“mrs. russ, we need at least 75%”

Each quarter I have a meeting with my assistant principal and lead teacher.  I am required to bring sets of data that include my student’s latest test scores, overall averages, and responses to a number of questions in which I label curriculum objectives as “70% or more proficient”, or “less than 70% proficient”, etc. 

I loathe these meetings.  The stated goal is to improve strategies to raise student test scores, so from the beginning I am ethically and philosophically opposed.  Never once have I been asked, “which unit did your students enjoy the most?” or “how will they be able to apply these lessons to the real world?”  Those things don’t matter.

At my most recent data talk, I was asked to submit a list of students who will potentially fail the test and the course based on their performance this marking period.  As we discussed each one, I began to explain home situations, medication adjustments, injuries.  It was as if I was invisible and mute, because when I was finished, I was reminded that “they don’t need to love it, they just need to pass the test.”

I nodded.  If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s when to voice a complaint and when to keep my mouth shut.  There are appropriate forums, and this was not one.  Maybe that’s what made me so upset – I am powerless, my lead teacher remained silent, and even my administrator has been turned into a testing puppet.  If I can’t voice my concerns to these authorities, then who?  Where will the system be changed?

As I stood up to leave, my administrator reminded me that “we need at least 75% to pass the test, and that’s the very least.”  I remained silent and thoughtful as I walked back to greet my next class.

When my students entered, I found myself repeating instructions written on the screen, refereeing slapping matches, and wondering who stole my pencil sharpener for the 10th time this year.  As they struggled to understand the concept of inflation, or read the word “authority”, I thought about how that would fit onto my data sheet. 

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