Blogger’s Note: This was a tough post to write. It feels like a confession that I should probably just keep to myself — but I gotta believe that other teachers of tested subjects are thinking the same thoughts as I am. While this isn’t super polished, I hope it makes y’all think. More importantly, I hope y’all will still stand with me even after knowing how testing has changed who I am as both a person and a practitioner.
Regular Radical Readers know full well how I feel about the impact that standardized testing has had on education.
Having spent the past FOUR DAYS watching my students take multiple choice exam after multiple choice exam — 10 HOURS of learning time that none of us will ever get back — I’m wrestling with the moral consequences of teaching tested subjects again tonight.
You see, early on Monday I decided to start recording the spontaneous thoughts about testing that came to my mind over the course of the week on an index card that I carried in my back pocket. By the end of the day today, I had 10 different thoughts on my card — and I honestly didn’t much like what I saw.
Here are three thoughts that have me particularly troubled:
“I’m actually feeling pretty good about things! I know for a fact that I mentioned almost everything that was on my test.”
This was my response to a buddy who asked how I was feeling after my students finished our science test on Wednesday. You see the trouble spot, don’t you? Since when did mentioning things become a cause for celebration?
The answer is easy: Mentioning things is a cause for celebration when your end of grade exam covers a massive curriculum and measures progress by asking low-level, fact-driven questions. I definitely prioritized coverage over meaningful learning in the past few months even though I’m doubtful that my kids will remember much of what we learned in our short-sighted sprint to measurable glory.
I should be ashamed of that, shouldn’t I? And as a guy who believes that true learning should inspire kids to change the world around them for the better, I am. But I am also relieved that nothing on the test would have caught my kids completely off guard.
“If they are going to evaluate me based on test scores, they’d also better find a way to spread out the special programs kids on our grade level.”
Because of a nontraditional calendar, my school is broken into four groups of teachers and students that are called tracks. The track that I work on tends to have more students with learning disabilities than the other tracks simply because we have more special education teachers in the building while we are in session.
But because of limited budgets and positions, many of those students are mainstreamed into science classes — the subject that I teach — without any special services. And because of limited budgets and positions, our state didn’t design any modified versions of the end of grade science exams for kids with significant learning disabilities. Every student took the exact same test.
That left me worrying about my evaluation scores, y’all. I should be ashamed of that, shouldn’t I? And I am. Instead of seeing my students with disabilities as the unique, beautiful, capable people that they are, I saw them as a liability — as kids that were likely to hurt my professional standing.
“I’m glad he thinks his kids struggled.”
After our common exam was done, I crossed paths with another science teacher in our building who was pretty convinced that his kids had struggled on our common exam. He was definitely feeling defeated and I could tell that he was professionally down.
As a guy who is passionate about the power of Professional Learning Communities, I should have been there to lift him up, right? I should have been ready to lend a hand and to help him brainstorm ways that we could both improve our work together. I should have been a sounding board and a source of support — of him as a practitioner and as a person.
But the first thing that popped into my head after our conversation was, “I’m glad he thinks his kids struggled. Maybe my scores will be better than his.”
I should be ashamed of that, right? And I am. Collaboration with colleagues has helped me to become the teacher that I am today. My best instructional practices were polished with — and by — intellectually generous peers. But I’m more than a little convinced that my “me first” thinking is nothing short of an inevitable by-product of working in a state that has decided that competition between teachers for contract protections is a good idea.
Long story short: I’m starting to realize that standardized testing isn’t just changing EDUCATION for the worse. It’s changing ME for the worse. I wrestle with that reality every time troubled thoughts like these roll through my mind — and I’m honestly not sure how to feel about myself as a practitioner anymore.
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