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An Issue as Old as When I Was Teaching

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An Issue as Old as When I Was Teaching

As a teacher, I see the advantage of splitting kids in groups for math according to how well they test on a pretest. It makes it easier to target the students' needs and makes it easier to teach. I know there are many advantages but even as a mom whose kids have been in the high group (and the low group and the average group), I think it is damaging to do it too early. I think kids reach a level when it won't damage their self esteems and I feel strongly that 4th grade is too young. Even as a teacher, I refused to do it. I taught second grade so it really wasn't a big deal to refuse to do it. When Nico was in fifth grade, they did this and I had a huge issue with it. He ended up in the middle group and came home crying because at the time math was "his thing" and he couldn't understand why he wasn't in the high group. I told him to ask his teacher why and what he had to do to move groups and she said not to worry about it. One of the kids told him he was in the dumb group. Another kid said, "Nico, I thought you were smart. Why are you in that group?" I saw his confidence in math deflating right in front of my eyes. He asked me, "Can I be in the NFL if I am dumb at math?" I couldn't sit back anymore so I asked the teacher about it and she said he tested on the border so she put him in the lower group. I told her what was going on and said next time he tests on the border, can you put him in the higher group and see what happens? What do you know? He flourished. He rose to the occasion. I want to be crystal clear here: Even when Nico was in the high group, I was completely against this practice. I think a lot of success in math comes from having confidence in doing it. Some would argue that being in the lower group will give the child more success which in turn will give them confidence. In a perfect, very isolated world, I would agree. On the playground and right before the children switch classes, I completely disagree. A child that has to answer the question, "Which group are you in?" or has to move classes to the average group (if he wants to be in the high group) or the low group (if he wants to be in the average group) is not feeling all charged up about math. From my own experience in teaching, the kids did so much better when they were taught in their own classes and were given challenge work if they tested high on a pretest and were given extra reinforcement if they tested low. That way, I could see if the pretest was a fluke or if they actually tested to where their knowledge was. We all know that tests aren't the best measure of a child's ability. Some kids are really good test takers and some aren't. Some people would argue that, "Oh, it's fun for the kids to get up and move classes or have different teachers." I'd bet it's only fun for the kids in the high group or the ones that aren't aware that the groups are split by high/average/low.

I know this because having twins, this issue is a gigantic pain in my butt. My house was like a battle zone from the time the twins came home until they went to bed. Even when they went to cheer (where the talk in the car was, "What group are you in?") and football (Tommy came home upset because there was talk there too) there was no reprieve for them. One child is in a higher group than the other and the one that is in the lower one, math is "his thing" so there were a lot of tears shed last night. Every single conversation with Tommy and Belle was about how the classes were split up and who is in what class and why and then more tears. Belle walked around like a proud peacock and then struggled with her math homework all night. If you ask me, that is exactly what I was talking about. She obviously tested well and now is in over her head. Then she started crying, "What if I'm not supposed to be in this group?" What if I do bad and I get moved to the lower group?" So while the teachers are thinking this is a great idea and everyone's needs are getting met, I wonder if they really know the fall out from teaching this way? I highly doubt we are the only ones going through it.

To top it off, Tommy wanted to be a Jabbawockee for Halloween (hip hop dancer with a white face mask). I had to talk him down from a gazillion other costumes that I thought were inappropriate or too gory. For years, kids have worn masks for the Halloween parade. Two years ago, Tommy was a gorilla with a full mask. It was fine. Last year, he was Scream with a full mask and it was fine. This year, the new principal has decided to ban all masks. I see the safety issue but there is no vision issue with Tommy's mask. So it took me two weeks of painstakingly talking him and his friend into being this because everything else they wanted to be wasn't okay and now this isn't okay. It's a week before Halloween and we have to come up with another costume which means it will end up costing me twice as much as the original costume. I told him we could just paint his face white and he replied, "Then I'll look like a stupid mime." (Sorry if that is offensive to any mimes that might be reading this.) Tommy said yesterday was the "worst school day of my life."

The irony is that we bought this house because of the house (which we have outgrown) and the school district and between the running for flags, teaching based on a pretest and ruining Halloween, I wonder how they got the upstanding reputation that they have...oh wait...I remember now. It was based on kids' test scores.

1 Comments:

At October 25, 2011 at 8:05 AM , Blogger Kendra Mareva said...

"Sorry if that is offensive to any mimes that might be reading this."
LMAO!

Ugh, on the subject of tests. :( I wish someone would come up with a better way of assessing a child's progress and aptitude. Because it's so true that a lot of folks don't do well when being "tested".

 

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