Teaching: The Stakes Are Too Damn High!

It Can't Always Be the End of the World

Can it?

As I type this I'm thinking about my students sweating over a soul-destroying pre-assessment for the upcoming state testing. I need to know what needs to be covered. I need to know where my kids are weak according to the state so I can try to shore up those weaknesses and make my kids stronger. There's talk about going to merit-based pay, in which we teachers are paid based on how well our kids are doing on these tests. 

Obviously, I have some issues with that.

First, let me say that anyone who claims that merit based pay is only going to punish teachers who are poor at their jobs, you're just straight up wrong. Talk to any Special Ed teacher, who has dedicated their lives to the most needy and vulnerable among our student population, and tell them you're going to pay them based on how their kids are doing on tests.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

They're going to tell you that it's flat-out impossible. Much of the SpEd population tests poorly. That's just the nature of it. When you're talking about populations of vulnerable kids that have learning, reading, writing, and other disabilities, they're not going to excel on a test designed with the "average" (typical is the new word) student in mind. They're going to do badly, just as you'd expect a wheelchair bound student to do poorly in a 100m hurdle event. They're not equipped for jumping. The difference between our SpEd students and our typical students isn't usually that dramatic, but it could be the equivalent of having 10 typical students, and three have to do the hurdle with weights attached to their legs.

In short: go to merit based pay, and kiss SpEd educators good bye. I know I'd rather find another state to teach in than take a dramatic pay cut, potentially. 

So, in our high stakes realm of state testing, they want to attach our livelihoods to the results of this test. Testing, it is well known in educator circles, is a method of taking a picture of that student on a particular day. Though we're not allowed to pass/fail kids based solely on the scores of these tests, the kids certainly believe we do. 

The stakes are high for the kids because they often think they're going to fail the grade they're in if they don't do well on the state-mandated testing. They also know if they do well or not on these tests, and may internalize the idea that they're stupid, or behind. While they may be behind, I've yet to meet a stupid kid. I've known some ignorant ones, sure, but that's my job. We can educate them out of that.

We've got high stress for the students, particularly for those who are already at a disadvantage during testing, and high stress for the teachers. We don't want to be judged by a single picture of our students taken on a single day, or even a few days. Come sit with us for a month and make a video. That will give you a better  idea of what we get up to in our rooms. It would certainly give you a better idea of what a student is like and what they're capable of achieving. 

A standardized test doesn't do ANY of those things. There's no demographic box to check for hungry, or slept in a car last night, or child of a single parent who hasn't been home at night for the last month, and on and on. All of these things affect our children significantly. Dd they miss breakfast? Are their clothes clean? Did mom or dad or SOMEONE tell the student they were loved that morning?

All of those factors affect how our students do on their tests. Every single one, and more besides. There are more variables than can be measured that affect our students' performance. 

The stakes are too damn high. We need to get back to the original use of standardized testing, which was to be that snapshot at the end of the year to suggest what content the teacher needed to cover better next year. Kids graduated based on their class grades, not on the grades of a test, and no one got paid less because they made the choice to teach the neediest kids. 

The stakes are too damn high. There's no place for this much stress and worry in classrooms of 8 year olds. There's no place for it in my classroom of 11 and 12 year olds. And there's no place to punish teachers for the makeup of their classroom.

The stakes are too damn high. Let's not make the mistake of telling our kids they're a series of numbers on a scale. Let's not make the mistake of telling our teachers they'll only be paid if someone else does well. We want educators in needy classrooms. We want students to sleep. We don't want them to vomit all over a test because they're so nervous (which happened in my classroom two years ago) or simply sit there and cry.

The stakes are too damn high.


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