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A teacher gets creative when he misses class to score state tests

When Joseph Dell’Aquila learned that he would have to leave his students at a Bronx middle school for more than two weeks to grade state reading exams, he was determined not to leave them entirely high and dry. Instead, he figured out a way to be in two places at once: While he scored tests during the day, his students would listen to video and voice recordings of him explaining Power Point slides with lessons he’d made the previous night.

“If there’s no consistency, they kind of lose track of how to act. I just wanted to remain consistent with them, let them know that I’m still there, that I’m still their teacher,” Dell’Aquila said. “It wasn’t like I was going to bounce on them and have a vacation. I wanted them to know that I was there for them.”

The result was that his students followed through a planned unit on hip hop and poetry, just by listening to their teacher’s voice. (A video of how this worked, provided by the school, CIS 339, is above.)

Doing double-duty required some extra work. Dell’Aquila spent every night not just writing his lessons as usual, but also recording his voice and making videos for the class to follow along. The next morning, he’d drive to school to drop off his laptop, which had all the files ready for a substitute to open up, and student worksheets he had graded. Then he’d head to the scoring site and spend the day assigning writing samples grades based on a strict rubric provided by the state. After that, he’d head back to school to collect his computer and another round of completed worksheets.

After describing the routine to me today, he laughed. “When I say it out loud it’s a little bit more than I thought it was,” he said.

Dell’Aquila said he thought the consistency was especially important for his students, sixth- and seventh-graders who require special education services, and he said the students responded well to the unusual situation. “They loved it,” he said. “These are special ed kids that are doing high-level thinking. To me their responses were really deep and meaningful.”

Last year, school teachers scored the state tests outside of classroom time, collecting overtime pay. This year the Department of Education is requiring them to grade during classroom time, as a budget-cutting measure. Dell’Aquila said he enjoyed the scoring opportunity, which taught him about what the state is looking for on the test and gave him a chance to meet other teachers. But he said he would have preferred to be at school.

“It got really long, and I just missed my kids. The number 1 priority for me was just getting into the classroom,” he said.

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