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A Teacher's Lament

It's hard to pretend. But, day after day, I put on a smile and do my job. I do my paperwork according to the latest model and set about the business of trying to get kids to pass tests. The thing that set me on this path was believing I can make a difference. Pretending I still believe gets harder every day.

Let's look at the numbers. There are 180 days of school. This year students will take 5 state assessments, 10 major assessments for their report card grades, a pre and post test for teacher assessment in every class, and the week-long rollout of the new PAARC test. This adds up to 30 days taking tests. Subtract 30 from 180 and we are left with 150 days for instruction. One sixth, or about 14% of the school year is taken up with the mechanics of taking tests. In my informal poll, 100% of the twelve educators I asked agreed this is a huge waste of time.

The proponents of testing are saying that the new PAARC test is using rigorous, real world problems. I say bravo – it’s about time. But if this is true, that makes their real world more like MacGyver.  Only he had to solve a tough problem alone with the clock counting down. Those of us in the actual real world work together with other human beings over time to solve problems within a reasonable time frame. So, just what is it these tests are measuring?

And what about the quality of those 150 days of instruction? Are our children learning how to use math to help solve real world problems, or just how to take tests? Will today’s 6 graders be able to communicate effectively, work well together with others, and delegate and accept responsibility as adults one day?

In my classroom, carefully colored patterns on hundreds grids showing how tenths times tenths are hundredths form a colorful border around a poster boldly declaring, "respect". On another wall, pictures of faraway lands are interspersed with illustrations of student generated negative number problems about elevation or temperature. Right now the students are measuring the room, dividing their dimensions by 32, and constructing a 1/32nd scale model of our room using cardboard and tape. 

Any of these tasks make a better assessment of how well our children understand and use math than a written test. As a bonus, the daily tasks would be the assessments so we don’t need any extra days getting the kids to look for matching answers on scantron sheets. And it is not hard at all to make that scale model of the Parthenon in Greece instead of my room and make this into something cross curriculum. 

If only we were all on the same page.