Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Ravings of a Lunatic Special Education Teacher.  I CAN”T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!


Ok – today was the last straw, the one that broke the camel’s back – the piper needs to step up and pay his dues.  I don’t know what that last part has to do with this but I am rambling. 

I teach special education resource room.  I have 9 sixth grade students.  3 of them have been selected this year to participate in the PARCC field test. 

Now let me explain something to you.  These students are at about 2 grades below level.  Every day of instruction that is missed, pushes them further behind.  Lessons that take a day for regular education classrooms sometimes take us a whole week.  And full understanding still hasn’t been maintained by then.  But there are more lessons to be taught, so move on I must. 

Speaking about curriculum.  There are these grade level Common Core State Standards that I am supposed to be following.  How can I follow them with students that need to be taught at a lower level?  Math is a subject that builds upon itself.  You cannot learn how to add fractions with unlike denominators if you do not know how to find like denominators for the two fractions.  Students can only be pushed so hard.  Topics can only be skimmed over and watered down so much before the gaps start appearing, wider and wider.  The cracks in the background knowledge start becoming larger and larger.  The students and the teacher start to get more and more frustrated.  Behaviors start to become increase in frequency.  By March, no one is enjoying the learning process, the adult – student relationship that develops over time is not established or begins to erode.  Authentic learning is no longer taking place.   

But I digress.  Let’s get back to testing, the original reason for my tirade today. 

I have no problem with testing for authentic reasons.  It is very valuable when I do it for the purpose of monitoring how my students are progressing with the understanding that has developed over the concepts that have been taught.   Unfortunately, even this is tainted my classroom because I have to somewhat mimic the format of the standardized tests to allow the students to become familiar with how the questions will be phrased.  Let me tell you, this is where the biggest weaknesses lie.  Ask one of my students to add two fractions together… generally not a problem.  Ask them how much pizza is left if John and his brother each ate one-eighth of the pizza? Now we have a problem. 

So, even though my classroom quizzes and tests are not formed exactly to my personal specifications, they do have value in my planning and instruction.  Tolerable, and even useful.  Now this type of assessment should be done fairly frequently to continuously check for understanding, at least once a month.  Ten months during the school year, that is 10 quizzes. 


Each unit or chapter should also generally be tested or a project developed to show understanding should be completed.  We get through 9 – 11 chapters a year.  Let’s say 10 tests.


(Are you keeping track?  These students are now assessed 20 times during the year.)

Overall, through the school year, there is also quarterly benchmark assessments.  One is given as a pretest at the beginning of the year to assess prior knowledge.  First, second, and third quarter each have their own benchmark.  A total end of the year benchmark is given.  Four of these bigger assessments in total.

Our district also participates in MAP assessments.  This is a district wide assessment tool that is used to rate the overall growth of the district itself.  This is given three times a year. 

Now we move on to state assessments.  The currently mandated NJ ASK test is scheduled for four days.  Of course two of those days are slated to language arts.  But I really can’t provide too much math instruction after the students have just sat for hours reading and writing, under the pressure of having to do well on “THE TEST”.  Usually, I just plan a fun-type of review game to refresh their memories of topics that were previously covered. 

(Now we are up to how many??? 31 days of lost instructional time)

Oh wait!!! I forgot about review.  Each test should be reviewed for – at least one class period before the day of the test.  This is really necessary for my students that have some memory issues.  The benchmarks need two days for review.  The ASK test, well that varies.  A week?  Two weeks?  Three Weeks?  Let’s compromise and take the average. (You can ask my students for the answer…we will be quizzing on mean, median, and mode this week.)  Two weeks for ASK prep and review. 

(I think I may need a pencil and paper at this point.  I have lost track of how many days we have short-changed instructional time.  Are we up to 51 one days lost?)

Now, to get to that final straw.  The PARCC.  The wunderkind of assessments coming down the pike.  My district is participating in the field test.  One-third of my class will be included.  (No, my students were unable to grasp the concepts of how to find this answer when we were studying fractions.  But alas, I had to move on to a new topic.) This will take place over two class periods of math.  Additionally, they will be losing time in language arts.   Even more amazingly, they have also been scheduled for ‘training days’.  For a test that is merely treating them like guinea pigs.  There will be no accommodations in place for this field test.  So, the students that have tracking issues while reading, will not be able to shade part of the screen to block text. (One of the future accommodations).  The students that are communications impaired, I am not sure if the speech-to-text and text-to-speech options will be working for the videos. 

Oh but wait, there is more.  My final email of the day informed me that these students will also have to attend a training session to take these tests.  It is good that they will become familiar with the testing procedures and processes before they are subjected to the maddening torture of having to sit in front of the computer screen and try to decipher which answer the test is looking for.  But once again, more instructional time will be lost. 

Let’s break this down… 

10 quizzes

10 tests

4 benchmark assessments

3 MAP assessments

4 NJ ASK assessments

2 PARCC assessments

This brings the total assessments that my students take this year to a whopping 33!

With the review time and other extra time built in, we have lost around 55 days of instructional time.  That is 30% of the school year. 

All I really want to know is why?  Why do we put our children through this?  Why are we taking snapshot pictures of their educational careers that do nothing to show the progress that has been developed over time?  The standardized tests are norm-referenced tests that include a non-proficient grade for at least some of the students, no matter how much more they may have learned over the course of one school year.  Why am I being forced to push and shove and mold my instruction to a form that really does not meet the learning needs of my students?  Why? Why? Why?

While you form your answer, I am going to put my head down and cry.





  1. Yep, this is the way it is in my district to. No matter how much we complain testing just goes on and on.

  2. Oh my gosh! When you break it down, it is so horrifying. Luckily i have a child in Special Ed. I was abel to have them put in his IEP no state testing, benchmark assessments for the test or any testing having to do with his teachers performance. My defense was his IEP trumps the state mandates and they have to follow that to show progress. He did not have to take any of the above but had to relay on the yearly portfolio and IEP goals. This got his teacher out of also having to teach to the test. Now if i could do that for my kids who do not have "special needs". Hang in there! im sure the parents of those kids appreciate all you are trying to do in the confines you have to work with.

  3. You know why. Curriculum based assessments inform instructions and monitor progress. Criterion referenced tests is how we are supposed to measure standards- but why don't we use them? The best tests are not tests at all- they performance assessments or authentic assessments when I see how successful you were at performing the task or solving the problem in a real life situation.There is no money to be made on assessments you can make and administer and use to assess and inform your instruction. Nobody makes money on your teaching. Only on testing your teaching with standardized tests. Then selling your district materials to help you with your teaching to their tests which ironically usually includes a bunch more benchmark testing rather than teaching. Sorry- the rationale that testing rather than teaching children is supposed to help them makes no sense. But it does make money.

  4. Dear Bad Ass Special Ed Teacher, This is unfair to you and to your students. F the tests, especially PARCC!!!! Tomorrow is Pi day 3/14. Maybe talking about Pi/Pie will cheer you all up. I'm sorry this is happening. It can't go on like this, things will change. In the mean time, F the tests and take care of your students, do what you know is right for them. They need you and they trust you. Good luck and thank you. I am a sister and daughter of 2 great teachers

  5. You had it easy. I am an elementary specialist who didn't start teaching until almost three weeks after the beginning of the school year (due to beginning of the year assessments and practice standardized tests) and stopped teaching in early April to administer end of year tests full time (about 4 days of testing for grades 3-6 each, a week of Kindergarten assessments, a week or two of first and second grade reading assessments, two to three weeks of end of year assessments for students on my caseload in grades 1-6, and usually an additional week of either something to fulfill some federal mandate and/or a field test for a future standardized test. Once we even gave two days of testing for an administrator's research project, and for several years first graders had an additional week of assessment to fulfill a grant stipulation). And there were also about two weeks lost mid-year for mid-year practice standardized tests. All in all I only actually instructed the students that I was being paid to instruct for about 7 months out of the 9 month school year (on a good year).

  6. I think you have my exact class minus 1! I teach English language arts to 6th grade, we have benchmark, MAP and are piloting PARCC. We also started using Pearson success net and success net plus. Which I discovered besides the beginning, middle and end of the year testing & 10 benchmark tests, it provides a pre & post test on every skill! I flat out refuse to use them. The person program alone most of my colleagues and I stopped using, since it's new we haven't been required to but next year will be a different story.....

  7. This is horrifying. I have to add:
    1. 2 straight weeks of Fountas and Pinnell leveling at the beginning of the year and again at the end (given individually to each child, takes 30-60 minutes for each)
    2. district provided prewriting prompts for essay writing at the beginning of every marking period and post writing prompts at the end of every marking period
    3. state's Model Curriculum tests (takes 2 days) after every 2-3 chapters in both math and language arts
    4. Oh! And don't forget our new, fabulous SGO pre and post tests that are another few days in both math and language arts

    And they have the NERVE blame the teachers that the students are not learning?


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