Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Test scores vs the teaching

This year was my third year of teaching A.P. Government. I took the place of a man who had probably been the most respected teacher in the school, so I had very big shoes to fill. The first year that I did it, I worked my backside off, but I was not very comfortable. I had never taught a college or A.P. class before, so I had always emphasized what I wanted students to learn, and then tested on that. Since the A.P. test would be given at the end of the year, and I had no idea what would be on it, I couldn't do that. American government is a huge subject (Aren't they all?), and there were times when I felt overwhelmed. I had never before had a class of mine take a national or a state test at the end of the year on something I taught, so that A.P. test became very important to me, and I can't say that I was exuding confidence when it was given. But when the results came back, I was thrilled. Out of 21 kids, eleven got 3s, which meant that they got college credit, five kids got 4s, and one got a 5--the first one on an A.P. Government test for anyone in our school for a number of years. (For those who don't know, 5 is the best possible score on A.P. tests, and 1 is the lowest.) The results were far better than they had been the year before, and so I felt pretty good about the teaching job I had done. When the next school year began, I was holding my head up a little higher, and my chest was sticking out a little farther.

This year, there is no question in my mind that I did the best job of teaching the class that I have done during my three years. My understanding of the material has greatly improved since my first year, and my presentations were definitely superior. Yesterday, I got the results of this year's A.P. test. The results: Three 3s, two 4s, and eleven 2s. My head has come back down, and my chest has come back in.

Is it possible--just possible--that those wonderful results that first year weren't a result of my being a great teacher? Is it possible they were more a result of my having great students? Nah, that couldn't be. Everybody knows that it's the teacher who matters.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the feeling--I created an AP European history program at my school, and I've had the same up and down experience so far. First year--30% passage rate out of 64 students, 45 of whom took the test. Big mistake--my school, although rather large, does not have 64, let alone 45, AP caliber students. Second year, 33 students, 62% passage rate. This year, took 36 students, which again was too many, and while I haven't gotten back my scores, the students who have gotten back to me have estimating about a 40% passage rate. Student quality varied a lot over those three years--mediocre, and a lot of them, then smaller number of awesome students, and then a slightly bigger group of semi-apathetic kids. Amazing how the scores reflect that, huh?

7/18/2007 5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should add this to my above comment: my school does have 64 AP caliber students--more actually. Just not in a single grade like my class is. :)

7/18/2007 5:28 PM  
Blogger nbosch said...

In Susan Winebrenner's book, Teaching Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom, she tells this story. A teacher did a wonderful job of teaching a curriculum unit and all students aced the test. After taking a staff development class on differentiating in the classroom she pre-tested the students the next year before teaching her wonderful curriculum unit. Many of them aced the test BEFORE she even taught the unit!! Yikes.

I'm sure that's not the situation with your AP kiddos, but bet it happens more than we would like to admit.

7/20/2007 4:10 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Anonymous, we have definitely felt like we haven't had as many AP caliber students the last couple of years as we had before.

Nbosch, I'm sure you're right. I guess that means we shouldn't strain our shoulders by patting ourselves on the back when our kids do well. It also probably means that we shouldn't berate ourselves too hard when they don't do as well as we'd like. I do think, however, that we've got to take a look at the way we're doing things to consider whether there is a better way to present the material, and that's one thing I'm doing this summer.

7/21/2007 7:21 AM  
Anonymous Betty said...

I taught in an exemplary school, and all of the students did well. When I moved to a not so exemplary school, I realized what was going on in other schools. I had students show up without materials and laugh at me for expecting them to complete assignments. It was a whole other ballgame. I knew that I still mattered, but I was on a different playing field. Success is not always determined by test scores.

7/21/2007 11:45 AM  
Blogger Repairman said...

There's another factor possibly at work here. Our AP door is open to all comers and, at least in our district, with the college prep diploma being promoted heavily, more students are signing up for AP who are, perhaps, not ready. (Our AP students have the choice of taking the test or not, and that concerns me because if they don't take the test, they have burned up a college credit slot.)

Does your situation compare to ours?

That's a lot of "ifs, ands, or buts" and not a comment I can back with data, but student readiness certainly plays a part.

7/21/2007 1:48 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Repairman, there is another factor that I haven't mentioned, and it might be an important one. Our A.P. Government class was also a college in the classroom class through University of Minnesota-Crookston before I taught it, so kids got college credit regardless of how they did on the AP test. The first year, UMC said I wasn't qualified to teach the class, so in order for the kids to get college credit, they had to get at least a 3 on the AP Test. The next year, UMC changed their minds again, so for the last two years, kids have gotten college credit again, as long as they get a C in the class. So, the AP test is still important to me, but not so important to the kids who take it.

7/22/2007 11:23 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Is it the teacher of the student?

For every kid with whom you empty your instructional toolbox to no avail, there's the kid that you just threw up your normal shtick and saw absurdly high results. In the realm of debate, discourse, and blogs, the kids represented in the above two groups get all the attention, and are used as leveraged to push one or another point of view. Thing it, those kids balance each other out, (which is why merit pay is valid, no matter how you implement it).

Given that they balance each other out, everyone else is on you. So we can take away a couple of those 2s, but you gotta give back one 4 and maybe some 3s to do it.

7/22/2007 3:17 PM  
Blogger Mz.H said...

This post really hit home for me. Our school is starting up an AP program this coming year and I'm designing the AP US Government course. We have 70 students signed up, which means I'll be teaching 2 AP courses of 35 students each. In this age of testing, I've found that Rethinking Schools' lesson plans on demystifying the standardized test really helpful. I'm going to try and incorporate that sort of thing into the skills part of the course. I'm nervous and at the same time excited for the challenge. Now back to planning....

7/25/2007 9:36 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Two classes with 35 each? Yikes! Best of luck, Mz. H!

7/26/2007 2:58 AM  
Blogger Mz.H said...

I think I will be doing a lot of small group work - especially with regard to accountability for their many readings. I'm currently reading "Are We Rome?" and wondering if it might be useful in setting up our study of the Constitution this year... then again, that could be a little pessimistic!

I'm at Chalkboard Insurgent.

7/26/2007 2:20 PM  

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