Thursday, August 5, 2010

Courage, NJ biology teachers!

I saw Willa Spicer, the Deputy Commissioner of the N. J. Department of Education, at an AP conference Tuesday. She made the opening remarks, with platitudes on the courage of teachers.

It doesn't take a whole lot of courage to not be laid off, so I was a bit confused (a common state for me), but the coffee was good, the company even better, so I checked it off as one of those things you do at a conference before the real stuff starts.

Today the state announced the biology end of course pass rate, perhaps better called the fail rate.

Courage, Doyle, courage!

Some of my kids are still wrestling with English.
Many of my kids come in believing fire is alive and plants are not.
Don't even get me started with evolution....


Here's an idea--test them the day they come in, then again in May. Did I make a difference?

I went to a state conference in March to learn more about the state EOC exam.
  • I learned that writing the questions is very expensive.
  • I learned that teachers are not allowed to see the questions, even (or maybe especially) when proctoring the exam.
  • I learned that even though the state curriculum has changed, not all of the question will reflect the changes because, well, it's really expensive to make new questions, and they have some they've already paid for.

Ms. Spicer once chaired the NJ Performance Assessment Alliance, the crew that developed the open-ended test questions the last few years. We were allowed to see the NJPAA performance assessment questions.

Imagine a question developed by a committee of "parents, educators, and the business community." Toss in horseshoe crabs, a creature as foreign to my kids as escargots bourguignons. Add language that befuddled even the proctors.

I have no idea how the tests were scored.


45% of New Jersey's students failed the end of course biology exam this past May. Even more depressing, the passing score was 53%.

105,000 students took the test. If it counted, then nearly 50,000 diplomas would be at risk.

I have an idea--let's give the test to every teacher in the state, everybody in the department of education, every administrator drawing a public salary. What passing score would be needed to guarantee that even half would pass?

I want my kids to pass. But I won't teach to the test.

I can't--I don't know what the test tests....

The photo of Ms. Spicer comes from "School Board Notes."

The cartoon figure of the thylakoid comes from here.
Biology's not the cute froggie course it was a generation ago.


John Spencer said...

I don't understand the diagram. I don't. Which makes me wonder if:

a. I was taught it and tuned it out because a former biology teacher had already told us that we could not reconcile a belief in God and an acceptance of science at the same time and no matter how nice this biology teacher was I simply couldn't muster up the energy to care

b. I was distracted by my own biological impulses that come with being an adolescent

c. I was obsessed with reading Norman Mailer and Gabriel Garcia Marquez that year and so really nothing in the diagram could have captivated my attention much.

d. I never learned it, was never taught it and so it just doesn't make sense to me.

doyle said...

Dear John,

The diagram overstates my case--I again looked at the standards this morning, and the specific steps of the electron transport chain will not be part of the exam.

That I even attempt to teach biochemistry before the kids have had chemistry, though, tells me something's wrong with the system.