Friday, March 22, 2013


These are a few slices that I have observed in the past weeks in various schools and districts where I support teachers, administrators and students in the teaching of writing … 

Scenario 1
Molly sits at her desk, as the teacher explains how to write a compare/contrast essay for the test.  The teacher explains that when writing for a test the bullets serve as a guide.  The teacher talks about and models how to follow and write about each bullet in a separate paragraph.  Molly starts wringing her hands and rolling up her sleeves as the teacher talks.  The teacher tells the students not to be nervous and to do their best.  Molly begins to tug on her hair and her sweater in obvious reaction to what she was being asked to do.

Scenario 2
Teachers are talking about the upcoming test and what they are doing to prepare their students for it.  They talk about the mountains of paperwork they have received and the daily emails about the “latest updates on the April tests.”  They express frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed at even knowing what exactly they need to be doing.

Scenario 3
An administrator talks to me about frustration at the myriad of messages that has been received about expectations that the test scores will be up to 30 points lower than recent years due to more rigorous reading passages and a change in cut points. He laments that those score can affect teachers’ lives.  He also talks about how good instruction, due to pressures around test scores tied to teacher performance is being compromised.  He states that the pressure on teachers is changing the school climate.

Scenario 4
A special education says that she is not preparing several of her 7th grade students who are reading on a 3rd grade level to take the test because they will score at the low end and she doesn’t want to waste precious time that goes into teaching the children reading at their guided reading level.

Scenario 5
Teachers are talking about a workshop that they attended where the presenter stated that she absolutely supports the Common Core Learning Standards and labels New York as Hard Core Common Core because of the punitive aspects for teachers that are being put into place because of the still unknown (in fact untaken) tests and results.

Scenario 6
Sitting on the soccer sidelines, parents are talking about the upcoming tests.  Their discussion turns to an “opt out” possibility.  They wonder together if that is the right option for their child.

*              *              *              *              *              *              *              *              *            

This is a time of unprecedented unknowns in education.  It is a time of unprecedented fear and reaction as the unknowns grow and supports that were anticipated aren’t provided.   As a staff developer and a teacher of teachers, I applaud the higher standards.  I applaud the rigors of inquiry and complex thinking that are embedded in the instruction demanded of these standards.

I am frustrated that the interpretation of how to meet these standards is sometimes narrow and often hurt the stakeholders we most want to protect—our students.  I am troubled that this interpretation and the fear of reprisal from low scores is causing reaction as teachers teach to the test rather than teach to the standards—many of which can’t most effectively be measured by a paper-pencil test.  The anxiety levels are high for all concerned stakeholders.   And this concerns me.

I am troubled for our children— the Molly’s of our schools that are pulling their sweaters and biting their nails and losing sleep as a reaction to this high stress scenario. The anxiety levels are high for all concerned stakeholders.  I worry for the youngest of our stakeholders—our children, our students.  I worry that we are raising a generation of anxious children.  What a state?   Over a test?  Where is the sanity?  


  1. It is all about money. Read up on Bill Gates. They want parents to perceive public schools as failures so that education can become a private industry serving the "haves" and "have nots" according to income...further perpetuating classism.

  2. Thank you for your curated set of observations. My K-5 school was 'selected' to pilot the computer CCSS tests beginning the day we get back from Spring Break.
    It has raised everyone's blood pressure.
    The lab in the pod isn't set up for it and the teachers aren't trained in how to administer it. And when the 3rd and 4th grade gets done with it, guess what? We begin the CST testing in earnest.
    Maybe "accountability" is another word for money. In the pockets of a few...

  3. Unfortunately, I think Chris is right. There was an op-ed in the Washington Post last week about this very topic. (Sorry, can't find the link.) Parents have to stand up to this madness and say ENOUGH!

  4. As I read your post I became the Molly who was feeling anxious, putting my hands through my hair and wondering how I will get through all of this as a teacher. Feeling that way how can I assure my students?

  5. Senario 3...for sure our state...all your point were well taken. I was that child, a very long time ago. It is 10x worse than it was back in the '60s and '70s, when our teachers and our parents smiled and just said, "Do your best." The scarier thing is this, we have been seeing a trend where the student simply gives up. xo

  6. I don't know what I think. I like the CCSS much better than than the previous Illinois State Learning Standards. I like that the interpretation of how to teach is left to the teachers to decide. I like that there is one set of standards for everyone.
    The part about teacher accountability, about teachers' evaluations being tied to student performance - the little I've heard is that it's very loosely defined and kind of up to the school districts. ?
    I hear terrible things, I read terrible things, and that makes me worry.
    I just don't know what I think.

  7. I think that testing in itself as one possible assessment is not so bad. But all the emphasis testing is getting now is going to extreme. It is sad that the kids are in the middle of this all.

  8. This is such an accurate portrayal of anxiety felt in many places. I agree with you about the standards being good and the interpretation of them not so much. I hope that as we move forward and start to use the new tests that are designed to match the Common Core we will be able to see that teaching these standards prepares our students for the test. I hope that the insanity of measuring schools and teachers based on one test score ends soon.

  9. I also worry that Chris is right. I also worry that the new tests will show greater achievement gaps and create even more pressure on the whole system. We all perpetuate the stress and anxiety of high stakes testing and diminish the passion and authentic learning that should be taking place in our schools.

  10. Because I am 'outside' the system in an independent school, I worry for the students and those of you who teach. My brother just shared with me (he's in another state, retired & just doing some work for the public school where he worked as a music teacher for many years) that in a few schools, his system is trying out a new 'prep' program to help teachers prep for the tests. Sounds like a lot of money going to someone because of all this. I wonder how many new books and programs have you seen lately that point to helping implementation of the CC, and/or study of non-fiction. Whew!

  11. You have captured the mulitiple levels of worry and the intense anxiety of the testing cycle. It is hard not to be concerned at every level. I will, myself, have butterflies as the kids try to maneuver the "harder" tests" because "harder" is better" when it comes to tests!

  12. Great post and comments here about the impact of testing on all of us.

    In our state, we (the teachers) feel as if we are the only ones being held accountable. Students are told they will not pass to the next grade if they don't pass, but that rarely happens. In our state, our test scores are now automatically linked to our performance reviews. For the next three years they will be collected and we will be given a "performance rating." If our scores are low we will be deemed "unacceptable" and could lose our jobs or be put on probation. All very stressful to consider.

    I was talking to one of my 7th graders the other day about how teachers are held accountable for students' test scores, he said,"Well that's ridiculous! Do they know what kind of students you teach?!" He was referring to those students who are, as my principal likes to call them "intentional non-learners." You know, the kind that will bubble "C" all the way down the test and finish in less than 10 minutes. There is probably nothing more stressful for me than watching this type of non-learner take the test in my room.

    Don't know the answer to the craziness, but it helps to know I am not alone.

    Thanks for sharing.