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The Testing Wedge

March 2, 2013

So the ink on the tentative agreement is barely dry and already the fallout can be felt, even though at my Options school, it will be far less pernicious than at regular schools in the district.  Yes, Deasy did not get away with his  “30%”  standardized test results for use in our evaluations but already the insidious nature of testing has begun to  eat away around the edges at the trust and cohesiveness of our staff with two teachers who see themselves as better able to motivate students to do well on the tests setting themselves up as the heroes who will save us from a low API score.

They put forth a plan that the students who have been with us before norm day- whose scores will count toward our API- will be tested by “teachers who are better able to motivate their students to do well on the test.”  In other words because the cool, hip, popular teachers who “know how to relate to kids” are standing in the room while the kids are tested, our CST scores and API will magically rise.    It’s disgusting and insulting to the rest of the  teaching staff, but certainly not surprising as testing becomes more important than the educational and humanistic experience of school.  It is also an unfortunate tool for teachers who need the validation that they are liked by their students.  I don’t happen to need that validation- I have a life and also recognize that students often aren’t mature enough to know who really effective teachers are.  I know because I was one of those kids.  It was only  when I went back to college at age 34 and realized that my writing almost never needed revision and remembered what a sonnet was – skills I got  waaaayyyyy back in Mrs. Morrison’s 9th and 10th grade English classes – imagine that- when I realized who the “good teachers”  really were. Mrs. Morrison wasn’t cool and hip, she was older and nerdy, but her classes were the gift that keep on giving to this day.  But I never recognized that back then, because I was a kid with little life experience.   I know better now and so will the students who tell me my class is “boring.” It doesn’t faze me- but it apparently fazes some of my colleagues.

I tested students last year and all were well-behaved and tried hard. They tanked on the World History CST but that is due to the overwhelming number of standards, the fact that I spend more time on each standard than other teachers and the transience rate.  Our scores overall dropped from the year our principal started to the following year.  The first year she cleaned house of gang members and mean kids- apparently there were plenty of those and of course the scores would rise.   The management of the school also improved with more support for student discipline and more programs for kids.   That also probably played a role.

But as  I pointed out to the group of teachers a nd administrators who were meeting to discuss our intervention class and upcoming CST schedule, test scores in South LA are constantly fluctuating, to which I received an arrogant and insulting reply from a fellow teacher implying that test scores dropped when the last social studies teacher left and I came on board.    I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alienated from teaching as I did at that moment.    My value is judged by whether I am popular enough with the kids that they will magically and with gusto, pass their CST because they love me so much- but apparently they don’t love me or a few other teachers enough so therefore we will be relegated to testing kids whose test scores won’t count because they entered after norm day.   Testing “competition” at least for those teachers who choose to engage in it has become akin to a middle school girls popularity contest.   This is where we are today in education.  “I’m more popular than you.”   I didn’t try to challenge this assertion, only the validity of it as it applies to the CST.

I guess what these teachers don’t understand is that they are big fishes in a little pond.  At Fremont, I worked with at least  28 social studies colleagues with very different teaching styles.  We ranged in age from early twenties to those in their sixties.     Many have amazing and interesting life stories and experience that they shared with their kids. That didn’t include test prep.    Having self-annointed “superior” teachers deciding  whether students will adore me or some of my other colleagues enough to perform like trained seals on a multiple choice test is a low point in my experience as a teacher-almost as low as the reconstitution at Fremont.    I am not alone in my concern about testing driving a wedge between teachers:

The National Association of Secondary School Principals posted these remarks from a veteran teacher on their blog:

  • “Tested teachers like me carry a grudge on their shoulders, rightfully convinced that we’re bearing the brunt of today’s accountability culture. 
  • Teachers in untested subjects carry a grudge on their shoulders, rightfully convinced that their work is marginalized by a system that cares little for any kind of learning or expression that can’t be measured by a test.
  • Faculties are divided, and divided faculties are rarely effective at ensuring student success.”

A veteran 2nd grade teacher in Rhode Island resigned in a You Tube video because he can’t take the test -driven agenda:

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