‘Today was the first day I was ever ashamed to be a teacher’

Richard Ratto (Used with permission)
Ralph Ratto (Used with permission)

Students around the country are taking high-stakes Common Core-aligned standardized tests now and some teachers are expressing unhappiness about having to administer them.  Some are refusing to administer them and others are going public with their concerns about the nature of the tests and the emphasis being placed on them by policymakers.  Numerous problems have been reported with these tests in New York, including badly worded questions, unfair cut scores that determine who does well and who doesn’t, and booklets with blank pages. Entertainer Louis C.K. complained about the tests on Twitter and the David Letterman show.

Ralph Ratto, an elementary school teacher from Long Island, New York, and president of his local teacher’s union, writes in this post that he was ashamed of his role in administering the tests last week. The post represents the growing activism of educators who have long gone along with policies they don’t think are appropriate for children but who now feel they have to take a public stand. A version of this appeared last week on Ratto’s blog, Opine I Will.  He tweets at @rratto.

By Ralph Ratto

Today was the first day I was ever ashamed to be a teacher.

Today I finished administering the sixth day of New York State Common Core assessments. I was a facilitator in a process that made my 10-year-old students struggle ,to the point of frustration, to complete yet another 90-minute test. I sat by as I watched my students attempt to answer questions today that were beyond their abilities. I knew the test booklets I put in front of them contained questions that were written in a way that 95 percent of them had no chance of solving. I even tried to give my students a pep talk, in hopes of alleviating their angst, when I knew damn well they didn’t stand a chance. Today I was part of the problem.

As I watched my students, I was angry that my efforts to stop this madness were not successful. I was angry at my students’ parents for not opting out their children. I was angry at my administrators for not stepping up to the plate and attempting to end this madness. I was angry at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Education Commissioner King, the N.Y. Board of Regents, my state senator, my state assemblyman, President Obama, and even my state union. I was angry that my students were victims in the abusive game to drive a political agenda.

I lost it today. I lost a little bit of my self-esteem. I lost my faith in my party. I lost my faith in my ability to protect my students. I lost my faith in our future.

I watched my students valiantly attempt math questions that most adults could not answer. These questions were wordy, and purposely confusing in a warped way to prove some point about our public education system.

Historically, my students excel on standardized tests, often finishing near the top of our district and state. Today I witnessed –, no I was part of!!  – a situation in which students were forced to endure what amounted to what I would call an abusive situation.

Today I am ashamed. I am ashamed I didn’t do enough to stop this madness.

But I am not done. I am pledging to double my efforts to stop this form of institutional abuse. If my state senator and assemblyman do not work to end this madness, I will work to have them replaced. I will work to expose the governor’s education agenda. I will work to have King replaced.

Today is a dark day…but not for long.

RELATED: They were teachers before they were famous

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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