Trust the teachers
December 19, 2005
Happy holidays to all.
But the school board meeting earlier this month wasn’t so merry.
What interested me most was the copies of semester exams from fall 2004 that were available to the public for taking. They weren’t put there by the school district – in fact, school staff has said the exams left Carson High School without the permission of the department head or history teachers.
But they were there, and I took them home and read them front to back. Just for some background information, there are 15 teachers in the history department at Carson High. Nine of them taught U.S history last year, and nine are teaching U.S. history this year.
Of the nine exams in the packet, four had questions about early American history – colonialism and/or the Revolutionary War – and most covered up to late 19th or early 20th century history. Eight of the nine exams had questions about the Civil War.
Only one exam focused entirely on early American history and stopped at the end of the Civil War – it was the one that truly stood out as different – and the one which one administrator said meant the teacher was about two months behind.
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The question is, can these exams be considered as reflective of the entire semester? According to Karen Simms, head of the history department, they cannot.
“The reason why five out of the nine may have not had questions on the Revolutionary period is that that material was covered during first quarter,” she said. “And before we went to a unified semester test, teachers had the option at the end of the quarter to give a quarter test.
“That would mean that you would test everything you would cover in the first quarter at the end of the first quarter and then everything you would cover in the second quarter at the end of the second quarter. It was not mandatory to give a full, comprehensive semester test. That was up to the teacher’s discretion how they wanted to test their students.”
Those fall 2004 semester exams reflected a “snippet” of what might have occurred in a teacher’s classroom from the beginning of the semester, she said.
“Because there wasn’t a standardized test, of course every teacher was going to assess their students the way they feel is appropriate for their kids,” Simms said.
A suggestion by the regional professional development team to use unified tests became practice at Carson High in spring 2004-05. Unified tests help meet school and district improvement goals and further achievement Under No Child Left Behind. Teachers in departments at Carson High spent time determining which questions needed to be on the exams, and the exams will be tweaked as needed, according to Principal Fred Perdomo.
“It was my hope when (unified testing) was presented that teachers would align their curriculum so that they are preparing the students for these tests,” Perdomo said. “That’s why we’re doing the backward assessment model. This is the whole purpose. It was very apparent to me when I taught world history for eight years that my world history wasn’t quite the same as one of the other teachers of world history.”
While there is no way to assess that high school teachers are meeting standards like standard 6.12.5 (which says, “Students should be able to describe the events, course and results of the American Revolutionary War, including the contributions of African Americans and Native Americans,” and should be taught in U.S. history according to the district’s curriculum map), the best way to assure teachers are on track is to stop in their classrooms and check, Perdomo said.
But that would be difficult.
“You’d have to be in the room every day (to entirely make sure all the standards are met),” he said. “It’d be difficult, and there’s a certain amount of professional responsibility. You have to trust the teachers you hire.”
n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.