in Queens thought the same way, and did the same thing. He'd stand outside the door, watch or listen for half a minute, and then accuse me of never doing anything other than what he had seen or heard during that half-minute (or, alternatively, of never doing something he wanted me to do because he had not seen or heard it during those 30 seconds). People like this are impossible to please, and impossible to reason with. Their thinking is inherently unreasonable.

Ultimately, the criticisms the Grand High Inquisitor leveled at my school are laughable, and completely meaningless. The bullet-point suggestions use a lot of vague and passive language, and repeat the paradoxical edicts that we "raise expectations and rigor to improve achievement in academic subjects," and "ensur[e] that [assignments and expectations] are differentiated for each student." Since differentiation and rigor are irreconcilable, I imagine these evaluations will continue to see-saw back and forth between insufficient rigor and insufficient differentiation, until we get a reasonable Grand High Inquisitor to come in and take an honest, reasonable look at what we are doing here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

15 minutes of B.S. that's what. Anyway it's not fair (for lack of a better word) or reasonable to believe those 15 minutes is what you do everyday. They should use a little logic. Plus your teaching key skills for the future. Anyway can't wait to see you at camp.

-Adam Schutzman