Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Teaching, Testing, and The Moral High Ground

By now, most of you have probably heard something about the Atlanta teachers who changed students' standardized test scores.  Just this morning I heard the story on the news comparing the implicated teachers to mobsters.  And I can't begin to tell you how wrong I think that comparison is.  

Before everyone starts freaking out, I believe that their actions were wrong.  However, I believe in the era of high-stakes testing, these teachers weren't necessarily the villains, but desperate people trying to keep their jobs. They will be made examples of, to keep the rest of us in line, to stop other cheaters in their tracks.  Because if you think Atlanta was the only place this kind of thing has happened or will happen, you are, unfortunately, wrong.  When you connect students' score to teachers' employment, even the best teachers find themselves wondering if they have what it takes to keep this job, or even worse, if they even want to keep this job.  

Most people who aren't in education, and many who are, don't get how unfair it is to judge a teacher by their students' test scores.  In my state, all students are tested not at their determined academic level, but at their grade level.  This means that a student with an identified learning disability who reads or completes math at a third or even fifth grade level is still tested with eighth grade materials, and expected to meet or exceed at that level.  And their scores count in to the total scores for the grade level, even when we know they are unable to complete that level of work.  The truth of the matter is not every student is college-bound.  I know that's not a popular opinion, but I believe it's true and to pretend otherwise does a disservice to students.  Not being college-bound isn't a put-down, either.  I have several former students who did not attend college, or who went only to a community college to obtain a certificate, who now make almost twice as much money as I do.  These students might not achieve on a standardized test, but score high when it really counts--in life.  

Additionally, we only control the students habits from 8:00 to 3:00.  To pretend that all students go home to loving families with a deep commitment to education is at best foolish.   I can control what happens in my classroom (mostly).  I can even send home food with the hungry ones, or give clothes to the ones who need them.  I can love them and give them attention, but it may not fix everything for them.  When you are wondering where you are going to sleep at night, achieving on a standardized test isn't really where your head is.  Even in homes where everything is fine, education isn't always the biggest concern.  But parents aren't the ones losing their jobs when the tests don't come in at the levels we expect.  And that's not even addressing students who chose not to perform well because they are over-tested, bored, or unfortunately, even mean-spirited.  If students know failure to achieve could cost a teacher their job, what's to stop them from throwing the test?  I'm not saying that could or has happened, but I think we need to consider the possibilities here.

I can say that I wouldn't change a student's score, but I certainly get how it could happen.  To be scared for your job is the absolute worst feeling in the world.  And to know you could lose your job, even when you've tried your hardest and given your best is unthinkable.  But, it happens.  And unfortunately, until high-stakes testing stops, it will continue to happen.  If I were 18 again, and knew what I now know about education, there's no way I would choose it as my major.  That's not to say I don't love my job, because I do, but every day it gets harder and harder to deal with the part of teaching that has nothing to do with educating students.  And I think if the rest of the world really understood that, they might have a little mercy on those teachers in Atlanta, and teachers everywhere else too.


  1. As I always say to you, Katie, thank you for being a teacher! I applaud your comments above. I feel for teachers, even though I have never been one myself. But, I loved most of mine when I was in school and considered them role models. I am pretty sure you are one, and I
    hope your play weekend went well.

  2. i couldn't agree more. yes, what those teachers in Atlanta did was wrong, but I totally get it. What if we started holding doctors accountable if their patients died? What if we started cutting the salaries of those doctors whose patients don't lose weight, or stop smoking, drinking, eating bad diets etc? Better yet, why don't we fire all the politicians that can't pass a budget on time, or don't deliver on the campaign promises they make? Or perhaps, we could fire all the cops who arrest criminals and attorneys who prosecute them, if the criminals are not 'rehabilitated' in prison? It's just ridiculous, they expect us teachers to solve all of society's problems. Oh man, don't even get me started....

  3. It isn't logical, but in the main people making these decisions are not classroom teachers or even educators so its just crazy. Have you seen the little sign going round Facebook that says...when you get a cavity you don't fire the dentist? It's much the same with teachers.

    God bless you and good teachers everywhere!

  4. Your post really hits home with me. I live in a state where the manditory testing is tied to graduation. I have a son who is one of those students you mention. He had an IEP but was still tested as if he were a regular student. Thank goodness for him the manditory graduation rule didn't go into effect until the year after he graduated. He was not college bound. He did however succeed because his dad and I made sure he did. I feel for those kids who do not have parents who will advocate for them and push them to be their absolute best. My son is 27 now and has a great job with great benefits and is able to monitarily help out his siblings and even his parents when needed...without ever stepping foot in a college classroom, community or otherwise. It can be done. But we have to stop trying to teach all kids in the same manner. And we have to stop teaching to tests. I'm happy to say that the manditory test in my state has been overturned. I have the utmost respect for teachers and I totally agree with everything you said. I applaud you for your hard work and dedication. God Bless! (sorry for such a long comment...it's a subject close to my heart :)

    1. I appreciate what you have to say so much, Gerri! (And not just because you agree with me.) I think if more people really understood (or cared) what all of this testing craziness really meant for students and for teachers, they would want to see some common sense changes, especially for students like your son. A great life is available for all kids, but we need to focus on what they can do instead of testing them on what we already know they can't. Thank you for sharing!

  5. I feel ya. It's starting to creep into the college realm, too, which just makes me sick. It's bad in elementary through high school--to bring it into college is just insane. I cannot understand why/how the people making these decisions don't listen to the people DOING the work.


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