Massachusetts BAT Testifies at Philly Hearing on High Stakes Test
By: Gus Morales
I want to preface my following statement by saying how adamantly opposed to high-‐stakes testing, standardized curriculum, standardized learning, and the idea that all children can be assessed using the same measure. To paraphrase Albert Einstein: Standardizing the production of automobiles is a good thing, but to standardize human beings is to walk a dangerous path.
All over Massachusetts you see bumper stickers touting my state as the leader of the pack when it comes to standardized testing. For better or worse, we are the envy of all other states because we do testing better than anyone else. And I can’t stand it. But even if you use the “rigorous” standard put forth by the Rote-‐minded Robot Reformers, that the way to measure and hold teachers accountable is through the austere path of high-‐stakes testing, Massachusetts is tops. And what exactly is the reward for the teachers that have lived up to the expectations of the Testing Machine? Lifelong probationary status is what they get for their service.
You see, in the infinite wisdom of those who either have never in their lives taught or those who have spent too little time in the classroom to develop an appreciation for the art of instruction, the idea is to tie student test scores not only to teacher evaluations, but to their licensure as well. What does this mean for the teachers in my state and other states where this is being proposed? In no uncertain terms, this will cause an exodus. Teaching has always been difficult and there were times where personalities clashed and someone was let go and went to a different district. While this proposal was defeated due to strong opposition in Massachusetts, if this is allowed to pass in any state, teachers won’t just lose their job, they will lose their license and with it their ability to teach in their respective state.
Already I have to deal with teachers telling me on a daily basis that they just can’t do it anymore. I have spouses of teachers telling me that they can’t do it anymore. I have teachers telling me that they have anxiety attacks at school. They tell me that they are taking medication to go to school, more at lunch to get through the day, and more at home to be able to function in their own homes. Why should anyone give a damn about how teachers are doing? Why should anyone care that we will see a rise in the attrition rate of educators? Why should anyone care that teachers are under attack?
To put it simply, the teachers’ working conditions are the students’ learning conditions. I am the President of the Holyoke Teachers Association in Holyoke, MA. I couldn’t be more proud to be from Holyoke and to represent some of the greatest teachers to ever hold a teacher’s manual. Apply some simple logic to this situation and understand that to make a teacher’s life miserable is tantamount to assuring that teacher cannot be successful. The two are inextricable. One’s condition depends on the other’s condition.
Let us not fall victim to the widespread lies being cast about teachers’ unions being the thing that holds black and Latino children from excelling. To illustrate this, why not look at the performance of states with strong unions and those without and see
if in fact it is the unions that are holding progress back. Or, and I suppose I am going out on a limb here, we could discuss the incredulous disparities in funding and extracurricular activities from the haves and the have-‐nots. Even Bill Green, chairman of the School Reform Commission, during yesterday’s Education Funding Hearings, admitted that Philadelphia schools were not being adequately funded to appropriately meet the needs of children living in poverty and English Language Learners. Maybe that conversation is just too difficult to have and it is just easier to cancel all the teachers’ contracts and put the blame squarely on their shoulders.
I think what we really have to talk about, what we really need to get into, is the undiagnosed mental condition of a nation that’s lost its mind. This country suffers from a delusion that testing will somehow narrow the achievement gap. We are afflicted with a disorder that makes us think that the children of this great nation are just going to soak it all up, show some GRIT, and have that happy ending promised so long ago. I am Puerto Rican. I grew up in a city that is full of Puerto Ricans. For the last three years I taught in the same city I grew up in. The “rigor” that I hear so much about is the same venom that has poisoned my schools.
Listen to me when I tell you this because it is something I have said time and time again, but I’m not sure the people hearing me are understanding what it is I mean to say: were this the environment, the culture of schools when I was growing up, I would have dropped out. Of that I am certain. I don’t treat my students with a “no excuses” attitude because a lot of the time I wonder how any of us would do in some of the situations that my students face?
I truly believe that most people would crumble under the weight that these kids bear. They come in tired. They come in hungry. They come in with emotional issues that shake my core as a human being. They come with stories so sad that it becomes hard to have happy moments. And still they show up every single day. So, you’ll forgive me if I, along with the great teachers of Philadelphia, don’t put any stock in your tests and your metrics. What I see in front of me is a child. Not a test score. Not a data point. But a real, live human being.