Saturday, February 24, 2007

Something to Think About, or, Are We Creating Monsters?

In a conversation with Mrs. Eagle, who is in charge of the committee for our school improvement plan that comes up with our school goals, it came to light that our discipline referrals have jumped 85% this year.

Yup....Eighty-five percent.

That is simply unreal, and, as you can imagine, unacceptable. Obviously something needs to be done about this. The question arises, however, on what is causing this huge increase. Two-thirds of our student body, more or less, were here last year, so it's not like we have a huge turnover in our student population - we lost the eighth graders and gained sixth graders as we always do. The huge number of referrals are spread fairly evening through the grade levels, so it isn't one grade level causing the problems. We have most of the same teachers (although the 8th grade has suffered some changes due to some illnesses and resignations due to spousal transfers). The administration is the same. And I checked with the Guidance Goddess and she said most of the referrals were pretty significant, for things like disruption, and weren't just a whole bunch of referrals for tardies sliding in. So what is causing this?

Mrs. Talladega, who's taught both 6th and 8th grade math over the years along with the tech class (and who has two middle schoolers at home) was of the opinion that, in a previous year's attempt to lower the number of referrals, we let the little things slide. We were encouraged not to slap a referral on a kid but to do a lot more counseling and mentoring in the hopes to discourage the unacceptable behavior before it reached referral status. (In other words, more warm fuzzy stuff.) As she put it, murderers don't start off murdering people, they usually start off with little crimes like robbery, aggravated assault, domestic assault, and so on. She does have a point. Perhaps this group of kids realized that they got away with the small stuff and have moved on to bigger things. Something to consider.

I'm wondering, however, if all the emphasis on high-stakes testing is playing a role. In my readings through the blogosphere I've come across comments from some teachers who indicate that they've changed their style of teaching (usually at district demand) in order to do more worksheets, sample tests, and so forth. I remember reading (somewhere, I wish I could credit the source but I can't remember) that a high school reading teacher was lamenting the fact that she was only able to fit in less than half the novels she usually covered due to demands to do more "testing" type instruction. We all know that kids act up a lot when they're bored, and frankly, I can't think of anything more boring than doing worksheets and drills day in and day out.

At a meeting this past year Mrs. Standard, our science consulting teacher, told us that we should go over sample test questions every day in class so the kids are prepared for their Big Deal State Tests in April. Mrs. Eagle and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Our kids see enough tests, and test questions, all year long and quite frankly, we're not wasting our time doing more of it when we can do some hands on cool things (like make chia pets for our plant unit). The fact that our scores are high means that everyone pretty much leaves us alone and lets us do what we want in the classroom, a luxury a lot of teachers don't have. What we do, for the most part, is lots of cooperative work and lots of hands on stuff. Interestingly enough, both of us are on pace with previous years in terms of handing out discipline referrals - we don't hand out many and you really have to screw up to get one.

So...it's your turn. What do you think? Are behavior problems increasing due to the way some teachers are having to restructure their teaching to satisfy demands on high stakes testing? Or are we letting little things slide a bit too much and the big things rear their ugly heads later? Or is it a combination of both? Or is it something else? Let me know.

3 comments:

ponytrax said...

It's Liz from I Speak of Dreams. Is it possible that it's related to your previous post?

Just kidding.

I'm with Mrs. Talladega. It's related to the "broken window' theory of community policing.

Your principal is going to need to step in big-time to turn around the culture of the school.

I don't have any quick fixes here.

Darren said...

You posit an interesting theory (about testing), but you offer no evidence at all that testing--which occurred last year, and the year before, and the year before--is the "cause" of the increase in referrals. Absent evidence, you don't have anything other than an opinion.

I like the broken windows analogy.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Darren, I don't have any evidence (which is why I posted this) outside of a few teachers I've talked to who have changed their teaching techniques due to more and more emphasis on testing. (I haven't, and interestingly enough, I don't have the discipline problems others are having). I tend to agree with Mrs. Talladega, but I'd like to see what others think. I do know that I would be bored to tears doing nothing but drill and kill and practice tests, so I can only imagine what kids would feel like having to sit through that.

So..anyone?