Thursday, April 3, 2014

What's Really Happening in Schools in April: The First of Many Rants

If you're a parent who has a child in a public school in the United States, I'm sure you're well aware that some sort of standardized test is rapidly approaching. Maybe it's the PARCC Assessment if you're in a state that has adopted Common Core, or maybe it's a state standardized test. You probably know that the school your child is attending will be evaluated based on how many of its students pass this upcoming test. Maybe you're aware that many of the teachers who are dedicated to teaching your child each and every day are judged and have their jobs or pay scale on the line based on how many of their students pass this test or at least show growth from last year. While these are all very tempting topics to rant about, I feel like teachers are always ranting about these things, and they are common knowledge. So tonight I'm choosing to rant about what's happening in American public schools the weeks before these standardized tests.

Teachers come back from spring break with one thing immediately shoved down our throats: test prep. Administrators say things all year such as "We don't want to teach to the test" and "The test is not the be-all of a students' success," but we all see through these ideals because we all have something at stake with these tests: our salary, our reputations, our "effectiveness," and ultimately, our jobs and our schools. The test is everything. It's the purpose of August-April. This is why you're sending your child to school: to pass this test.

You may think that the school you send your child to is using these next few weeks to review, go over testing strategies, and maybe offer some extra tutoring…and that's probably true. But here's what's also happening: teachers are meeting to discuss your child's data to determine if your child is worth their time over the next few weeks before the test because let's face it, if little Timmy hasn't been scoring close to the passing grade on the predictor tests all year, there's just no hope for him to get there by the time he takes the test. So we meet to talk about the kids who are almost or barely passing, and we decide that over the next few weeks, we will give these students extra time--pull them for a small group during class, pull them for lunch tutoring, push them to come to after-school tutoring, pull them from gym and art to get extra attention. Those other students? Meh, maybe next year, kiddo. This year, hopefully you just learned something from us.

I teach English as a second language, so these data meetings are always a grand way to ruin my day. In the meeting, we were, as I stated, supposed to determine which of our students are close to passing the test. Well, mine are in an English language development class for a reason, and none of my students are realistically going to pass this test--that is not a pressure I would ever put on them or myself, considering research states that students do not acquire academic language until they have been learning it for around 5-7 years. So I have no students who are hopefuls for our school. All of mine are in the red, so far from passing. I leave these meetings feeling like a worthless educator, and what's worse is that it makes me feel like people see my students as failures, things that hurt our school's scores, students who aren't worth the extra attention.

I get it. I know our schools have a lot riding on these test scores, so naturally, we look at the data and try to increase the number of students who pass the test every year. But I did not choose this profession because I wanted to help only the kids who can help me. I did not choose teaching so that I could cater my instruction to a handful of students who are likely to succeed. I did not choose education so that I  could look at human beings as merely numbers, color-coded by proficiency levels. 

My students are so much more than a number or a color on a data spreadsheet. We need to pull small groups not to meet the needs of the students we think will pass, but to meet the needs of ALL of our students, regardless of the time of year. While we do have a lot at stake with the test, we have to stop thinking about ourselves so we don't lose sight of those who called us to the profession in the first place: the children. All of them matter.


  1. I linked this to my blog...

  2. I've seen a lot of Common Core articles in the news lately, but none of them mentioned something like this. That's really interesting. You're definitely one of the most passionate educators I've ever met, so your opinion counts for a lot in my book. Of course all children are important for our future! There were a lot of standardized tests back when I was in school, but I never felt this kind of pressure. It's unfortunate.

  3. Don't ever let the pressures of testing deter you from what you're doing. You see the growth everyday (or lack of growth some days o_O) so you don't need to feel the pressure of a test. I'm sure your kids are going to make the gains they should be making this year :)

  4. Marlowe, take a look (or listen): This outspoken teacher from Alabama is also ranting about the same type of issues. Glad to see teachers are speaking out about this! Maybe it will bring about some much-needed change.

  5. You articulate the issue perfectly. I am proud of the work you are doing!