Focus sounds like such a positive word. It sounds like the stuff of astronauts and long-distance runners. Yet, the state now uses this term to describe a failing school. It is a school which will go under intense scrutiny and focus until it miraculously changes. How does a school earn this charming nickname?
They have low test scores. However, there is more to the puzzle than meets the eye. Here’s what a teacher at one of those schools had to say. In a letter to Bill and Melinda Gates, she considers the problem.
“I’ve taught 4th and 5th graders in an inner city school for the past 17 years. What fun we used to have. Back then…. before the NCLB and RTT…. my students flourished in literature groups reading on grade level classics such as Hatchet, Tuck Everlasting, Call it Courage, The Cay, Caddie Woodlawn, The Little Princess, and My Side of the Mountain…Not anymore. Why? The testing. Since the high stakes tests began in 2001 I have noticed a decline in my student’s thinking skills. Each year they come to me with fewer skills than the group before me.”
It is frustrating to see that almost all “focused” schools are located in impoverished areas with a high population of minority, ESL and special needs students. That could be part of the reason their test scores are lower than the national average, but that is not usually discussed. Sometimes teachers at such schools feel they are being punished for taking on the more difficult teaching roles. Does that sound a little backward to you?
In a shocking reversal of standing, Bill Gates now says that test scores are not the only way to identify great teachers. They might not even be the best way. The tide may now be turning.