A year ago, I wrote this post about standing up and speaking out. Reading it again made me realize that not much has changed in a year. Teachers are still bogged down in curriculum and mandates that are making it a true challenge to bring joy into the classroom. In fact, it feels like there are even more demands than ever. Last year, we had some academic freedom with pacing and lessons that addressed concepts and standards. This year, scripted ELA, math and NYS domains/modules dominate the day.
The Common Core task force made recommendations concerning testing and teacher evaluations, but there has been no change in the law. Call me a skeptic, but I just don't trust our Governor. With that law in place, there can be no real lasting change. The specter of punishing APPRs is still hanging over us as are meaningless tests for our students. Our Commissioner of Education would like us to believe that the grades 3-8 tests have changed also. But, I see little evidence of that considering that Pearson is still not only publishing the tests, but also collecting the data as well this year. One change is that the tests are no longer timed. That means that "as long as a student is working productively", the test can continue all day. So, in reality, not much change there except that the test could go on all day.
In my own little microcosm, I am trying desperately to keep on pace with all the data collection, math lessons, domains and other mandates that leave little time for things like coloring, cutting, art projects and handwriting instruction. There certainly is no time for actual play. This is evident in the fine motor skills in our little ones. Yes, they are very good at using iPads, but coloring in the lines and writing letters from top to bottom eludes them. I want very much to reteach concepts and allow the children to draw their own conclusions from lessons, but the pacing guides and the learning targets keep us ever so focused on the task at hand.
My heart aches for the little ones who ask every day: "Do we have time for Free Time?" and have to hear the answer of "No, Sweetiepie, no time for that today. Maybe another day". It is my fairly educated guess that next year's longer school day is not going to leave time for play or recess either. You can be pretty sure that there will be even more ELA and math so we can continue to prep for the NYS tests.
I wrote about the impact of the tests on my little ones last year too. While the actually monetary costs of the tests remains elusive it is even harder to quantify the human costs. How do we begin to estimate the loss of Academic Intervention Services, Teacher Aide time and ESL services for students in the younger grades while those teachers are reassigned to help with the testing, make-ups, proctoring and scoring? Who is keeping track of the cost of these tests, which are supposedly "meaningless"? What about the loss of authentic learning that is developmentally appropriate? What about the narrowing down of the curriculum so that science and social studies is almost an afterthought addressed through domains instead of through hands-on learning?
So, as we come full circle heading into yet another testing season, I can only say that it continues to be more important that ever to Speak Up and Speak Out. One positive change this year is that NYSUT, along with our newly elected head of the Board of Regents has recognized that the Opt-Out movement has made a significant impact in our State. They have even gone so far as to encourage teachers to opt out their own children. This is upsetting the EdReformers. You can tell by the desperate measures that the Opt-in movement is making that we have made some headway: Letters to editors attempting to discredit opting out, visits to high Opt-Out districts by the Commissioner, newspaper articles extolling the virtues of taking the tests, to name a few. Opting out of the state tests is making a difference. Myself, I can no longer opt my child out as she is too old. So instead, I am continuing to advocate by writing, posting, tweeting and talking about the realities of what is happening in our classrooms. I intend to make my voice heard.
On a local level, speaking up is essential. We have seen what happens when we don't speak up for ourselves. We also see what happens when we do . As teachers, we must speak up for ourselves and our children, for they cannot speak for themselves. It is our duty to speak up to protect their childhoods and the learning environment that they are in every day. Our working environment is their learning environment. Our academic freedom to create and structure lessons and to pace our instruction helps to give voice to their interests and experiences as learners. We can all take a lesson from Dr. Seuss's The Lorax: