This week, I’ll take a little break from technology to vent. I haven’t really given my thoughts on the current state of affairs, so I think it’s time.
I live in New York State, where we have Raced to the Top, Common Cored the heck out of our curriculum, and responded to interventions. We have revamped so much of what we teach and how we teach it in the last three short years, it would make your head spin. We have worked through countless curriculum development sessions, with local curriculum experts, understanding, unwrapping, and learning new strategies to integrate into our classrooms.
Over the course of the last eight years of teaching, I have seen a change even greater than the common core movement. A change that I never really thought I would ever see from the professionals that I hear conversing in Facebook groups, working through professional development seminars, or at local schools. I never thought I would hear any professionals that I came into contact with say that they simply teach to the test.
Now, let’s be upfront and honest here. In New York, and I’m sure across the United States, there is one major reason why teachers are being forced to teach exactly what is going to be on the test…their jobs are on the line. In New York, teachers are assessed on three separate pieces of information: a local measure (our school uses SRI), teacher observations (2 per year), and in 3rd grade and higher, New York State Common Core Assessments. And with our Governor proposing big changes, which would make the state test worth 50% of the teacher’s overall rating, we are only going to fuel more teachers to teach to the test, just to simply save themselves.
In the last 3 or 4 years, teachers have continuously stated that there is not much of a choice…”We have to teach to the test to get good scores.” This is one of the most sad statements I have ever heard come out of an educator’s mouth. This time of year, teachers are opening up those test preparation books with 8 year olds, and right now, as we speak, this is replacing instruction. Replacing the instruction that the professionals in our classrooms have earned both a required Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, and are so proficient in teaching. Test Prep books in 3rd grade? What has the American Education system come to? We are doing a major injustice to students and a major injustice to the art and craft of teaching that has been developed throughout the last century. We have come so far, we can’t throw it all away now!
Common Core standards were meant to raise the bar for our students, and I would be lying through my teeth if I said I haven’t seen change. In the last two years, we have all raised that bar. We are giving our students far more complex tasks that we never would have thought about giving just five years ago; and students are showing true growth. Each day, we are trying to push the envelope with students, just to see how much we can challenge our kids. What makes a good teacher today? Knowing when to stop. Knowing when things become just a little too challenging. Knowing that we need to scaffold just a bit more before pushing even further. This type of challenge can’t happen through straight up test prep, but this is the monster that has been created.
Let me make one more thing clear, I’m not against 3rd and 4th graders taking tests. In fact, I think every educator agrees that you really can’t get too far without an assessment. We need to know where our students are, where they are falling down, and where they are excelling. But, we are no longer using this test for discovering more about our students, instead we are using it to assess teachers and the principal in the school. No longer can we sit down and ask ourselves what we can learn from the test, instead educators are at times guessing where kids fell down on the assessment. This is bogus.
- We are wasting time from January until April preparing kids for the test by using workbooks and other test prep materials.
- We are losing out on valuable time with our kids to teach meaningful information and skills.
- We are NOT getting any great data from the state about how to help these students.
- Parents and students get no meaningful information.
- Teachers are labeled with a score, which only fuels the fire to teach to the test.
- Cycle repeats.
Now for my confession. I teach to the test. I teach in the very best way I know how. I cover every single one of the NY Common Core Learning Standards through projects and daily lessons that I develop. Through this teaching, my students are gaining skills and strategies that they will need for their entire lifetime. My kids will be ready for that test, and so much more. I will not use a book to teach them how to take your test, and I don’t care about that number that you give the student, or to me. I care that I prepared them through meaningful instruction.
Your system that has me getting a 16 out of 20 one year, and a 9 out of 20 the next is flawed, and quite frankly, meaningless. These scores don’t matter to me, because I know that I am doing everything in my power to make my students shine. I see the true growth from my students as they create their podcasts, read their complex pieces of literature, and work through their math problems like never before. I am preparing my kids for the future.
New York State, they can take your test and do the very best they can, but you will not bring them down, and you will not bring me down. I am strong, and I am teaching my kids to do the same each and every one of those 180 days they’re with me. I have raised the bar for my kids, and I attribute this to the Common Core, but I will not sacrifice the high level of teaching, the engaging lessons, and the pedagogy that has been instilled in me from some of the best teacher mentors I have met throughout my career.
Teachers, carry on teaching like your hair is on fire.
Carry on preparing engaging lessons for your students.
Carry on using meaningful data to help inform your instruction.
And, maybe more importantly, carry on in believing the instruction you provide your students is the test prep. That high level of instruction is preparing your kids for the assessment at the end of the year, but so much more!