Tag Archives: California Standards Test


I’m back.  I have been sleeping.  Drifting through the universe.  Holding on for dear life.

I’m trying to get my second book published and figure out where I go from El Milagro.  So I am going to resurrect my blog and lose myself in thought again.  Maybe Mondays.  I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know…

We got our test results back and they were very strong… very satisfying- at least  from the standpoint of trying to engender higher test results.  We had to give up a lot to get our 35-point growth on the Academic Performance Index (API).  We had to give up science and social studies, for instance.  We also had to give up the arts and music– not that we were ever real strong in those areas before.  We had to give up creative writing and critical thinking and dancing on the blacktop and “the Mission Project” and quality physical fitness time (though we implemented a new standard for nutrition) and problem solving and the science fair.  Our kids did not weigh in on either the ecological crisis in the gulf or Arizona’s immigration policy. In fact, they didn’t apply their learning to very many authentic tasks at all.

But we got to 835 on the API and there is satisfaction in improving our teaching and learning– if in fact we improved our teaching and learning beyond what is required to prepare children to take the California Standards Test.

This year we are striving to improve the API from 835 to 860.  But this time…we are bringing the rest of the state’s curriculum back and organizing around multi-age classrooms.  We are also emphasizing the importance of the 21st Century Skills… since we think it is pretty important that our children can actually compete in a future when grade school accountability movements may very well have run their course.

We will take the 35-point increase on the API because it is better to leverage growth than to have to explain why our students aren’t keeping up with the test prep academies.  We will be all about growing their basic literacy skills.  But we can’t be blinded for a moment by the bright flash of the API or the illusion that it is enough just to get higher test scores.

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Filed under innovation and change, school reform, standardized testing, teaching, Uncategorized

JOURNALING CHAOS 5: “School Runnings”


The “I Ching” teaches that “Before there can be great brilliance… there must be chaos.”

This is PART 5 in a series of blog posts that document our research, strategic thinking, observations and debates as we take on one of the last vestiges of the industrial revolution: the practice in schools of organizing kids into grade levels according to their chronological age.

At the end of the day on Friday I received a phone call from Max in the Superintendent’s office.  Max was contacting all the principals in the district to get our individual prediction on what we anticipate our API will be this year.  We all have a guess.  We live the API. 

woodThe API is California’s Academic Performance Index.  It is a long and tortured statistical calculation that synthesizes each school’s test results into a 3-digit number. Every student at every grade and every subject area is calculated and “processed” like an elegant wood chipper that grinds otherwise healthy leaves and limbs into useful chips. It weighs the number of students that score proficient and reflects overall organizational growth from year to year. Every school in California is obligated to somehow reach the API promised land of 800 or face the fate of the mastodons.

“To tell you the truth Max… I have no clue.  You want me to just pull a number out of the air?  

“Yep… the Superintendent wants every principal’s prediction.”

“Well…last year we ended up at 797 but our school-wide goal was 801.  We just missed it.  A little better result from this grade or that grade and we would have made it.  Just make up a number?”

“Whatever you think.”

skiWe just held the Olympic Festival yesterday, Max.  The best one in 9 years.  We had a 1000 students participating with well over 100 adult volunteers and parents and guests.  There were 25 different events for kids.  We had two former olympians.  We had India’s first ever winter olympian, for God’s sake.!  She is an Alpine ski racer, Max! But the Olympic Festival and our community spirit and Alpine skiers and our year-end celebration have nothing to do with our API.  It doesn’t compute.”

“I just need a number Dr. Riley.”

“Our 6th graders bombed the local measures.  I think they might have done it on purpose.  Only 7 out of 120 students were proficient on the math section.  How do I factor that in, Max?”

“Uh…can’t help you on that one.”

“But then again, on the MAPS assessments our 6th graders were right on pace.  And that is a much more difficult assessment, don’t you think?”

“No clue sir.  I’m not familiar with SNAPS.”

wall“And we know that if 50% of our students– especially 50% of our English language learners– don’t score proficient on the California Standards Test we will miss the AYP benchmark for the first time and we will go into Program Improvement. We know that.  We are climbing a mountain.  So we added a full hour to the instructional day and tried to target students who were borderline.  And every teacher provided English Language Development to every student for :35 minutes every single day. Damn…  that has to count for something!”

“So you want me to put you down for 801 again?”

“Yea, I guess so. NO! I can’t say 801… that was last year’s goal.  This year our goal is 840!”

“So you want me to put you down for 840?”

“C’mon Max…there is no way we hit 840.  Too many distractions over the longer day.  I think our teachers got burned out mid-year.  We pushed too hard.  By March we had to make adjustments just to keep their morale up. If we caught it soon enough and made the best of the additional hour and kept our focus in every classroom…  we could get a pretty good bump in our API.  But if not… if we really did lose a significant number of our teachers somewhere on the journey… we are hosed.”

“Sounds like you want to stay closer to the 801.  You have to say at least 800.”

“We could go backwards Max!  We could go back down to 790!  When the district told everybody in January that they had to resign to stay at El Milagro or return to a district school… it affected morale too.  18 of our teachers are district employees and 15 are employees of Mueller Charter School.  What a freakin’ mess!  It never should have worked out that way.  Five of our veteran teachers decided that they would leave El Milagro and go back to the district.  So we have been dealing with that and interviewing new teachers and writing letters of recommendations.  These are our colleagues we are losing!”

“Ok…  listen I am going to just say 795 for Mueller Charter School…”

“You know what the problem is here Max? The problem is we give the CST to students according to their grade level… instead of their level of mastery…”

Silence on the other end.

“Max… do you read my blog?”

“No I don’t have time to read blogs because I make phone calls like this all day and just try to stay ahead of the information that the superintendent is trying to gather.”

“Ok… just put us down for 805.”

“805…got it.  Thank you Dr. Riley, it’s been nice talking to you and….”

“And make a note Max that we are really looking hard at this whole system of grouping kids in grade levels according to their age.  It doesn’t make sense anymore. ”

“Ok I wrote that down.”

But of course I know he really didn’t.  And I realized immediately that this is exactly how the status quo stays in tact from year to year; how it absorbs change.  I had no business giving Max some arbitrary number meant to quantify the depth of teaching and learning that took place at Mueller Charter School over the course of an entire year.  The ups and downs.  The celebrations.  The growth and the turmoil and the daily struggle for fresh air. 805? 840?


It is the reason that we seek to challenge the very structure of how we group our students for learning and testing.  So I started to pull up my blog to re-read the questions I had generated last week and maybe add to the list.  Just then the phone rang again.  It was Max.

“Dr. Riley…  did you say an Alpine skiier from India?  Didn’t they make a movie about her?”

“No Max…  that was the Jamaican bobsled team.”

“Oh…yea…that’s right…Cool Runnings.”


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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, standardized testing, Un-graded schools

JOURNALING CHAOS 4: “Las Preguntas”


The “I Ching” teaches that “Before there can be great brilliance… there must be chaos.”

This is PART 4 in a series of blog posts that document our research, strategic thinking, observations and debates as we take on one of the last vestiges of the industrial revolution: the practice in schools of organizing kids into grade levels according to their chronological age.  

There are often more questions than answers.

If we group our students according to their level of mastery and not by grade or chronological age;

If we defy all standard practice and industry norms and cultural mores and the hallowed “way we do things here”;  

If we defy American tradition itself and simply assign children to classroom groupings according to what they are ready to learn next… 

We must prepare to answer the questions.  So we started by asking them ourselves:

question mrkMaureen asked:  “Is it LEGAL to group kids for instruction– and eventually assign them a standardized test– according to their proficiency levels?” and “Is it ethical?”

Melinda asked: “If all kids take the California Standards Test according to their mastery level… and all kids end up scoring Proficient… won’t that look like we are cheating?”

Ryan asked: “A lot of our students are at different levels of proficiency for different subjects.  Some are proficient in math but not language arts.  So the state would have to provide our students with two different tests– two different grade levels.  Are they going to be able to do that?”

Lowell asked: “So you are talking about ‘dummying down’ the rigor just so you get higher test scores?”

Anthony asked: “Isn’t this just a sneaky way of avoiding accountability as a charter school?”

The Wizard asked:  “If we are labeling and re-labeling students by something other than a traditional grade level…  won’t that effect our funding from the state?”

Ivonne asked:  “If kids are grouped by mastery levels… and they don’t move to the next level until they demonstrate mastery of the level they are on… what happens to the kid that never demonstrates mastery?  Are we going to have 19 year-olds on our K-8 campus now?”

Kira said: “It sounds like your plan takes a lot of pressure off the teachers with those AYP goal and other requirements by the state of California.”  Then Kira asked:  “But if you do that, and now kids move to the next level only after they score Proficient on the CST… haven’t you now transferred the pressure from the teachers to the students?  What if you have students whojust aren’t good test takers? Are they stuck in elementary school forever?”

Conchita asked: “If you establish an age limit at El Milagro, and declare that you can’t stay here after the age of , say 14… but they still haven’t demonstrated mastery of the 8th Grade Test,  are you just going to socially promote them to high school?”

And “How is that any different than what we do now?”

Maria asked: “What about students transferring in during the school year from traditional graded schools?  If their child is a 5th grader, they are going to want them placed in the 5th grade!”

The Wizard is entitled to two questions so he asked: “How might our technology infrastructure play a role in helping students advance?”

pk asked: “Do you trust the California Standards Test… let alone the state standards… to serve as the benchmark for mastery before students can advance?”

Ricky asked: “Is this a protest against NCLB and the state’s accountability system… or a legitimate response to what the data tells us?”

celloJonathan noted: “There are a lot of ways to demonstrate mastery of state standards other than by a standardized test.  Are you giving the CST too much credibility as the main determiner of students moving forward? Are there other ways kids can demonstrate mastery of the state standards?”

RT asked: “Isn’t this a return to tracking?  Not that I see a conspiracy in every new idea, but we have been down this road before.  Isn’t this just another systemic guarantee that the same kids that always get left behind will still get left behind?”

Annie asked: “Can’t you achieve the same thing within the existing system of grade level groupings?”  

And since we are married she asked:  “You just aren’t happy until you are on the verge of getting fired, are you?”

Questions reflect the depth of the chaos. Or predict it.



Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, public education, standardized testing, technology in schools, Un-graded schools


abacusjpegIt’s Week 2 of the California Standards Test and students are fingering their math facts like an abacus.  Many of our children couldn’t wait for the math portion of the CST.  They are descendants of the Mayans and ancient astronomers of the Yucatan.  They know mathematics.  It flows through their blood in algebraic platelets and word problems with multiple right answers. 

Math is our advantage.

But these are also the children of the video game and “Guitar Hero”; the dance step and :30 second wait for an Original Dream Machine with an extra energy boost.  They call upon the internet and it responds immediately– or they will divine a better connection.

The response is immediate.  The results appear promptly.  And the sociologists decry us all as the generation(s) somehow spoiled in our expectation of instant gratification.  And they may be right.


But when it comes to the standardized testing game, we receive anything but instant gratification.  In fact, we will wait three months for the results.  They will come in late July, most likely the first week after our teachers return from a brief summer nap.  By then they will already have met their new students and new colleagues and new parents.  And right about the time that they are adjusting to the idiosyncracies and learning styles and potential and challenges of a new class, last year’s data will arrive with a crash on the doorstep.  Like the morning paper thrown too hard from a passing car.  One that slams the screen door at the bottom and sends the frightened cat racing through the house with her ears pinned back.  Scared shitless.   

The test results will of course make headlines in the local section of the Union-Tribune.  There will be a complete analysis.  They will be posted school by school on the internet.  And those of us who strain every day against an odd alignment of conflicting systems, will immediately recognize that no matter how good the news or how bad the news… there is not a thing that can be done now to change our history.

Schools will go into Program Improvement.  There will be sanctions and consequences.  Administrators will be shuffled.  Teachers will be placed on assistance plans.  But none of those steps can change the outcomes from a group of children who have now come and gone.  

So if the California Standards Test is so important that it can change lives and careers and entire communities… why does it tak three months to get the results?

This is after all the age of technology.  Instant gratification.  If it is so high a priority, tell us how our students did on this morning’s math assessment… but tell us now.  I’ll even give you a week. No excuses.  I don’t want to hear how many schools there are in California and the hundreds of thousands of tests that have to be scanned or the logistics of reporting it all back or any of those other stock complaints.  When we were chided about our low API a few years ago, no one wanted to hear about our families in crisis or our children who have lived in multiple foster homes or the child attending his 22nd different school or the inherent struggles for second language learners.  The mantra of the “Age of Accountability” is “No Excuses!  So we will push our students up the mountain side in search of miraculous growth.  We will keep them whole and alive.  We will challenge and cajole and celebrate them.  And we will test them.  

testAnd this morning, they will each complete question number 21– a pre-algebraic word problem with one absurd possible answer choice, one answer choice that will trick a number of children who aren’t yet test-savvy enough to smell a rat, one answer choice that is correct and one answer choice that goes down smoothly…a sugar sweet placebo to remind us all that standardized, multiple-choice tests are to the disadvantage of the children that actually think. But they don’t know if they got question #21 right. They don’t know if they fell for the tricks and the traps so they cannot make mid-flight adjustments like they do on their video games. They’ll never know.

And by the time the results come back they won’t care!  Because kids are like that. They want to know the results right now… or heck with it.  By next July they’ll have other fish to fry.  For teachers it is a different story.  The percentage of children that tanked on #21 will be instructive.  Sort of.

giftsBut imagine what our teachers might do with the data if they could get it back next Tuesday. As they unwrap the tangled trends: 

• They could review the results with students so they know where they are strong and what areas they need to work on with 5 weeks left in this academic year.

• They could create an individualized summer learning plan for students so they could bridge some gaps in their learning before the next school year starts.

• They could meet with parents and triangulate the CST results with evidence of classroom work and other local assessments.  By then, parents would know exactly what level their children are on– their academic strengths and areas for growth.

• They could provide parents a summer reading list based on the CST lexile report.

• They could bring some closure to the school year and prepare each child’s file for transferring on to the next teacher.

• They could identify appropriate grade level placements for the next school year.

• They could meet with next year’s teacher with definitive data.

• Grade levels could re-group around the data and identify areas that need to be re-taught, or celebrated, or re-enforced, or tossed out altogether.  

• They could make informed decisions about the programs and policies and approaches and innovations that were successful and the ones that weren’t.

• They could fully capitalize on their expertise in using data to leverage informed, strategic change.

And of course we do all of these things in time.  But if the system were better aligned, and the data were returned to us, and the legislators and test bureaucrats in Sacramento had to stretch as much as we did… we would all have the tools we need when those tools would have the greatest impact.

At El Milagro we are in search of results.  Now.  Instantly.  No excuses.

gold 840

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, public education, standardized testing, teaching


stillIt is Day 3 of the 2009 California Standards Test and it is quiet across the campus.  Still.  Ghost-like.  Except for the traffic up on I-5  whistling like a turbine and leaning ceaselessly into the North wind.  The South.

Our kids have prepared— not PREPPED– but prepared, all year.  They studied the right stuff and learned the right skills and held the same data up to the magic moonlight like the rest of us did.  So they are ready.

It is a precise science now– the advancement of a school toward the testing regime.  There are balloons signaling “840”– our school-wide goal. As if anyone could forget that that is our school-wide goal.  It is, after all,  painted in fresh colors on our psyches.  We set the goal ourselves and based it on some somewhat arbitrary variables like (1.) we have grown 40 points in one year before and (2.) the school down the street is at 840 and (3.) we are just 40 points better at teaching than we were at this time last year so (4.) what the hell!  840.  

danceeeeNow we are in it.  And that heads-down, pencil-gnawing silence of testing is mixed in with a healthy dose of celebration.  Every day.  Today the staff will play the 7th and 8th graders in flag football.  Yesterday there was a school-wide movie, a huge game of  “Capture the Flag” and a chess tournament.  The day before we cranked the music up and danced on the black top.  Testing time is also a celebration of learning.  We equate it with the team that practices all week long for a big game on Saturday.  The practice is fun… but it doesn’t compare to the rush of competing in bright uniforms against another team.

Test days are game days!

Still, the nature of the whole testing thing worries me.  There are at least these 10 things I hate about the test in California:

• It is a test of basic skills in language arts and math but we don’t test in the primary language of our students. So now it is not only a test of basic skills, it is a test of language acquisition.  Our English Language Learners (ELL’s), on top of the other mountains they have to climb, are not really given a chance to show what they know.

• While the mobility rates of students is controlled for (students who transfer in after October don’t count toward the “840”)… they still count.  Including the 4 that transferred in from other schools last week.  

• We will have to wait for 3 months for the results.  If we are leveraging the future of the nation on these results… why can’t we find the technology to score these things and get them back next week?  We need the data.  

• I have read California’ “Released Test Items”.  I know what is on the CST’s.  It covers some standards.  But it misses plenty.  Our kids are gifted in many ways and not all of those intelligences are tested.  Most aren’t.  They will get no credit for their musical or athletic talents.  Their ability to speak two languages, a gift so many adults covet, will neither be assessed nor mentioned.

• Our 8th graders will be gnawing on their #2 pencils for 90 minutes a day, for  8 straight days.  They will test in language arts, social studies, science and algebra.  It is too much testing.

• I hate the bubbles.  But I guess it is fun for kids.

• I hate that grade level Proficiency is harder to demonstrate in California than the rest of the country.  The test is just harder.  Other states are sand-bagging their kids so they have less “Program Improvement” schools.  And they know it.

• I hate that there is no room for creativity.  Daniel told me that the test is too easy and that the “questions suck”.  He will get the maximum scaled score of 600, again, and for him the questions will suck.

• I hate that the California Standards Test is standardized, even if teaching and learning and children are not.

• I hate that we get only one shot at this. 



But enough whining.  There are at least as many things I like about the California Standards Test:

• The data will allow us to continue to improve and leverage significant, revoultionary change as a charter school.

• We will know that our students are learning and that they are learning what they are supposed to be learning.

• The content standards, the “rules of the game”, are now crystal clear.  They are out there.  

• Parents an students know what those rules are.  They know what they have to master in order to be considered “Proficient”.

• Being “Proficient” matters to our students.  To every one of them.  It creates a clear, unambiguous goals for them to achieve and a pathway to work from.

• Our students are always going to fill in bubbles on standardized, multiple choice tests. They will fill in bubbles in AP geography mid-terms, on the PSAT and SAT and GRE, on the driver’s license exam and on the state Bar exam.  Our students are learning great strategies (and developing healthy attitudes) about all of these.  They are getting good at filling in bubbles.

• The CST is a school-wide culmination of learning.  It is an EVENT.  It is a celebration! We build towards it all year.

• The CST data is summative.  It doesn’t help us make in-flight adjustments.  So it inspired us to find our own assessment system; our own formative tests that help us monitor our students’ academic growth all year long. In real time.

• The CST gives every teacher, employee, student and parent a common mission; a target. 

• The CST is data.  You grow or you die.  No excuses.


As I was writing these last few bullets… I noticed a few students going down to the rest rooms.  They have been at it for nearly two hours and they are starting to emerge from the caves.  Exhausted. But there is still a sparkle in their eyes.

“Morning guys.  How did your testing go?”

“It was easy!” they answer in unison.  Like they practiced it.  Or expected it.

When they say it was “easy” it could be a good thing or a bad thing.  We don’t know.  We won’t know for three freakin’ months.  In the meantime, we will celebrate teaching and learning and get ready for Day 4 of testing tomorrow.  And we will try to preserve our undefeated record in flag football against a very test-weary but game group of 7th and 8th graders. And we’ll pump one more day’s worth of helium in the balloons. 

Meanwhile, the sea breeze blows across the playground and the balloons bow.  840.


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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, public education, standardized testing, teaching


testsWe are two weeks from the 2009 iteration of the California Standards Test.  The clock is ticking. We are prepared.  We are in a zone.  And we better be…considering the high stakes.

High stakes?  Isn’t that just residual hyperbole left over from the NCLB-era politics?  Well let’s check it out.  

Here are a dozen ways that standardized testing has resulted  in high “stakes” outcomes and their unintended consequences:

• High stakes because the results are going to follow every student for the remainder of their school careers.

• High stakes because schools will use the results to determine students’ eligibility for after-school programs and tutoring opportunities and Advanced Placement classes and extracurricular activities. Even for eligibility (and thus in-eligibility) for participation in athletics and the performing arts.

• High stakes because school officials will use the scores as a criteria for classifying children as gifted– public education’s most coveted label.  Similarly, they will cite these scores when diagnosing children as learning disabled.

• High stakes because schools will (illegally) weigh the portents of  these scores before admitting new students.  Or they will consult them– the final straw– before expelling or disenrolling kids; before recommending ‘delinquents’  to a continuation program or independent study or homeschooling or some other version of learning in Siberia.

In high stakes testing, the results matter to everybody. 


• They are “high stakes” because presidents and governors and mayors run for elected office on the promise of improving local trends in standardized test scores.  School board members too.  And the superintendents that school boards hire will survive on their ability to deliver higher scores on metrics like the Academic Performance Index (API).  Likewise the principals that the superintendents hire will come and go like bad wind and pretty much everybody will feel the pressure when the next wave of leaders are clearing out their desks and insuring their colleagues that they have always wanted to return to the classroom.  

• High stakes because that pressure to raise test scores will drive teachers with the most seniority (and experience) toward the schools with the higher API (800+) and lower stress levels. 

u-haul-1• High stakes because schools with low API’s (<700) will continue to replace those migrating veteran teachers with brand new inexperienced teachers who will take five years to learn their craft… and then they will migrate too.  And while they are learning, those younger teachers will be just starting to raise families of their own.  So you can expect those teachers to be out two to three months on maternity leave and to be temporarily replaced by long-term substitute teachers who have less training and less experience than the inexperienced young teacher they are replacing.

And the community will witness the invisible forces of the high stakes tests in ways they could never imagine.

• High stakes because when educated, upwardly mobile young couples start looking for a suitable neighborhood in which to raise their families they inevitably consider the quality of the schools.   They consult websites like greatschools.net and identify the school districts with the highest test scores.  And that is where they buy their home.  



• High stakes because when large groups of young, upwardly mobile couples get together to raise their children, they insist on state of the art pre-schools and they start volunteering in the elementary school before their kids are old enough to walk. So a whole community evolves around a culture of high achievement. It becomes pre-ordained and the Academic Performance Index of the schools go even higher.

• High stakes because the schools with low API’s struggle for any organizational momentum at all. They tend to serve families who are less educated and thus less upwardly mobile.  They tend to serve families that are in survival mode. They do not tend to attract the new young families who just moved to town and who are looking for the very best schools.  

• High stakes because the communities with large clusters of well educated and upwardly mobile families experience far fewer home foreclosures than those where families took greater risks with loans.  (In San Diego County, for example, the top five zip codes with the highest number of home foreclosures featured schools with an average API of only 754.) Home foreclosures lead to higher student mobility rates as families migrate toward more affordable housing options.  

High stakes.  

high-stakes2• High stakes because we are all compelled to strike hard against the mountainous challenge of quantifying children’s learning on the basis of  a single standardized test.  We will balance the winners and the losers and the inevitable damage caused when the best of intentions collide with unintentional consequences.  And that is, by definition, high stakes– where our systems align poorly or not at all. And  for that incongruence…our children pay.

In California, there are only two weeks remaining until we administer  the next version of the CST. When it is complete, we will dutifully send our thousand student answer sheets off to Sacramento with a blind faith that they will be accurately scored.  And the cycle of waiting for the results and the early analyses will begin anew.  

Our students are ready to play the game. It is high stakes. We are “all in”.


Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, gifted children, public education, standardized testing


(NOTE: As the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP)  goals continue to accelerate, more and more US schools will be categorized by the pejorative brand: “Program Improvement School”.  NCLB’s kiss of death.  By 2014 as many as 90% of America’s schools could be categorized as underperforming “Program Improvement” schools.  Perhaps it provides a handy label for politicians to rail on public education in general… but inside our schools, where we know our children’s names and faces, it is a different story.

This is the FIRST POST IN A SERIES as Mueller Charter School awaits its test results from the 2007-08 school year.)  


I watched Sport Center last night and the announcer declared that the Yankees beat the Red Sox with  5 runs, on 8 hits and 1 error.  The Red Sox had 4 runs on 7 hits and 1 error.  Game over.  Just like that.  Spectacular drama reduced to a box score.

All of the human emotion and energy was drained from the page and forever deposited into the timeless vaults of Major League Baseball.  All that was left behind were shelled peanuts and Bronx beer cups and a lost binocular case: the predictable debris of 55,000 spectators and a national television audience.   Soon all that would be swept away too.  But not the box score.  

 So where in this infinite compression of events does the box score reflect that an  outfielder played the game of his young career or that an old veteran pinch-hit in the  8th and struck out—leaving two runners stranded and causing management to question his future in the game.   Or that a maple bat shattered on a foul ball and flew into the stands just missing an eight year old girl who had turned to look for the vendor selling cotton candy. Or that the pitchers in the bullpen spit sunflower seeds on each other and flirted with the girls in Section 107 and that one of them got a date. Or that an umpire made an embarrassingly bad call on a routine play at second only to stumble as he jogged back out to his position beyond the infield grass.  The fans who were jeering him hesitated long enough to laugh as he nearly face planted within view of a momentarily hostile world. 

55,000 fans left with new memories forever fixed.  “Remember that game we saw at Yankee Stadium just before they tore it down?  When was that… 2007?… 08”    Lives were enriched,  But not the box scores. 

And yes there is a point here.

At Mueller Charter School we await the return of our students’ test scores– now just weeks away. A year’s worth of collaboration, energy, focused effort, commitment, heartbreak, tears, momentary triumphs, wins and losses—will all be reduced to a few lines. A box score. 

“Did you meet your AYP goals?”   

“Did you make significant gains on the Academic Performance Index?”

“Did you go into Program Improvement?”

“Did you prove your worth on the planet as a charter school?”

And we will answer:  “But what about the lives we touched?  The lives we SAVED?  The families we successfully linked with health care insurance… the kids that climbed out of the basement referred to as Far Below Basic… the kids who we sheltered while their father was sent to prison in Central California… the teacher who was ready to quit until she found salvation in her extraordinary students… the strides we made in utilizing formative data to make strategic adjustments…  the hundreds of students who now have enough of a foundation in English to compete academically—even if it wasn’t soon enough to benefit this year’s box score…”

“What about the community of teachers and learners and families who will declare last year a tremendous success, who will return from summer vacation energized regardless of what shows up in the box scores?  What about our indomitable spirit– the “this is our year”, the no quit, no excuses, no turning back– the community invested in the success of their kids?”

Who knows.  When we get our results back at the end of July we may conclude that we have finally overcome the adverse effects of poverty and the economy and family mobility and the challenges of learning English as a second language and that we actually met the AYP and API and PI expectations.  The data may authenticate the most productive year in the 15-year history of Mueller as a charter school.  The Board and media and world community may then suddenly sit up and take notice:  “Wow.  How about that Mueller Charter School.  How did they do it?”  Or not.

In either case we know for certain that a single box score out of context cannot predict whether the Yankees or the Red Sox will win the American League East.  Just as we know that the complex drama of teaching and learning and human relationships and keeping children whole– cannot be meaningfully reduced to a box score. 


Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, gifted children, public education, standardized testing