So I have this student, let’s call her Lynda, she is always falling asleep in class, dreaming away her high school education . . .
Today was not a test, test. Today was the real thing. That fateful day when public school children across the State spend an entire eight hours filling in fifty some bubbles that will determine the futures of many individuals beyond their comprehension. Literally, the destiny of The District, city and The State could be in their pencil holding hands. Thirty practice test days, eight trainings and over half of some teacher’s lesson plans, have been devoted to this day. Many a principal spent last night wide awake, tossing and turning like a coach before the big game. Significant gains in student percentages could provide lucrative promotions, accompanied with power and pomp. Stagnation or, worse, downward trends, could make them the politically astute’s new sacrificial lamb. As the day unfolds, The District will wait on the sidelines, ready to claim victory from effective training days if the results are positive and even more ready to spin negative numbers in their favor. They would shut down a school to save themselves. And then there are the teachers. The foot soldiers who can now only wait in the bunker for an impending bomb to drop. It is all up to the students now. The one’s we’ve taught, disciplined, loved and lost our tempers with. They unknowingly hold the levers to possible federal money, positive press and laurels that an entire school could rest on for at least another year. One student in particular, Lynda, is especially prepared for today’s events. She has come dressed in pajamas with a pillow in her hand (see Lynda’s story). While educators will spend the next weeks having reoccurring nightmares about a slew of low scores, Lynda will spend today dreaming away, filling in the fifty some bubbles that will determine the fates of so many beyond her comprehension, as she deems fit.
Since I cannot say much about the event’s of today’s testing – its top secret of course – I can only give the following details:
First, the day began in complete chaos. Typical. This was largely due to the fact that rosters of students’ assigned testing locations were not completed until ten minutes before testing was scheduled to begin. This little technicality of the day was then compounded by the decision of allowing students to be in “free dress.” In inner-city public schools, free dress is code for, “wear gang colors.” The students, whether part of an actual gang or just trying to be cool, all showed up decked out from head to toe in either red, blue or purple. Walking into school this morning was like walking onto a Risk board. Different colors occupied different strongholds of the school. The most coveted being the cafeteria, were the battle of colors broke out approximately three minutes before testing was scheduled to begin.
For some reason, both of these occurrences – the student roster caper and the gang war – were blamed on me. The only logical conclusion to this absurd assertion could be that, since someone who is paid much more than me forgot to do their job, I spent all night doing the student room rosters myself. They were most likely deemed unworthy at about 7 AM this morning, as it was at this time when I missed several calls due to being in a shower that had no hot water, again (I’ll write a blog on renting sometime in the future if this one takes off). As for the gang war, I am still unsure how this was deemed my fault because when I think of gangs, I imagine people with gelled back hair, snapping their fingers as they walk down the side of a street and saying things like, “Why I outa . . .” Clearly, I am not hip enough to provoke a three-sided student gang war. I mean I play Risk, come on.
So after The Battle of the Colors was squelched and the students were finally in the correct rooms, testing began – without a bang. Once the bubble sheets and booklets were handed out, Lynda and her peers immediately feel asleep. It was as if the test booklets were laced with some type of sedative. Only one of the kids in my room began working immediately. Lynda was smart to bring a pillow. Please recall I am legally barred from waking any students during state standardized testing.
About two hours went by in total silence with me thinking, “I feel ashamed I am being paid to do this, just sit here and babysit.” And then it was time for lunch. The students were delivered fried burritos, old baby carrots with ranch, juice and a little bit of candy. The fuel needed for a day of thinking. Lunch takes thirty minutes and then sleeping resumes.
Now well past noon, the students begin to take their tests. The odor from the grease soaked burrito bags and the odor coming from the students who consumed the tasty fried treats erases any shame I felt for being paid to sit in a room and watch kids sleep/test.
At the day’s end bell, about a third of my students and students throughout the entire school have still not completed their tests. Since the State requires that unlimited time be given for students to complete a test designed to measure such skills and aptitude and knowledge, a handful of teachers are now ushered to the library where they will be required to supervise the remaining test takers. These teachers include Miss Fit, myself and six others who refuse to pay penance to Mary Queen of the Union. Supporting her reign does have its benefits. In my opinion, such benefits do not overrule the negatives that would weigh down my moral conscience.
At about 6 PM, eleven hours after my cold morning shower, the last student finishes his test. I am drained and once again reminded how exhausting an entire day of no mental stimulation can be.
Here is the point to this anecdote of annoyance. Lynda’s completed bubble sheet will be sealed into a nice package and sent to the State. Over the next few weeks, each public school student’s tests will be scored. Once all scores are in, the Commissioner will set a minimum bar for passing. Since it is an election year, it is likely the Commissioner will lower the bar this year. If the Commissioner’s friends in power keep their jobs because education is “improving,” than he will keep his own title as well.
If Lynda hits the passing mark, then she will be given praise and focus will turn to those who did not fair so well. If Lynda fails, then the following scenario will take place. Concerned for the school’s and The District’s overall ranking, Lynda will be brought to a special meeting with her teachers and academic deans. Her parents will be invited, but the chances of their showing up will be, at best, a coin’s flip. At this special meeting, a slew of adults will speak in a language of numbers and percentages that Lynda will not understand. All she will know is that she failed her state standardized test.
There are two outcomes of the meeting Lynda will attend. The first is that she will be kept on a “normal” track for graduation. She will be allowed to retake the test sometime in the summer and will spend the rest of the year up to that point being pulled out of elective classes (languages, arts, music etc . . . ) to be tutored to the test. Lynda will then be enrolled in summer school (every child’s dream) up to the day she retests.
The second option is that Lynda will be put on a “special” track for graduation. This means she will be assigned an altered or assisted form of the State’s test and her scores will not count against the school or The District. These tests are infinitely easier, as their original purpose was to aid students who truly had special education needs. Think dyslexia, vision problems and not having English as a native language. An easy test. Sounds great. Right?
The only issue with the “special” test is that every employer and four-year college in the country will consider Lynda “special” for the rest of her life. In fact, if Lynda signs on to taking the “special” test, which will most likely be sold to her as the “easier” test (What student doesn’t want to take the easier test. I recently took the LSAT and would have done ridiculous things to take an easier verision) she will not be allowed to go straight into a four-year college upon her graduation. At least snobs who believe every child should one day go to college didn’t make these laws. That would be a travesty.
If Lynda failed her standardized test, on a day mired with chaos and gang wars no less, she will most likely be guided into signing onto a life of being “special” at the “special” meeting she will be invited to.
Now, Lynda’s failure will also be one of the only indicators of my performance as a teacher. The State and The District will not look at me comprehensively – student surveys, willingness to earn professional degrees, professionalism, third party observations. But this isn’t about me, or The District or the State. It is about Lynda. Because her potential as a student will not be looked at comprehensively either. Her GPA, performance in skills such as debate and creativity, her involvement in school and her higher order thinking will be of no consideration when it is decided whether or not Lynda will be deemed “special” for the rest of her existence. And no one will even think to question why Lynda is always sleeping. Tests don’t look at people and the State only looks at numbers.
Testing is not bad and it can be a great indicator of teacher, student, school and district performance. But when everything comes down to just one test and other factors are not taken into consideration – forget about the comprehensive view – then testing becomes an enemy to and not an ally of education. We need to find a way to bring the focus back to educating our students and not training them to fill in bubbles like some type of zombie. That’s not education and, more so, its simply not American. Lets bring the focus back to innovation and ideas and lets celebrate the special as we once did.
Photo Credit: Dave Jenkins