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Teachers Who Love Testing

Published in ChicagoNow, December 4, 2013 (cartoon by Marcia Liss)

The first grade teacher tests her students in reading at the start of school. Amazingly, none of them do very well, which is a bit strange because some of them have been reading well for a year. Children who are strong readers bring home very simple books, as dictated by their scores. One child is an avid reader of chapter books but still plows through the simple texts provided. At the end of the year, the children are retested and miraculously they have all improved more than a grade level. The teacher is deemed superior based on these scores.

Spelling and math tests are given every week. They are returned with percentage grades. In case a child doesn’t know or care what 78% means, the teacher is happy to explain. The children are allowed to compare their scores and a child with 96% weeps because he knows someone else got everything right.

The same first grade teacher assigns the children to write their autobiographies (Strange assignment if you are only 6 or 7). She gives them a worksheet to bring home to fill in the blanks. A child asks the teacher if she can add another line to her name because she has Korean and Jewish middle names. The teacher says no – it is not fair to get more than one name. She then types up each child’s autobiography using the fill-in-the-blank answers on their worksheets. Amazingly, all of the autobiographies are quite similar. The child tears hers up at home and rewrites it to include all of her names, what they mean, and other special things about herself. Now she is proud of HER work.

This same teacher (with the high test scores) decides to use the monster tornado that destroyed two Moore, Oklahoma schools and killed several children to teach a lesson. She tells her students the children died because they did not listen to their teachers’ directions — not even true. After all, how will the children learn the right test answers if they don’t sit quietly and listen? Needless so say, many children were unable to sleep that night when it started to rain.

In a recent post, Valerie Strauss (Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2013) quotes an anonymous 25-year veteran teacher who laments,

“I used to do many fun, innovative projects with my students...Meeting and exceeding standards has always been my goal. Last year, however, my performance appraisal listed me as satisfactory. What has changed? I’m still me. I still bring the passion, dedication, and years of experience to the classroom that I always have.

What has changed is Common Core State Standards. I was given a curriculum and told by my administration to teach it “word-for-word”…Standards drive instruction. Data determines effectiveness. Positive outcomes for students require proof. If I don’t supply that proof, I’m not an effective teacher. Period. And my administration has warned me that my job depends on this proof. “

How I wish this anonymous teacher could have replaced the teacher described above. Just think of how the creativity, spirit, and innocence of those young first graders were repressed by an educator’s rigid interpretation of how best to implement a curriculum that will produce good test results. What were those kids really learning?

Unfortunately they learned that everyone must be the same, right answers and obedience are all that matter, and “race to the top” literally means scoring higher on tests than your friends. Too sad.


by Laurie Levy
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