Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, "L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president. By replacing Monica Garcia with Vladovic, the LAUSD board signals the waning influence of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This begs the question: Are days numbered for embattled Superintendent John Deasy?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ups & Downs of "Value-Added" Test Scores

The Los Angeles Times has been blowing smoke about what a big deal it is publishing LA Unified teachers' "value-added" test scores. They say it's an accurate way of measuring a teacher's effectiveness. The LA teacher's union, UTLA, answers that these statistics are a private personnel matter between the teacher and LAUSD.
The "value-added" statistics are arrived at by comparing a student's score earned the previous year on the annual State-mandated test with the score the kid earned after 8 months studying the subject under you. Or me. Or the teacher down the hall. A couple of months ago I was apprised of my "value-added" scores. Out of 120 or so kids, 22 went up, 37 went down, and the remainder stayed the same. I guess that means last year I produced a net loss of 15 kids. Maybe those 15 kids hated my guts. Maybe they decided to take a year off in English and I couldn't inspire them to change their plan. I do know that if they didn't try to make dominoes on the Scantron card they would've at least gotten a "basic," because these tests aren't difficult if you apply yourself beforehand. That also means a large percentage of radio talk show hosts, school board reps and politicians couldn't score basic, either--even after applying themselves.
Students often ask me before class,"Mr. Blocker, what are we gonna do today?" September through October I tell them to do their dispatch and write down the agenda. After that, I tell the boys, "I'm going to teach you how to drink whiskey and play poker." That momentarily perks them up until they go inside and read the agenda. (I never get them to write it down.) When the girls ask, I tell them they're going to learn how to balance trays loaded with drinks and carry them without spilling. Some are enthused; others want to learn poker. I give those girls an automatic A, just like how I reward the girls who want to be doctors instead of nurses.
I often survey the students about what they think about my classes and instruction. They often complain that we do too much writing and reading and not enough movie watching.
"Why do we have to do all this reading and writing anyway?"
"Because it''s an English class."
"When are we gonna watch a movie?"
"Today." The entire class invariably erupts in cheers until I continue, "It's called, Mr. Blocker, Great American Teacher." Before I finish they drown me in boos. Adding, "In fact, it's going to be a live, staged event," offers fetid consolation.
Every September nature and the counseling office deliver a new crop of kids to face this cerebral routine. I wonder how a decade's worth of value-added scores will look: flat, peaks 'n' valleys, a steady rise or decline? When do we know enough to enroll more kids in my class or pull-the plug on a dead career?
I don't care who sees my scores. In fact, I don't care who walks into my room as long as they are unarmed and sane. The way I see it, it's public property so the public ought to have access as long as they're cleared by the principal and security.
In 9 years of teaching I've only experienced two bad encounters with parents. One told the vice principal, my supervisor, that I was a "white man intent on bringing down young black males." That was during my first year. She was mad I got her kid suspended for throwing a pencil back at me while storming out of the room after I accused him of cheating on a test. I understand her anger. Nowadays I'm mum about about catching students cheating. It means they give a turd whether they pass. It could even mean a high score, in turn maybe pulling up my "value-added" score.
The other parent? She complained, "Muthafuckah, you used a profanity in front of my child." She was right, too. One morning the kid pissed me off by sprinkling Jolly Rancher candy wrappers on an otherwise reasonably clean floor. So I barked, "pick that shit up."
"Fuck you, bitch. I ain't yo slave," she quickly noted.
It was about 10 minutes past the opening 8 a.m. bell. A lot of day still ahead. What that kid told me makes more sense than what I hear from 99% of the adults who want to comment about how well I teach.