Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why does that test label her grade for this school year?

An email from a former student--

A caring, bright, energetic young woman who excelled in her classroom internships as a senior in high school--

Now a first year teacher in middle childhood classrooms in a large urban district—

And experiencing a myriad of challenges with classroom management and testing--

“I don't see the purpose of tests on top of tests on top of tests... I have a young lady in my 8th grade class that is working harder than I think she has worked her whole school career. She comes to me for help and really desires to do well this term. I was told that my grades for her are inflated and that she cannot receive a B in my class because she is below basic according to last years’ PSSA test. My classroom tests obviously aren't challenging enough if she is doing that well, yet I have students that do absolutely nothing and have F's in my class. I don't understand the education system anymore. What if the day before the test her dog died, what if that was a day she didn't eat breakfast, what if she was being bullied or something else was going on? Why does that test label her grade for this school year?”

Tears in my eyes, consumed by anger and sorrow, with a heavy heart, my reply attempted to suggest how it might be possible to maintain a good relationship with her student since I had worked with so many “at risk” kids who desperately needed to be able to feel some success at school after significant effort --yet regretting and knowing it did not address the real issue-- and surely didn’t answer her questions--

And a later email—

“I am going to have to try giving harder tests structured like the PSSA exam according to the math lead teacher and the testing specialist.”

I had some sense that ‘testing cultures’ were pretty abhorrent in urban districts – I have no words to accurately describe my feelings regarding this.

Aren’t we going to lose an entire generation of young people -- not only those whose circumstances into which they are placed through no fault of their own make learning a challenge yet thrive and flourish in a caring, student centered classroom, but also those who play the game of school so well and leave us with the skills of test taking rather than critical thinking?

And what of this generation of new teachers, who entered the profession full of hope, energy, creativity and passion-- who hope to touch the souls of youngsters and share a love of learning -- How long will it take for them to wilt and wither?

The “tuning out” or quiet cries of young people, the despair of novice, caring teachers-- the outrage of those of us who’ve come before them -- surely these can no longer be heard by the powers that be as just mere whimpers and irrelevant? Or can they?

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