Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stay in the Fight

Today was the final day of the NYS ELA and Math tests.  As a first grade teacher, I was not privy to the tests so I only have 2nd and 3rd hand information to go on.  From what I heard, the tests were confusing, way too long, pointless at times, included topics that were above the maturity level of students, contained reading passages that were several grade levels above and contained errors. 

The conclusion of the NYS tests doesn’t bring an end to our mission as teachers and advocates for children.  We need to continue to bring to light what is happening in education.  The tests are just one piece of the War on Public Education.  For three years, we have seen the mess that Pearson and NY State Ed have made of assessment.  We know the EngageNY modules are poorly written and flawed.  We know that the CCSS are not developmentally appropriate and that they were not written by educators, not field-tested and are a thinly veiled attempt to gain federal control of education while making huge profits for big business.  We also know that it is our children and the teachers who dedicate their lives to educating our children are the ones who are taking the brunt of this attack on public education.  

NYS has a $32 million contract with Pearson and this is the third year in a row that the tests were a general hot mess.  Sad.  What a waste of money that could have gone into helping children rather than punishing them and their teachers.  Think of what that money could have done for our public schools and our students:  books, teaching materials, Academic Intervention Services providers, smaller class sizes, enrichment, equipment, and on and on.  Instead, NYSED chose to give that money to a gigantic publishing company that makes crappy tests that make our kids and our teachers and our schools look as though they are failing.  It is like we are teaching with a blindfold on and our hands tied behind our backs and then asked to somehow hit a moving target. 

This is not even the end of the testing frenzy.  In the next few weeks our students have to participate in the “local measures” of assessment.  These tests are taken online and teachers do not know what will be on the tests.  They contain moving benchmarks that we do not know about and were somehow supposed to magically predict back in October using advanced reasoning skills and data (think Crystal Ball and a Pin the Score on the Student Game).  These tests, along with the NYS tests are a significant portion of our yearly review, and in the upcoming year will weigh even more heavily.  As teachers, we know that this doesn’t really mean anything because we know that what we do can’t actually be quantified.  However, as teachers, we want to get that elusive high score and be considered “highly qualified”.  That’s why we are teachers.  If we weren’t highly qualified, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.

To say that we aren’t all feeling the stress is an understatement.  We all are.  The teachers are stressed.  The kids are stressed.  Teachers are tired and are working overtime to accomplish the impossible.  The expectations are unrealistic.  The kids are frustrated and acting out.  Nobody is happy.  Everyone is clawing their way to the finish line.  I am watching it and living it all at the same time.  And it is breaking my heart.  I miss the joy of first grade.  I miss the play and the fun.  I miss the feeling of knowing that my students are growing just as they should.  With the new standards and district expectations, children who would have been considered at grade level just a few years ago are now considered below grade level, even though they have come so far.  Instead of celebrating growth in our children, we are wondering why they are not reaching the arbitrary and unrealistic goals that someone (not a teacher) set.  Administrators are concerned that so many children are "below grade level".  Fingers are being pointed, just not in the right direction.    


To those of you who are fighting, please keep up the fight.  The tests may be over, but the real battle has begun.  To those on the fence, now is the time to take a side and jump in.  To those who think that this does not affect you… it does.  If we lose our public schools and our gifted and dedicated teachers, we lose one of the essential elements of what makes our society so wonderful and diverse.  If we lose the creativity and uniqueness of our children and our future generations in an attempt to make us all “Common”, we all lose.  I, for one, intend to continue to fight for public education, for teachers and for children.  I believe our future depends on it.

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