Today is the last day of school here in Houston County (insert cheer here). I have been wracking my brain on what to give my children’s teachers as an end of the year thank you present. After much deliberation, I have decided that this blog post may be the best gift I could give them.
If you know me at all, you already know I am strongly against standardized testing. I believe it to be overly stressful and ineffective. One test a year cannot give an accurate picture of a student. Certainly not tests that are as changeable and irregular as those given by the state of Georgia.
I dislike standardized testing because it causes SO MUCH anxiety in my children (who always get the highest marks but panic anyway). As a proctor I see that the stress is everywhere. All the students are on edge, the teachers are on edge, the administrators are on edge. Sure they try to be positive with pep rallies and encouraging slogans, but we all know this is the time of year that everyone dreads. DREADS.
Although I dislike standardized testing because of how it affects my middle school age children, this is not my primary concern. They do great in school and will work out the trauma one day in therapy.
Why I am strongly against standardized testing is because of what it does to the teachers.
You see a few years back a Washington official came up with an idea for a grant to improve education. They called it Race to the Top. This grant aimed to improve education by improving classroom teachers. Part of the grant stipulations are that participating states and school districts will evaluate their teachers in large part based on standardized test scores. If the teacher’s students experience enough “growth” the teacher gets to keep on teaching and may even get some merit pay. If the teacher’s students do not “grow” based on their standardized test scores the teacher could eventually not be re-certified or would earn less salary.
From one perspective, I get it. There are a small percentage of bad teachers out there the government wants to make it easier to get rid of. And someone had the idea that greater pay would male teachers work harder and better, leading to more great teachers in classrooms.
But so many things. Where to start?
Most of the teachers I know are already working their buts off. Everyday they give 110% in a job that most of us would not work because it is so hard and pays so little. Most of the teachers I have encountered are already GOOD teachers. The last thing they need is ONE MORE THING TO DO. In fact, a few less things to do would be great as then they could actually teach and develop students more. Asking them to better themselves EVERY year for the rest of their career is next to impossible.
And what about the teachers who teach special education, or at title one schools, or for that matter gifted kids? How are these teachers supposed to increase test scores every year? The fact that special ed kids have to take standardized testing is practically criminal. And kids already at the top can’t rise any higher. And Title 1 kids are as a group not going to soar in testing as much as middle and upper class kids.Why you ask?
Here’s a little story. While proctoring at my kids Title One middle school, we went over a practice question on the Social Studies section of the Georgia Milestone test. The question was, “Who elects the governor of Georgia?” There were four answers given. When the teacher gave the answer to the practice question, half the class groaned as they got it wrong. I was shocked that middle schoolers would not know that the people of the state vote for the governor. But then I realized that not all parents drag their kids to the polls like I do. Or talk about politics at dinner. Or even vote at all. In fact some of the kids have only one parent at home that work two jobs to get by and is never home to help with homework. Or to make dinner or much else. Some of these kids have parents that are struggling so much with their own problems, self-made or otherwise, the child is basically raising themself. Some of these kids live with Grandma who is old and tired and just trying to get through each day raising a teenager in their elder years.
Not all kids are equal in their ability or desire to learn or test. Not all families are equal in their ability or willingness to support a child’s education (A factor I think is even more important than classroom teachers in a child’s education). Why do we expect the students all to succeed in a certain way? And if they don’t, automatically blame the teacher or the school?
Yes, there are some less than great teachers that inhibit their students ability to learn. And there needs to be a way to deal with this. But lets not punish ALL teachers and ALL students to reach this end.
The grant wanted to increase the number of great teachers in schools.
As far as I can see it has had the opposite effect. We have lost great teachers due to Race to the Top and the overemphasis on standardized testing.
Many great teachers have left the profession as this was the last bureaucratic straw for them. They chose to retire in peace, find a new profession, switch to private schools, or as young people chose not enter the profession of teaching as planned because every teacher they knew was going crazy with all the stress.
And the Great teachers I know weren’t in it for the money or the accolades anyway. Turns out those are not such good rewards with the education crowd. Turns out they teach not because it is an easy job or a way they can make some money while slacking off, but … wait for it . . . They Love Teaching. They love the children. They love making a difference in someone else’s life. They work tirelessly every day so our country will be a better place, filled with citizens who are not only educated on subject matter but who know how to act in the world. Now I can understand how politicians may not understand this humble way of thinking, but there it is.
And speaking of great teachers. My best teachers, the ones I remember most, weren’t necessarily the ones who got me the highest scores on standardized tests. They were the ones who cared. I hesitate to quote from Girl Meets World, but it is true, “People change people.”
The great teachers I had were not only the ones who cracked the whip academically and taught me their assigned subject matter. They were the ones who taught me to how to think, how to learn, how to succeed in life. And they did that all while caring about me as a person. I’ll never forget the day one of my toughest teachers sat with me while I cried. My Grandmother, whom I was very close to, was having open heart surgery that day and I was not sure if she was going to live. This tough nut of a teacher listened to me, comforted me, and told me not to stress over my project that was due the next day. She gave me a couple weeks leeway and said just to turn it in when I was ready.
There are still great teachers out there changing young people every day. My children had them in spades our middle class suburban elementary school. My son not only is a math whiz thanks to the extra encouragement and challenge his kindergarten teacher gave him at a young age, but washes his hands better than anyone you’ve ever seen to this day.
And don’t even get me started on the teachers who teach at my kids’ Title 1 school. They are patient and strong and kind and creative. They work HARD all day to give these kids a chance at a better life.
While chaperoning a field trip to the Fox theater in Atlanta, I sat in tears as I listened to the kids around me ooh and ahh at the magnificence of the theater and the wonderfulness of the play. They had never seen anything like it. This trip my child’s teacher, the one who leads a drama club for no other reason than she loves it, it changed those kids lives. It showed them possibilities they had never dreamed of. It showed them who they could be. I still get teary just thinking about it.
I have no idea how this woman’s special ed classroom students did on their standardized test. But she is a GREAT teacher who is preparing her students for a great future.
Hey there’s an idea. Lets give merit pay to those who teach special ed and those who teach at Title 1 schools to encourage the Great teachers already there who climb an uphill battle everyday.
It makes a lot more sense than basing someone’s worth on some ill-planned, poorly regulated, and questionably graded test.
*I am still learning the fine details of these issues even though I spend a good amount of time researching them. The lack of information easily available to parents and the public in general is troubling. So feel free to add more details in comments if I didn’t get something just right.
*To encourage our teachers, share your favorite “Great Teacher”
*Some articles I read indicated that Gov. Deals actions on this matter might be politically motivated. Some imply he wants schools to fail so the state can take control of schools or start corporate run charter schools. If you know more about this than me, please chime in.