By: Two Social Studies Teachers for MORE
By nature, social studies teachers do two things: they make it their business to know what’s going on, and they try to answer why is this happening. Perhaps this is why many of the bloggers you read just happen to be social studies teachers.
For high school social studies teachers, this June marks the first attempt at centralizing the grading process for our two exams: Global History and Geography and United States History and Government. According to the plan, student exams, when finished, are placed in a shipping box and sent (to Conneticut, of all places) to be scanned by McGraw-Hill, a private company. The scanned version of the exam is then presented to a teacher for grading over the Internet using software that has been developed by McGraw-Hill.
Teachers have been assigned to report to central grading hubs located throughout the city’s five boroughs. Each hub can accommodate approximately two hundred teachers. The process is supposed to be simple: teachers go to a URL, located on a McGraw-Hill-owned domain, and use their official Department of Education username and password (the same used for email, SESIS, ARIS and the payroll portal [each built by other for-profit corporations]). Upon entering the password, the teacher is presented the test that he or she has been assigned to grade and grades the different portions of the exams.
A few things need to go right in order for this to happen. Well, a lot of things need to go right in order for this to happen. First, the exams must reach their destination and be scanned over the two-day weekend. I’m sure McGraw-Hill swears they were. Then, the Internet connection between the exam locations and the user (the teacher, located at the school) needs to be up and running—and it needs to continue to operate throughout the entire process. Lastly, the servers (including the file server, where the scanned version of the exams are stored and the authentication servers that validate the usernames and passwords for each teacher) must be functioning.
Now, the original schedule for the week included having social studies teachers grade between the days of Monday and Thursday. We were supposed to return to our assigned school on Friday. Remember that original schedule. The fiasco that has ensued since yesterday wouldn’t be the same without referring to this original schedule.
On Monday, we all sat around while the “system” presented exams on our screens to grade. Many teachers were not able to log in (a true problem with the authentication server). Others were able to log in, but not able to access a single exam item to grade. Although the system listed many exams available to be graded, it simply did not present these exams to teachers’ screens for grading. After two hours of sitting around in the borough of Brooklyn, teachers were told to go back to their assigned schools. The system had a problem, the supervisors said. It couldn’t download the scanned exams. Teachers in Queens and Manhattan were given this news one hour later (a noon “dismissal to site” order was given at one hub at least in Queens; a 12:30 “dismissal to site” was given in at least one hub in Manhattan). At that point, teachers in all three boroughs were informed that Friday “may be a grading day.”
Overnight, the system seemed to be doing just fine. Exams were processed and seemed ready to be delivered to teachers’ screens at their “hub” schools. When teachers arrived this morning, everything seemed to be up and running. Now this was similar to the experience that high school English teachers had during the January Regents: The exams weren’t ready to be viewed on the first day, but by the second day, everything was up and running. So imagine the surprise felt on people’s faces when, at around 9:25 (just 25 minutes after everyone in the system was logged in and grading the exams), the system started to experience glitches. It would hang for long periods of time before presenting an item to grade. It would not present exams. It would freeze completely, forcing the user to log out and log back in to try to access more exams.
It limped along until about 11:30 AM (remember that time) and the folks in charge thought they had fixed the glitch. But by about 12:30 in the borough of Brooklyn and 1:00 in the borough of Queens (unknown as of this moment in Manhattan) teachers were, once again, sent back to their assigned schools and told to come back again on Wednesday.
Wednesday was another disaster with the computer system crashing and teachers being sent back to their home schools for a third straight day. Hey, we though this mayor was so concerned with the environment, yet he has people driving back and forth!
Thursday the system worked until 2:00pm then shut down. At this point we have frustrated, demoralized teachers grading exams. That’s not fair to anyone. Per session (over-time) hours are being offered for the weekend. Can this money be better used going to our classrooms and our children?
Update: Friday, over a week and half after the exams were given the system continues to fail. To say teachers are annoyed and mentally drained would be an understatement. We are not robots and this week of a fiasco, out of our home schools, in am environment where we are treated as nothing more than factory workers, teachers are “sick and tired”. The crowning moment was when we were notified that we were required to report back to the grading centers on Monday. Remember if we were in our home schools doing this the right way, we would be done already a long time ago. We try to remain as objective as possible when grading, but we’re not machines and this deteriorating situation has to be affecting the grades. Usually we use this time of year to clean up our rooms, organize our files, collaborate with our colleagues, and prepare for some of the ridiculous new reforms that seem to make its way to schools every year.
Many of us who have been assigned to reeducation—I mean, grading centers—will miss the most important day of the year, graduation day. We all know the media, politicians (both parties) and corporations have attacked teachers and our unions saying we’re the ones who are anti-children, but truth be told, watching “our kids” graduate is our favorite day of the year. Not allowing us to watch our own student’s graduate, the chance to spend one last moment celebrating with them, is an extreme disappointment for us all who have watched our students grow for the past four years.
The greatest travesty is as class-size continues to increase; after-school programs have been eliminated; arts and music, and many other courses have been reduced; yet millions of dollars are being spent on a flawed system. Where are all the “private sector always does it better” folks now? The grading system is impersonal: read the essay, punch in a score, and move on to the next one. This is supposed to a more accurate, fairer system? We think not. The art of teaching and grading continues to be done away with. Cookie-cutter rubrics, scripted lesson plans, standardized testing, and now computerized grading. Millions of dollars has been siphoned off from our public school children instead it goes to further fill the pockets of Bloomberg’s cronies and their corporations who only look to “monetize” our children
There isn’t anyone, even the most corrupt politician, who wouldn’t agree that this money being wasted on a flawed grading system could not be better utilized by going to our children, where it belongs!
So as exceptional social studies teachers we have learned the key to any great lesson is great questions.
The state law says teachers can’t grade their own students’ exams, why did this mayor feel the need to take it one step further and start this new multi-million dollar system?
Why are charter schools excused from this process?
Can the money being diverted to McGraw-Hill be better used for our children and their schools?
If teachers are being evaluated on these tests, how do we know if we have have improved or not without grading the final test?
How can we help our children improve if we don’t grade their last exam?
Is standardized grading the right answer to help all our children become “college and career” ready?
Isn’t a teacher who has taught the student better prepared to grade their essays and know if they have developed their skills?
Does the regents exam and the grading rubric take into account the child’s cognitive skills, socio-economic situation, and level of fluency with the English language?