Go Into All The World | Mark’s Remarks
Back in the old days, we took our trusty yellow pencils down to the gym and sat in nice neat rows. I think we were allowed to take a book to read with us. We’d be given a test booklet and a bubble sheet.
There wasn’t much talk about how important the test was or that we’d be graded. All I know is I scored well in the reading sections several years in a row, which got me invited into the high reading class and also an invitation to be on the debate team.
High reading class took some getting used to. Mrs. Spencer had to explain “Tale of Two Cities” to most of us in her seventh grade class, but we eventually warmed up to the higher standards they held us to. Debate team made me so nervous I felt like throwing up and I eventually quit. I wondered what would have happened had I just made dot-to-dot pictures like my good friend Scott. He was one of those kids who finished in about 10 minutes and couldn’t have cared less.
Even when I began teaching, we took kids as far as we could take them before the ISAT test rolled around in the spring. Kids learned at different levels, so those who were better in some areas did better in some areas. Overall, kids did their best or chose not to give a hoot. It wasn’t a huge deal.
Some years, a class would be known for doing poorly on the test and some years, we’d get news the group had done a stellar job. We didn’t feel personally responsible at each grade level; after all, we were all in it together.
To us, as teachers, the whole educational process took each one of us. Kids knew how to read well because they had learned what they needed to at all grade levels, not just one. We third grade teachers didn’t think we’d crammed enough stuff into a kid’s head to allow them to do well on a test that year; we all knew their K-2 teachers had something to do with it too, as well as their parents.
Since the “No Child Left Behind” law went into effect in 2002, schools have been held more accountable. If your school doesn’t show that kids have measured up or made pretty good progress during the year, the school can get into some pretty hot water with the federal government. If it gets really bad, a school can be taken over.
Of course, you may have guessed we teachers think a lot of this is a load of hooey. I mean, after all, isn’t asking that every single kid succeed by a certain standard a little like asking a doctor to cure every patient? Maybe I shouldn’t compare. And of course, I think we as educators need to do the best we can do to provide every kid with what he or she needs. But what about other factors? What about support from home? What if the kid isn’t a good test taker? How about many other factors that teachers have no control over?
Teachers have been told to let kids fail so they could get certain programs to help them. We have been told to just “move them on” to get rid of the problem. I’ve always struggled with that. I’ve worked with kids at lunch time or kept them after school. I’ve pulled them back to my desk while other kids read silently. I’ve had conferences with parents and given them extra work. What I do is not that special; many teachers do whatever they can and don’t like to hear “just let them fail.” Most teachers have a need to do whatever it takes.
Since all this testing hoo-haw started up, I’ve tried to be low key about it. Sure, I do the prep work and sure, I talk to the kids about it. I talk to them about how these tests are very important and that they must do their very best at them. I even fib a little and tell them their test scores will go on their permanent record and they must show us all what they know.
But I purposely try to avoid making the kids nervous. I explain to them what “doing their best” means and how to use their heads.
Critics of the tests say other subjects like the arts and social studies aren’t getting much air time these days because they aren’t being tested (even though new standards for social studies were just introduced). Many teachers no longer think teaching cursive writing is essential. Recess has been drastically cut for all students at all grade levels. It’s all being done so that we have more time to teach to the test.
As teachers, we have structured and restructured so much it’s maddening. We are constantly re-doing things to fit the needs of that test. Teachers are being asked to work harder than ever before, sacrificing a lot of what is good, quality teaching to figure out how to score higher on that test.
It’s no wonder many of us are feeling discouraged.
What’s really frustrating is that administrators and teachers across the board feel pretty powerless. If schools are going to be penalized for poor scores, we have no choice than to do what is required and teach to the test. This was something that was taboo several years ago; now it’s the norm.
I don’t have an answer to all the madness. Teachers will just keep plugging away and doing what needs to be done. We will still find joy in our jobs and our students. But it is my prayer that someday we can figure out what really needs to be done when it comes to testing our students.
With the craziness the education world is faced with, praying is about all we can do sometimes.