Why school isn’t for children anymore — teacher

(Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)
(Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)

Dawn Neely-Randall, a 24-year veteran teacher in Ohio,  has watched with alarm the rising influence of standardized testing on public education in recent years. In an e-mail, she said she is “weary” of the “testing abuse inflicted” on her students and profession. Neely-Randall wrote the following piece a few days ago about what she sees happening in education, and she hopes other teachers will stand up and tell their own stories.

By Dawn Neely-Randall

It isn’t even 6:30 at night, but I’m done. I already have my pajamas on and don’t have the energy to do one productive thing all evening. I drove home after an after-school meeting (looking at student test data) tonight feeling a bit sorry for myself since this is my least favorite time of the school year…the countdown to the big Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) which is the end-all, be-all in the Ohio world of education.

Our fifth-graders have learned so much this year. Most of them can write a seven-paragraph essay in one sitting. They have read novel after novel after novel. They know what plot events are, credible sources, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, and how an author arranged a non-fiction piece of writing. They’ve studied Rosa Parks, Robert Frost, Lucretia Mott, Abraham Lincoln, Garrett Morgan, Emily Dickinson, Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, MLK, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, etc… (over 30 biographies in all). We’ve “been to” England, Mexico, Ireland, Denmark, and Japan during our school studies. It has been an exciting, fun, whirlwind year and I love these kids. This has been one of my favorite groups of students ever.

We could do SO MUCH with this foundation now. More of them could become published (I just dropped off some of their editorials to the newspaper today). More of them could participate in creative contests (one student was just chosen to go to a table decorating contest based on the “healthy sandwich” she designed). We could invite community leaders in for a luncheon and help develop their activist spirit. We could do a cultural fair and invite the younger students in our building to come and learn from us. We could get OUT of the building and visit local businesses so our students could see firsthand why their education matters. (You know, the things I USED to do in education, even once taking my students on a flying field trip.)

But what do we have to do now? Test Prep.

And why do we have to do it? Because no matter how fluent my students are, no matter how amazing their writing, no matter how much they know about so many topics, they MUST be able to sit for two and a half hours straight and read 6-7 reading selections and write approximately 12 essay questions giving the scorers EXACTLY what they’re looking for or they won’t get their points and they won’t get their scores. And since they’re going off to middle school next year, I want them to start with the highest “label” they can get (because with these tests, students DO get labeled and the state is the biggest “label lover” of them all).

Oh, and let’s not forget that after taking the Ohio Achievement Assessments reading test on Monday, the students will then take the math test on Wednesday, and then the science test on Friday. Three days of testing = 7 1/2 hours of testing. For 10- and 11-year old students. (The third and fourth graders will be testing for five hours in one week.) Wow. Just….wow. I just heard today that next year, students may be taking these same tests in March AND May. Now, won’t that just be double the fun? Be still my heart.

And do we get the graded tests back? No! We get “scores” but no graded tests. And have there been reports from past test scorers that some of the scoring isn’t ethical or honest or well done? Yes! So do I TRUST the scoring? No. Why aren’t parents DEMANDING to see their students’ graded tests from the state? I don’t know.

One past test expected a sixth-grader to know what “third person omniscient” was. Really?!

If a student vomits on a test, we DO have to put the sealed test in a plastic bag and send it back to the state. Apparently, a teacher isn’t trustworthy enough to give her word that there was a student, there was vomit, and now there is non-scorable test. I’ll have my plastic gloves on the front table before we begin.

I have to TEACH my students to write in a specific way just for this OAA test. Yes, for this ONE test on this one day in their lives, which will give them a “label” of their knowledge (limited, basic, proficient, accelerated, advanced),  which is supposed to represent their entire school year with me.

And I’ll get my label, too, based on their label. From my school district. From my state. For my life.

For tonight, my label is “Fed Up.” I just want to teach. I just want to make learning come alive for my students. I just want to make a difference.

But tomorrow, I will go into school with a big smile on my face and motivate my students to jump through hoops so they can go on to middle school ready to pass any test thrown their way. And I’ll make it fun and we’ll laugh and I’ll do whatever I can to try to make it my students’ fondest year yet.

But I have to tell you, school just isn’t for children anymore.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · March 2