I read an article yesterday in the Washington Post. In Texas, approximately 100 school districts have joined together in a sort of revolt against high-stakes standardized testing. They were inspired by comments from their State Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott. Highlights are as follws:
1. Scott said that “testing has gone too far”, and that it has become more like a “military-industrial complex”.
2. Scott then postponed a requirement that student’s test scores count as 15% of their final grade.
3. The superintendant of Hereford Independent School District is now considering withholding her system’s test scores from the State Department of Education.
4. Dozens of other districts joined in and drafted a resolution, demanding the state legislature create new and better assessment requirements.
While reading the article, I had two reactions: “Finally!”, and “Why couldn’t I do that?”
I am convinced more than ever that every time I hand out a state test, every time I turn in my data analysis spreadsheet, every time I offer ways to improve student test scores, I am doing the wrong thing. For a while I thought, “At least I can still teach”, but even that has become more difficult. I lose weeks worth of instruction to testing – testing that measures the instruction that I lost. My class routine often centers around practice tests and drills rather than seminars and critical thinking exercises. I leave school frustrated, feeling like I did not teach anything. And I don’t think I am teaching anymore.
I am encouraged by the beginning of a movement in Texas. Instead of talking about the woes of testing, why not do something about it? For years educators have been forced to work around standardized tests and schedules, which has meant that students have not received the best possible education. It’s time for that to end.
Once a month I receive an email from the teachers association in my district. “Don’t forget to wear black on Friday!” it says. We’re supposed to bring awareness to the plight of public school teachers by wearing black. What if instead we wore a common color to show our opposition to high-stakes testing?
What if hundreds of school districts around the state and country did the same thing?
What if the teachers in my district asked our superintendant to do the same thing as the school district in Texas and not turn in our scores?
What if we stop looking for ways to “improve the existing assessments” and start finding ways to end the way testing is done altogether?
If I had a dime for every time I heard that today.
I wore my new glasses to school today. I got them last Friday and I was really excited to have new frames. It had been about 7 years and I picked some that I thought were classic enough to last, but modern enough to look good. I wore them all weekend, and thought I would give them a try at school today.
Mistake. All day students stopped, pointed, laughed, and offered their expert 14-year old analysis. Things like:
“Those make you look like Madea.”
“Did you choose those frames on purpose?”
“Those are almost as big as your forehead!”
“You should have gotten contacts.”
“You look really old in those glasses.”
“Those are some ugly frames Mrs. Russ.”
By the end of the day I felt exhausted, and it made me remember when I was in school and some of the mean things my classmates said to me then. With my liquid courage by my side, I’ve decided to take a stroll down memory lane. Names have not been changed.
1. In elementary school (4th grade I think), Brandon Taylor told me the lines on my neck were ugly. What a peculiar thing to say, right? Maybe that’s why I remember it.
2. In 8th grade (my toughest year ever) Marshall Swails (I think that was his name) made fun of my glasses. He had two other friends/colleagues who sat behind me, but I can’t remember their names.
3. In 9th grade study hall, some kid I didn’t know yelled, “chubbs” when I got up to use the bathroom. I remember I was wearing a skirt that day, and suddenly became very aware and self-conscious of my body.
4. In 10th grade, sporting my naturally curly hair that I didn’t quite know how to style, Whit Swords used to ball up tiny pieces of paper and throw them at me so they would stick in the back of my head. I think his full name was/is Whitney, so I’m not sure how I’m the one who got made fun of.
5. In 10th or 11th grade a group of young “men” from my church youth group thought it would be funny to use one of their sister’s AIM accounts to ascertain my bra size. They concocted this elaborate story about how she was in the middle of a move and didn’t have anything to wear…the best part was when they confronted me about it the next day at church and laughed at me.
I’m not angry at these people; instead, I’m most disappointed in myself. Even after their insults and not-so-nice words, I still felt the need to impress them and be a part of their group. What was I thinking? The people I really remember and appreciate are Jeffrey Stephenson, my only friend in 8th grade, or Nathalie Iniguez who speaks at least 32 languages and was always 12 cool steps ahead of everyone else. I could always count on a smile and a genuine conversation from Allison Horne, and if I was ever in the mood for baking cakes I had Besty Daniel’s number on speed dial. I choose to remember these people and their contributions in my life.
As for the insults from my 8th graders, I’ll keep telling myself what I told one class today:
“I’m twice as educated as you are, have way more money, and I look a lot better than you would if you were wearing these glasses, so get back to work.”
During tutoring today, one of my students asked me where he ranked out of all my students.
“I mean, I’ve gotta be in the top three, right?”
I laughed and told him to finish his work, but it was cause for reflection. After five years and roughly 100 students per year, you would think I would forget many of them. Not a chance.
This week I’ve had several encounters that have given me reason to celebrate my experiences as an educator. An unsolicited thank you message, a cap-and-gown picture of a former student getting ready to graduate, and a post on Facebook from one former student about to graduate from college with honors. I am exceedingly proud of every single one of my students, and as I surveyed their accomplishments I couldn’t help but think, “I did that”. (ok not really, but I helped.)
As I reminisced with one former student online, she commented that, “it seems like just yesterday when I was in your class defending a case…and I won!” It was something I had completely forgotten, but I instantly teared up knowing that she remembered. Years later, she remembers my class. For all the complaining we do in the teaching community about numbers and reports of success, graduation season is one time when I don’t mind being measured.
We tested this week, which should be enough information for you to determine how the week went. Our students worked so hard, which is the only explanation for their otherwise quirky and bizzare behavior. I will share what I have not blocked from my memory:
1. At the end of the day on Wednesday, a young man walked into my classroom for homeroom and greeted me by saying, “Hey baby.” He was dismissed early that day.
2. While standing in the hall during a class change on Tuesday, one of my female students walked right up to me and proclaimed, “Mrs. Russ, I think female condoms are ugly.” Apparently they’ve been learning about contraception in Family Life class. I’m so glad she’s comfortable sharing such things with me.
3. As one of my more hyper students ran towards me in the hallway, I pulled him aside before he entered my classroom and told him to calm down. He said that he was too “hype”, and then he punched the wall with his fists. Five minutes later he asked if he could go to the nurse for some ice packs. During lunch I turned around just in time to see him holding the ice bags against his chest and telling his friends, “Hey look at me, I have jugs!”
4. Friday was “Dress to Impress” day, and students were encouraged to dress as if they were going to an interview. I saw lots of well-groomed 8th graders as I stood in the hallway, but one student caught my eye. He was walking down the hallway in a tuxedo singing “I’m too sexy”.
This week made me smile and laugh a lot, and it was nice to be able to enjoy the time I spent with my students. Most weeks you’ll hear teachers collectively moan and groan about how hard we work, but this week was a good reminder that our students work hard too. They’re so young to have to do so much – we all need to laugh a little (or a lot) every now and then.