A Moment for Education

For almost 30 years I was a high school and middle school English teacher.  I am now a teacher educator, teaching teachers to teach reading and writing.  In my 37 years of education I have never been so discouraged.  We are about to launch into a dangerous era of Federal intrusion into the classroom.  And that intrusion is being driven by a few rich and powerful people who stand to earn billions of dollars through their standardized tests and the accompanying textbooks and curricula they peddle under the guise of “research based.”

We now have policy that tells teachers what to do when a child vomits on a standardized test.  And that policy is all about how NOT to compromise the purity of the testing moment.  In what perverse universe do we subject children to classroom situations that make them so anxious that they vomit, that labels children based on the meager evidence offered up by a litany of mindless questions organized around the first four letters of the alphabet.  And in what universe do we devalue teachers so much that we will use a standardized test to measure their effectiveness.  These tests are so deeply flawed, so mindlessly narrow.  Testing companies will tell you that they are improving the tests.  But you cannot improve a concept that is so deeply flawed and so inaccurate.

Let me tell you about Jessie.  She has been in special education since second grade.  By eighth grade she still could not read, but she often dictated poems to her mother who would write them down.  They were beautiful poems, full of a 13 year old girl’s dreams and longings and wisdom about her world.  I did not teach her to read the year I had her in eighth grade.  But I did teach her about audio books.  These opened the world to her.  And she began to read voraciously.

I know there are people who do not believe listening to books is actually reading, but Jessie doesn’t care about their limited view of reading.  Her world is so much larger now.

But a standardized test says Jessie reads at the pre-primer level and forever labels her as deficient.

Let me tell you about Adam who was so paralyzed with fear that he wouldn’t pass the test that sat staring at his test booklet, numb and motionless, and never even picked up his pencil.  Nor could Ferdinand who did not speak enough English to pass the test but who could disassemble a computer and put it back together again.  Or Tyler who was so bored by the test that he made a Chirstmas tree out of bubbles on his answer sheet.  Or Amanda who got straight A’s but had such a bad cold the day of test that she couldn’t concentrate.

And because those children did not pass the test, I, their teacher would not have passed Arnie Duncan’s muster as a teacher.

Race to the Top.  Common Core Standards.  Teacher Accountability.  Standardized Assessments.  These are killing education.  They gnaw at teachers’ abilities to make meaningful decisions about what and how children will learn in their classrooms.  Instead they prepare children for a test.

And I am now seeing the first of the test babies in my college classrooms.  They want to know EXACTLY what to do.  They do not dare infer.  They are reluctant to take intellectual risks.  They want a script, a pointer, a leash.  And it’s only going to get worse.  We MUST realize that standardized tests have limited the curriculum and narrowed students’ minds.