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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?