Image from Mental Floss
Can I call you Betsy? I feel like I know you. After all, we’re from the same state. I’ve been in buildings with your name on it hundreds of times. I’ve used Amway products; I’ve taught in a charter school. Even though my entire house could fit inside your first floor bathroom, I feel like we should be able to talk woman-to-woman. After all, we want what is best for kids, right? I’m a teacher; you’re the United States Secretary of Education. We are both in it for our students, not for corporate profit. Right?
So, here’s what we need to talk about: the way I just spent my day. You see, I just spent 4 ½ hours proctoring the SAT to my students. After that, they went home. Tomorrow I will spend another 3 hours proctoring the ACT WorkKeys to my students. Then they will go home. And Thursday, I will proctor the rest of the M-Step to my students. And then they will go home.
Three full days. Three full days where “teaching” means reading an instruction manual on how to successfully fill in bubbles with no stray marks. Three full days where “teaching” means hoping the kids remember to eliminate the wrong answers before they choose the answer that is left so they get a high enough score that our district isn’t in danger of state takeover. Three full days where “learning” means reading incredibly boring passages, answering meaningless and out-of-context multiple choice questions, and writing an essay that serves no academic or career purpose whatsoever. Three full days where “learning” means high levels of anxiety about a gateway test that is used to keep our students out of colleges. Three full days where my students know and I know (and you’d know if you did some research) that the only thing being measured is their own socioeconomic status and the educational level of their moms.
This, of course, is only representative of the junior year of mandatory testing in our state. I haven’t even mentioned the hours we lost to “pre-administration” bubble filling, and the entire elective students lost so that they could do focused SAT prep for an entire semester. But our students are drowning in standardized tests almost every single year, K-12. 20-25 hours a year is devoted to standardized testing; on average, students take over 100 standardized tests by the time they graduate high school. Much of the content is developmentally inappropriate. All of the content is soul-crushingly boring. And yet, our teachers and students are forced to spend days weeks months prepping for these tests, regardless of what the students really need.
What could have been taught in all of those lost hours? What could have been learned?
You recently told Oklahoma teachers who were striking for better teaching and learning conditions that they should “serve the students that are there to be served.” You told them that you, personally, “think about the kids.”
Well, I am thinking about the kids. And the only thing I get to serve them this week is more standardized tests. Tests that are meant to keep them out. Tests that are used to measure my own effectiveness as a teacher. Tests that are used at all levels to pit our schools against each other. Tests that will now be used to limit our students’ opportunity to advance to the 4th grade. Tests that measure everything but the things these students really need: safe learning environments, high quality and up-to-date resources, sound infrastructure, and teachers who are allowed to do the job they are highly trained and highly qualified to do: teach.