Atlanta schools are under the microscope due to the scandal over ‘fixing’ standardized testing, and commentators have mentioned numerous other ongoing investigations. My blood simmered as some mealy-mouthed professor talked over everyone else about how easily cheating could be avoided—pay more for independent proctors, use the computer,
and so on.
Then ‘my’ guy came on and gave the real answer, the politically incorrect answer, the necessary answer—quit testing so much. Quit testing students on filling in bubbles and evaluate them on what they can actually do. Isn’t that how ‘assessment’ used to work?
If President Obama and Congress would like to change the face of American education—improve it—they should declare a three year moratorium on standardized testing. Teachers could continue to test—as they always have. Armed with standards and objectives and technology as well as their own, much maligned skills, they could focus all their time on teaching—not testing or practicing testing. Just plain teaching.
After three years, some time-honored test—not a minimum skills test, but a norm-referenced test—could be administered. Preferably without warning, although with Twitter, Facebook, and old-fashioned texting and word-of-mouth, secrecy is probably impossible.
But—the test will be administered without threats. It will be diagnostic, not “It’s your job on the line no matter what!” Without “If teachers weren’t stupid and lazy, kids whose mothers don’t work but can’t get up to take them to school would succeed.” Without “All you teachers are worthless and I can better!”
The new mantra? “Your students did really well—they’re right about where they should be, but let’s work on those areas they need a little more help.
Meanwhile, many are calling for heads to roll in Atlanta—mostly teachers’ heads—few, it seems, understand the bottom line. Yes, cheating is wrong. There are teachers who would stand up to an administrator’s demand to cheat, and many, many more who would say that they could. But—how many of you out there have a job? One that you need, because your children don’t eat, your bills aren’t paid, and you’re just done if you lose that job? Most of you will do what your boss says if it doesn’t result in someone’s death or injury.
Teaching is a job. For many it’s more—a profession, a vocation, a calling. But teachers still need to feed loved ones, themselves, to pay bills—on woefully inadequate salaries that politicians in many states have axed. So if an administrator orders a teacher to be sure children pass—that administrator is the boss. Just the boss.
I’m not condoning what happened in Atlanta; it’s a disservice to the children. But it’s a disservice brought on by powerful testing lobbies twisting politicians’ arms and igniting the current “data-driven” craze. It’s a disservice created by politicians, theoretical educators, and those not in a classroom who don’t understand that children are not clockwork gears educated on an assembly line. Like a doctor’s patients, children are individuals. Doctors neither save nor even cure every patient; a teacher cannot apply one uniform magic wand to each child and educate him or her to Ivy League standards—although both doctor and teacher try to work magic.
Let’s demand that education be given back to teachers. Let’s take the hostility out of the “raise scores or die” mentality and talk about diagnostics. Let’s allow teachers the time and the freedom to address students in a manner that encourages real education, not the test-taking mentality of our students today.
I teach first graders—and as I have previously noted, testing—standardized testing—begins in Kinder now. Let me give the end of book tests, diagnostic tests, chapter tests—but don’t reduce my students to being educated in the fine art of bubbling.
Not now, not ever.