“Two years ago a team from the state told us we had to go to a middle school arrangement. It’s the latest thing, putting sixth grade up with seventh and eighth. Never mind how poorly it works! That’s when we put in the portables and built a fence between the two halves of the campus. That’s when we worked out this schedule.”
Neil was surprised at the bitterness in her voice. He guessed that she had fought against the change. The schedule looked beautifully logical and balanced, but he had an idea that it would not work out in practice as well as it did on paper.
He remembered the three brown faces in the road ditch. “What about those students who don’t speak English?” he asked.
“Hopefully, there will only be a few, but some of your students may not read or write.”
“You mean they may not read and write well.”
“I mean they may not read or write at all. In English or in Spanish. That happens when they shuttle back and forth to Mexico every year.”
Neil caught Carmen studying him with a look of puzzled curiosity that she tried to hide. “Have you studied your cumulative folders yet?” she asked quickly.
“I don’t know what they are.”
She led him to the teacher’s lounge and showed him the file cabinet where the folders were kept. The folders for each group of students filled a fat cardboard box. They took the two sixth grade boxes back to Carmen’s room where she took a folder and laid it in front of Neil. It was for Rosa Alvarez. Along the top edge of the folder was a row of six small photographs — Rosa’s pictures in every grade from kindergarten to fifth. She was dark haired and brown eyed with a round face and a solemn expression.
Covering the front outside of the folder were strips of computer printed labels with esoteric columns of numbers. Like the pictures, there was one label for each grade. Carmen tapped the labels with her forefinger and said, “These are test results. You will find them most useful for getting to know your kids quickly. Every year all of our students are given a comprehensive battery of standardized tests. They can be very useful, but you should remember that they aren’t always accurate.”
Carmen smiled for the first time. “You can also use them if you have a weakness for soulful brown eyes. I sometimes develop such an affection for my students that I stop pushing as hard as I should. Lately I’ve made it a practice to come back to these test scores at least once a quarter to remind myself of where each child really is.”
Neil studied her. She was beautifully proportioned. Her hair and coloring were pure Chicano. Her facial features were quite small. She kept her feelings hidden behind the smooth perfection of her face. Neil wondered how much Bill Campbell had told her.
The computer label was covered with data. Carmen said, “Look under the name. You see the 5.7? That is the base of comparison for the other scores. It means fifth grade, seventh month. That is when they took the test. A student who was exactly dead average would score a 5.7 across the board. Now look at Rosa.”
“Rosa’s reading scores show her reading almost a year below grade level. That isn’t as bad as it seems. That kind of variation is still fairly close to the norm. Her language score, though, is nearly two years below grade level — she scored at a high third grade level when she took this test. Her math score is above grade level, which puts her total somewhere near normal.” more Monday