Confessions of a Teacher

The Blame Game- Teacher Shaming Has to Stop!

Can I start by saying that I am really angry?  Really. Angry! The State of Florida has given us so many examples of “what not to do” this month. While gearing up for the end of the year should be a joyous time, instead teachers in one school district are taking the full blame for student achievement, and it impacts job security and bonus pay.  The Florida Department of Education pays out to recruit the “Best and Brightest,” while penalizing those who have no access to fully participate, and denying an entire group of professionals from receiving a dime. The state department likes to play the “Blame Game and Teacher Shame” when discussing student achievement and to be honest, schools cannot truly progress until that part stops. Specifically, a school district totally disregarded state mandates and made their own decisions, causing an entire faculty to receive pink slips- right before school is out.
Just like in many states around America, Florida is ground zero in standardized testing.  The Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), administered in the month of April, is the “gold standard” for criterion-based testing in Florida.  It’s a huge deal because, in third grade, if a student scores a level 1, the student is retained.  It doesn’t matter if a child has a disability, the flu, or a parent arrested in the middle of the night.  While students with disabilities often receive accommodations, this does not truly level the playing field for many students.
My kiddos must score a level 2 or higher, or they are forced to repeat 3rd grade. Click To Tweet
In 10th grade, students must pass the FSA Reading, among many other End of Course (EOC) exams, with a level 3 or higher.  Level 3 indicates ON GRADE LEVEL.  In addition to the FSA Reading exam, students must also pass Algebra I EOC.  Having taught Special Education since the mid-1990’s, I have seen many things that aren’t developmentally appropriate for students with disabilities.  For example, my students with IQs of 70-80 are still required to pass these exams in order to graduate which hurts my heart.  As a result of this mandate, our district is dismayed by the high drop out rate, and cannot seem to understand why our students lose hope for the future.
Every child must achieve on-grade-level for graduation. Click To Tweet
As an ESE teacher, I administer the FSA to students with accommodations in a small group.  Of the 8 students in this “small” group, two were absent, again.  One kept falling asleep, and, when questioned, she stated that mom didn’t come home last night.  She was afraid to fall asleep because there had been gunshots in the neighborhood.  Another student was recently evicted from a domestic violence shelter and is living with a relative who is unhappy about the arrangement.  Yet another student had their water turned off last week, so she hasn’t bathed in that amount of time.  They come to school, ready or not, with this level of stress that families from higher socio-economic situations cannot fathom.
In reviewing the literature on the effects of poverty on student achievement, factors that influence student achievement include access to resources, vocabulary in the home and its dependence on maternal educational levels, nutrition, and transiency.  Children in my school zone know too many adult concepts:  eviction, loss of power or water, lack of food, overcrowding, and domestic violence.  The stress created by exposure to these adult problems leads to a higher rate of emotional and behavioral problems, academic difficulties, and social dysfunctions.  The factor of transiency and homelessness impact a child tremendously, according to The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, which cites that each individual move by a family within the same school district equates to 31 days of missed instruction.
While the district may have the same curriculum, it is implemented differently in each school, the child must adjust to new social and behavioral expectations, and the child must do so quickly.  They are thrown into the new school; perhaps they get a buddy to explain the new environment, but essentially they must adjust independently.  Students who experience these traumatic events on a regular basis must rely on their own resilience to be successful.
Which of these factors is under the control of the teacher? Click To Tweet
However, our effectiveness scores are linked to the testing data.  Our school’s grade and funding are linked to these test scores.
Yep.  I’m angry.
Now let’s talk about the Best and Brightest Awards- which are essentially teacher bonuses for student achievement in Florida!  If a teacher scored effective or highly effective on their evaluation AND they scored above the 80th percentile on the ACT exam in their OWN HIGH SCHOOL experience, they qualified for a bonus of up to $7,200.  Brand new teachers without an evaluation qualified for $6,000.  Further, a highly effective teacher without those scores earned $1,200 bonus while an effective teacher earned $800.  Principals earned between $4,000 and $5,000.  But guess what?  Assistant Principals got NOTHING in my district!!  The state of Florida spent almost $215 million on bonuses for 163,563 teachers and 638 principals.  I didn’t submit my ACT scores in time, so I missed out on the highest bonus.  Teachers’ unions have filed lawsuits about this seemingly unfair bonus, considering many older teachers never took the ACT.  There have even been rumors that districts across the state have required administrators to add scores of “developing” on the evaluations in an attempt to reduce the number of highly effective teachers and pay out less money.  While rumors abound, it isn’t hard to speculate that this “incentive” has teachers upset all across the state.
So now, let’s discuss Moton Elementary School  a school situated in the quaint little town of Brooksville where it serves K-5 students in the Hernando County School district, located on the west central coast of Florida.  It was initially built in the 1940’s as the “Brooksville Black School,” before it merged in 1948 to become Moton Elementary. As a coincidence, I attended Moton Elementary myself in the 1970’s for Kindergarten and first grade!  However, with a school grade of D for multiple years, the Florida Department of Education put its foot down.  If they did not score a C for 2018, they were given three options:  permanent closure, temporary closure to reopen as a charter school, or turn the school over to an outside educational agency. But the Hernando County School board didn’t like those options.
Their turnaround plan landed the entire instructional staff with pink slips this week.  No matter how effectively the teacher scored, they were released from their contract from the school. ” Teachers who had attained tenure, no longer available in Florida, were guaranteed jobs within the district.  However, their own ratings could limit where they would be allowed to teach.  For example, teachers with less than an effective rating cannot teach at a Title I school.  (Remember: that the school data and grade plays into the evaluation rating through the Value Added Model (VAM) scores, which related to the student achievement and school grade. ) Because there have been several years of low VAM scores for the teachers from Moton, they will likely not only not  be able to teach at a Title I school, but in any school in the area since 7 of the 11 elementary schools are deemed Title I.  How likely are all the teachers to find work within the district?   While tenure teachers have some reprieve, teachers without tenure are free to re-apply to the district.  No guarantees, though.  The administration was changed in January with the resignation of the principal and an appointment of a principal with experience in turnaround schools.  So the administration will remain the same, but everything else will be different. Such a strange situation to find oneself in, being let go despite a highly effective rating.
Florida does evaluations annually, based on the Marzano model, for most districts.  A rating of 4.0 is considered highly effective.  A 3.0 is effective.  A score lower than 3.0 is considered in need of improvement or developing for new teachers.  However, the score is not just a rating of the observations averaged.  Those pesky VAM scores figure into the score, often bringing it down.  These teachers with the highest level of performance, considered excellent teachers by their administration, according to the guidelines established by the state, are now job seekers due to the state assessments in Florida.  Laughably, the letter from the district states that they were informing the staff “early” so as to give them fair access to the jobs that would be coming available.
Remember when I talked about how hard it is for children in poverty to demonstrate equivalent achievement levels?  Remember my little girl who didn’t sleep or my boy who was homeless?
I am so angry.  Why do we continue to blame teachers and punish them for the inequities of our society?  Why do we reward indiscriminately and punish the same way?  Until legislators start seeing the problems where they truly lie, in the home, we are doomed to more of the same.  Yes, I said it.
The problems are IN THE HOME! How do we fix that? Not by shaming and blaming the teachers. Click To Tweet PLEASE make it stop!

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