Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why Teach for America Has No Place on the College Campus (re: TCNJ)
Melissa Katz 

 Recently, while checking up on the news on Twitter, I was immediately caught off guard by news of a new follower: “@TFAatTCNJ.” When I went on their page, all I found was the same picture that the national Teach for America organization uses, the title “Teach For America,” and the subheader “The College of New Jersey.” I was in complete shock: I would have known without a doubt if this was something already established on campus, so I had to do some investigating. I posted a (very) angry status on Facebook with a screenshot from Twitter, basically asking if any of my friends knew of anything to do with this so-called “organization.” In the spirit of what many call social media activism, I got the response I needed.

It appears as though there is an attempt to create a student organization on campus, clearly under the name “Teach for America at The College of New Jersey." Despite TCNJ being regarded as having one of the best schools of education/teacher preparation programs, Teach for America has been inching its way into our college more and more, and now it seems as if they want to make that temporary home a little more permanent.  

I have a lot of issues with Teach for America, which can be summed up by the following: TFA brings in some of the most inexperienced teachers and puts them into urban districts, where many times the most experienced and committed teachers are needed. TFA grads are even pushing out veteran teachers (does this surprise you?); with such a high turnover rate, they can keep them at the bottom of the pay scale, and continually keep costs down while teachers come in and out of schools like they are on a conveyor belt or part of a revolving door. Branching off of this, and to make matters worse, students in urban districts with TFA grads as their ‘teachers’ experience much more instability due to the turnover, again when those students are in need of the most stability. Teach for America is no more than a resume-padding two-year stint (if the corps members even stay the full two-years they commit to) that, in my opinion, preserves, rather than eliminates, 'educational inequity' and the so-called 'achievement gap.'

While I don't want to automatically attack anyone involved with  TFA, as I do not know them personally and are unsure of their motives and beliefs - including those looking to start an organization on campus - it is hard for me not to fault people who do join TFA. When committing to an organization as such, I have to question whether or not the corps members actually did any research on the organization beyond what they heard in recruitment sessions or in mass media where the anti-teacher, anti-public education tale is one told too often. If someone really did their research on the organization, wouldn't they be bothered by the fact that someone with only five WEEKS of training is entering a school which is likely in one of the neediest places in the country? Why is it that we, the students of the School of Education at TCNJ, are spending four to five YEARS (depending on the program) at getting our degree in education studies, yet TFA grads can spend a summer training and prance right into a classroom full of 30 kids that each carry a backpack full of their own personal issues?

Some may respond to this by saying, "well, if you have the gift of teaching, it doesn't matter how much education you have. Teaching is an art." I wouldn't disagree entirely with this argument. I absolutely believe teaching is an art and that some people simply have a "gift" for teaching. But having that "gift" does not mean that you are ready whatsoever to step foot into a classroom. Specifically for Urban Education majors - the future teachers and educators of the next generation - we will spend the next FIVE YEARS in a specially designed Urban Elementary Education program at The College of New Jersey, in which we will take multiple classes on content that applies specifically to urban experiences, multiple semesters of in-classroom placement in urban settings in addition to theory classes connected to these in-placement classes, classes on childhood development, and within all of this learn about lesson plans, curriculum writing, produce our own independent research, and better ourselves in all aspects of education as a whole, while specifically tailoring our knowledge and understanding to teaching in an urban district.

Teach for America as an organization has already made a presence at Rutgers University, not far from TCNJ. The following was said about the program there (the person quoted asked to remain anonymous and their wish will be respected):

“Recruiters come to campus and enlist the help of students in setting up info sessions to gain more applicants. With the current state of the economy, they have been very attractive to service minded students because they sell the idea of giving back to communities in need. Then they exploit their labor while also undermining public education by indoctrinating them against unions and for privatization. Bad for teachers, bad for future teachers, bad for those enlisting, and bad for the students with TFA in their schools.”

The issues with TFA go far beyond just the college recruitment level. A report from the Wire in July of 2013 chronicled the organizing resistance to Teach for America from people within the organization itself:

"'As a non-TFA person, I can point out some of the weaknesses in the program, but it's far more powerful when people who are in the program can speak to that,' said Anthony Cody, an outspoken California-based educator who spent 18 years as an Oakland science teacher, during which time, he estimates, he worked with about 30 TFA members in a mentoring program. 'It's really heartening to see teachers who come from TFA that are thinking for themselves and drawing on their experiences in the classroom to realize that there are some real significant problems with the TFA approach...'

"But indeed, many of Teach for America's most vicious opponents point out that the high turnover of trainees being dispatched to some of the country's most challenging school districts—often without any long-term plans to be teachers—is precisely the problem. Anthony Cody's experiences in Oakland corroborated this critique. In a typical cycle, the school would lose about half of its corps members after their second year. By the third year, half of those who had remained after the second year would be gone. The problem, Cody explained, is that many who join Teach for America don't actually want to be teachers in the first place, instead using the program as a prestigious stepping stone for policy work, law school, or business school. One study found that roughly 57 percent of corps members planned to teach for two years or less when they applied, while only 11 percent intended to make teaching a lifelong career. (TFA has claimed, however, that 36 percent remain in the classroom as teachers. But their recently announced partnership with Goldman Sachs, which provides TFA recruits with jobs at the banking firm after two years of service, doesn't entirely help their cause.)"

And further, Sandra Korn, a senior at Harvard College (as of 2013) and a New Jersey public school graduate, raised her own concerns over the 'training' that corps members receive:

“For one, I am far from ready to enter a classroom on my own. Indeed, in my experience Harvard students have increasingly acknowledged that TFA drastically under-prepares its recruits for the reality of teaching. But more importantly, TFA is not only sending young, idealistic, and inexperienced college grads into schools in neighborhoods different from where they're from -- it's also working to destroy the American public education system. As a hopeful future teacher, that is not something I could ever conscionably put my name behind...

“But it has become increasingly clear to anyone who thinks critically about teaching that there's something off with TFA's model. After all, TFA alumni repeatedly describe their stints in the American public education system as some of the hardest two years of their lives. Doesn't it bother you to imagine undertrained 22-year-olds standing in front of an crowded classroom and struggling through every class period? Indeed, most of the critiques of TFA in The Crimson have focused on students' unpreparedness to teach.
“However, unpreparedness pales in comparison to the much larger problem with TFA: It undermines the American public education system from the very foundation by urging the replacement of experienced career teachers with a neoliberal model of interchangeable educators and standardized testing. If TFA intended to place students in schools with insufficient numbers of teachers, it has strayed far from its original goal. As an essay by Chicago teacher Kenzo Shibata asked last summer, ‘Teach For America wanted to help stem a teacher shortage. Why then are thousands of experienced educators being replaced by hundreds of new college graduates?’ Journalist James Cersonsky notes that veteran teachers and schools alike may suffer from this type of reform: ‘Districts pay thousands in fees to TFA for each corps member in addition to their salaries -- at the expense of the existing teacher workforce. Chicago, for example, is closing 48 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff while welcoming 350 corps members.’”
A piece titled “Six Questions for Teach for America” writes the following:
Will TFA hurt our students? TFA corps members sign up for a two-year commitment and then most go on to other careers, contributing to the churn in the lives of students, many of whom are already facing great instabilities. Education historian Diane Ravitch calls TFA, “Teach for Awhile.” About 20-30% of TFA members stay in the classroom 3-5 years, and only 5% are still teaching in their initial placement by the seventh year. [Cloaking Inequality, 10-21-13] Many TFA alumni are now speaking out about their experiences working with some of our neediest students. With only five weeks of training, they say they were ill-prepared to work with troubled kids, could do little more than “teach to the test,” and worry that they really were harming children. [See for example Washington Post 2-28-13; John Bilby; Cloaking Inequality, 9-20-13 and 8-6-13] These are testimonies worth serious attention.
There is so much reading that can be done on TFA. If the college is actually considering letting this organization form on campus, I would only hope, and truly expect, that it has done full research on the impacts of Teach for America in public education; not simply approving it because those who make the decision have some nice connections to Teach for America.
Did you know that there is an organization, Students United for Public Education, that hosted an entire CAMPAIGN against Teach for America?
A little summary of their mission:
“For years, college campuses across the country have been the core recruiting ground for TFA. For many soon-to-be graduates, concerned as they should be with the rampant inequality embedded in American public schools, TFA appears to be an opportunity to make a difference. Using the rhetoric of civil rights and egalitarian politics, TFA promises ambitious college students that their hard work and good intentions are a crucial component of what it will take to fix the crisis within our education system. Yet, as numerous TFA alums and professionals have made it increasingly clear, rather than fighting inequality, TFA actually promotes it. Despite its image as a social justice organization, TFA not only does a disservice to the students and schools it purports to serve, but also acts as a political force in its own right to push a vision of public schooling that further damages an already broken education system (see here for more on this point:
“Increasingly across the country, students as well as TFA alumni are becoming aware of TFA’s role in perpetuating inequality in our schools. Through this campaign, we hope to unite and strengthen these voices of resistance and organize a powerful movement not only against TFA as a political organization, but also for better solutions and services in high-need, low-income schools.”
Before moving forward, TCNJ should consider the following:
-Teach for America is representative of the privatization of public education in America, and the undermining of public schools and teachers.
-Teach for America, being the “revolving door” of corps members that it is, is a way to keep costs down by hiring people on the lowest step and realizing that they will never collect a pension (most likely) or health benefits in retirement.
- This will be showing people you don't need a degree to be a teacher, which devalues the worth of educators that have studied for degrees
-It's helps move the privatization efforts forward under the guise of "charity type" work. Students are not “charity.”
-It undermines TCNJ’s own access to tuition as people will not get degrees, but rather take take the shortcut
-TCNJ will be seen as not vested in helping future educators out within a network that provides mentoring and support for new teachers, rather encouraging them to take this shortcut
-It will shortchange the support system of college in the future as these recruits tend to go into other fields and will not be furthering their education at TCNJ
-It is extremely disrespectful to professors that have dedicated themselves to fostering the future generation of teachers
-Once Alumni find out, they will be sure to not provide as much in donations.

TCNJ should be smarter than to give into the fake promise of an organization that works hand-in-hand in the privatization of public education. If TCNJ wants to continue to pride itself on being a place that fosters real educational experiences and teachers who, as the website states, “truly possess a commitment to the academic achievement of students in urban schools,” then they will not allow for a toxic organization like Teach for America to form their own organization on campus.
I'm going to do whatever it takes to fight to get their toxic organization off of our campus. We are supposed to be fostering real educators, not resume-padders looking to climb the ladder using students as stepping stones for their own political agendas.
I will conclude with posing these thoughts:
How can an organization like that be allowed on a campus, one that takes away teaching positions from experienced and dedicated professionals? Future teachers are going to be indoctrinated into a system of beliefs around privatization and systematic racism hurting the neediest children and districts. Is this what college is?

Tim Asher
Director, Student Activities
Advisor, Student Finance Board
230 Brower Student Center

Dr. Jeff Passe 

Dean of School of Education

230 Brower Student Center
2000 Pennington Road
Ewing, NJ 08628

Saturday, September 27, 2014

BATs - Toxic Testing 3 Days of Testimony 
Memes created by Kelly Ann Lough Braun

 As I sit in my bed I'm entering data from the newest test, 64 questions per student. A test that asks my DEAF STUDENTS what sounds they hear and how many syllables they can listen for... That seems fair. I should be sleeping. So sick of this bureaucratic bullcrap. I am not your puppet!  B.M.  Ohio

Four years ago, when tablets were still a relatively new development, the Utah state writing prompt for 8th graders was to persuade a school board for or against using tablets instead of textbooks. The term "tablet" wasn't defined, and many of my students in my poorer school didn't know what a tablet was. Some of them were in tears because they didn't know what to write   G.E.  Utah

As an ESL teacher, I had to give the (Oregon) English proficiency standardized test to everyone who was eligible for ESL services. Everyone. Including: Kids with severe autism--"Here, just talk into the mic!"; brand-new newcomers who'd only been here a few months--we already knew they didn't speak English!!; kids whose families had opted them out of ESL class and who'd never met me before I came to test them, or at least before I introduced myself and talked about testing beforehand; kindergarteners who needed hours of mouse skills practice before they could take the computerized tests. Everyone. For some reason the moment that upset me the most was when a stressed-out kindergartener, told that she had to say *something* on a speaking question before it would let her go on to the next question, agonized for 15 minutes and then whimpered, "hard," into her microphone and hit "submit."  T.L. Oregon

I had a student whose parents were asked to pull him out of the hospital to come take an AP Exam - this, after what put him in the hospital in the first place was preparing for seven exams that year. He brought his IV drip into the exam, completed it, and was promptly returned to the hospital.  I.G.   Virginia

At my high school in CA, the library had to be closed to everyone for SIX WEEKS so the testing could take place on the library's computers. Most students (juniors) knew that these tests would not count for anything, so most of them started each day, then provided random responses till they were "finished" so they could study for REAL tests for their coursework. Such a waste of time, resources, money for absolutely no gain.   T.S. California

 I teach 8th grade science, which is the year that middle school students take the science MSP (state test). I had a student last year who struggled with writing, but was very quick to learn the material. In fact, we built Rube Goldberg machines in class and his group's was by far the best out of all of my classes. When test day came, I saw him struggle and then finally just look at me and close his book. He was in tears, which made me break down and cry. The look on his face was, "I'm a failure." How many times can he be told he is a failure because of a test score before he starts to believe it? This kid had skills that can't be measured on a standardized state test, but he may never be able to share them with the world because at some point, probably very soon, he is going to just give up in frustration after being labeled a failure for so long. It absolutely broke my heart and I made sure to remind him that the tests do not define him. I don't think he believed me, though  K.F.  Washington State

I had a student who was a fine reader, but suffered from a pathological level of year anxiety.
She was a high school junior in Florida who had not yet passed the tenth grade high stakes reading test. This was a child I never saw without a book to read in her bag.
She again failed the retake of the reading test at the start of her junior year. The anxiety this caused her was so intense she ended up in the hospital on a 72 hour psych hold.   J.E. Florida

 Fourth graders in Washington have taken a writing test for several years. During the first day of the writing section of the WASL I had a child with her head down, sobbing. When she was able to talk she told me why she was in tears. The writing prompt was, "Tell us what you like and dislike about your community." The child's response was heartbreaking. "I hate our neighborhood!" When I asked her why she quietly replied, "I think my uncle was involved in that shooting." The week before the test was given we arrived at school with a police helicopter hovering over the building and 100 officers in SWAT gear roaming the neighborhood looking for the suspects who had killed a local police officer. The WASL is no longer given in Washington, but the toxic testing has a 'history' that goes back quite a ways.   K.B.  Washington State

Our students take the NWEA test, which is also the only test that 50% of our teacher evaluations are based on. In order to entice our students into putting forth more effort, our principal came up with the idea that students, K-6 who "showed growth" on their tests were to have a fun day as a reward - complete with games, hot dogs, ice cream, a bouncy house, etc. Most of our special needs kids did not show growth, but many of our higher level kids did not as well. Can you imagine how hard it was to explain to a special needs student, a kindergartner, or straight A student why other kids got to go outside and have fun all day while they sat in the classroom and worked? We teachers were in tears.  J.S. Washington State 

In about 2009, my 3rd grade students were expected to plan, write, and edit an expository writing piece with a wildly inappropriate target score for the Florida FCAT in 45 minutes. The entire school atmosphere was oppressive and frightening despite the "rally" and the special FCAT pencils (!) and students had been convinced that passing the test was the only way to reach 4th grade (not strictly true, but there seemed no way to get kids or parents to understand). My school was Title I with 85% free or reduced lunch and 50% plus English Language Learners who had completed their 2 years (yes, 2 WHOLE years!) of exemption because of all the "services" they had received. I personally got a refugee from a failed charter school two months earlier and a little boy who walked from Mexico to Texas one month earlier, had no English and needed dental work desperately . On the day of the test I was expected to say goodbye to half of my class as they headed to unknown locations to be tested by unknown staff members and receive a number of students I had no relationship with who had the same lost and sadly guarded look as my kids (these guys are 8 years old). The pressure ratcheted up as pencils were distributed (think about SAT atmosphere), directions read in eerie silence, and finally the TIMER set. Within the first 5 minutes a little girl threw up (I mean, really gushed) all over her test, desk, floor, and clothing. Although there are clear guidelines for when a test has been "interrupted" and qualifies to be nullified and retaken, MY students were expected to "work" as the poor little girl and her test were removed and the area cleaned up. The smell was horrific and the children were clearly traumatized by this new level of nightmare unfolding as we were told to keep working (I was so angry I could barely speak). How much time do you suppose was left of the 45 minutes for the children to plan and write a well-planned, well-supported, inventive, and edited expository position? The scores from that testing session did indeed determine my "effectiveness" as a teacher that year, while discounting almost everything we had accomplished together for months as writers and learners. Of course, that's just one story   K.C. Florida

 I gave a STAAR M last year in Reading. The directions required me to read a paragraph introducing the reading passage. I was also permitted to answer questions on that paragraph. Two things happened that day: The first was one student went through and finished the entire test before I could finish answering the questions about the paragraph. I'm sure everybody can figure out how well Mal did. The second thing that happened broke my heart. Another student took the opposite approach. This poor baby couldn't read word one on his part. This poor baby tried and tried to sound words out , but he just couldn't. I felt horrible for poor Danny. How cruel can we possibly be to children? These guys were both 7th graders.  M.R. Texas

In New York a group of fourth graders sat for the first of 8 NYS testing days (3 ELA, 3 math, 2 science). On that first ELA day there were 30 multiple choice questions and a 70 minute time limit. It took me, with three degrees in education, 42 minutes just to read the passages, questions and answer choices. Let that sink in. There was so much material that I took over half of the allotted time just to read the booklet! Assume that I read more fluently and with more comprehension skills than 9 and 10 year old kids, please. Over half of the students completed 15 questions or LESS. They automatically failed the assessment. No matter how well they did on day 2 and 3, they could never recover from losing all those points on day 1.  L.W. New York

My story: I had a lovely Japanese girl, still learning Engliish, move from Tokyo to our middle school in the spring of her 8th grade year. 8th graders take 5 SOL tests in May. As an Eng. Lang. Learner, she was allowed some accommodations and a few exemptions, but she still had to take the long, wordy math test and the long, wordy science test. She knew how to study. She pushed herself hard through released test after released test to prepare. She actually passed the math, but not the science. I think she was disgusted with our system. We alienated a great student, and I felt like an accessory to the crime.  E.W.  West Virginia

 I had a student who was known throughout the school as a kid who bolted out of the class at the first feeling of frustration. He spent at least 2 hours of every day wandering the halls and playing hide and seek with the security guard and NTA. I worked with him and his therapist all year to get him to stay in the room and deal with the day. He did not run out once between September and April. We agreed to have him answer 4-5 questions and then give him the opportunity to play educational games on the computer. We gradually increased the time on task to the point where he could signal me when he was getting frustrated and could go to the reading corner to get himself together, Then came testing. All the gains I had made with him throughout the year went out the window. He cursed, slammed him desk, swept the test off his desk and ran out of the room. He scribbled all over the book, wrote "I don't know" on open-ended questions without reading them. He stormed out of the room and ran around the building. No getting him back after that  A.T. Pennsylvania

Last year my son was in fourth grade. I started noticing that he was experiencing headaches, dizziness and blurred vision at the beginning of Spring. We took him to get a bunch of serious medical tests including blood work, a very thorough eye exam, and an MRI. He was so terrified of the MRI .I watched his little body shake in fear and I felt so helpless. I held his hand the whole time. They told us he was not still enough and they couldn't get a good enough image. They suggested we take him somewhere else and have him drugged to sedate him to get a better image. No way! It wasn't until after "testing season" was over and his symptoms miraculously stopped that we realized they were a direct result of the endless practice tests and high-stakes testing. It is because of this that I opted him out of all PARCC tests, OAAs, and practice tests this year. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my family.  M.D. Ohio

My 7th grade son is in all Honor's classes. He has high anxiety, especially about tests. He takes forever because he's a perfectionist and over thinks everything. (He about had a panic attack in 5th grade over a PRACTICE test!) Every year, he is quite aware that the one test in the spring could influence his whole future. He refuses to do anything extra (read or write) that doesn't get him a grade. When he's stressed out he gets strange nervous tics and talks about hating school (I had him talk to the counselor several times last year.). This year we are REFUSING the PARCC test in Ohio! I told him to stop worrying about grades, do his best, stick up for the little guy and fight against injustice! He said,"I think you're the only mom at my school saying that." Not stressing out about the test has made him a much happier child!   L.D. Ohio

I am a 1st Grade Teacher in Hawaii. Our school has been in "Restructuring" for the past 5 years.. Kindergarten thru 12th were required to give quarterly assessment in Math and Language Arts.
These tests included 30 test questions with a #2 pencil for a fill -in bubble format!
It took over an hour to administer my 5 year olds. We were all in tears! I complained to the Administration and was told to administer the test next time in two sessions! They never got it that at best a five year old my have a 6 to 7 minute attention span. What we were doing, I consider it to be child abuse!   R.F.  Hawaii

My school is being closed down because of low test scores against the wishes of the staff, students, families and community. Our students are more than a test score, but that's all that counts anymore  E.H. New York

 I had a 7th student who was ELL and he was expected to write a five paragraph essay! He had been in the United States for about four months! He took one look at the prompt and quietly shut the page  A.B.  California

I'm a 6th grade teacher in Ohio. Last year we had a student who threw up in the middle of the test. (She had the stomach flu.) She had to finish, though, because to stop would've invalidated her test with no option to make it up.  H.M. Ohio

I am a second grade teacher assistant in Tennessee. For state testing, our second graders answer in their test booklet, not a separate answer sheet. One child threw up on their booklet, and another assistant had to clean the booklet before it was returned to the processing center. That year, we also had three students fall asleep at the same time during the read-aloud. The stress is too great for these little ones, and I'm sure that the students who fell asleep had lower scores for that portion of the test. And the student gets a score from 4 days out of 180 and the teacher gets her evaluation score from these small moments in time. It's unbelievable what education has become.  C.M. Tennessee

I vividly remember the day I found my 7th grader, who consistently tested in the 95th percentile or higher in all areas, hyperventilating and nauseated over state testing. When I reminded her how well she usually did on them she said, "But if I don't do a good enough job Mrs. Smith* is going to lose her job!" and promptly burst into tears. 
After my initial shock and some clarifying questions, she revealed that her class had been told that the money to pay teachers was dependent on her test score and how many tests they took each year.
No 12 year old should shoulder the weight of a teacher keeping their job, for good or bad. It's time to stop toxic testing in Ohio and teacher pay tied to test scores.
*name has been changed    J.N. Ohio

I just finished giving Scantron tests this week. I have two kids who are NEP (non english proficient). The last day of testing, one of them came to me and said "I take test?" I told him no, that he doesn't have to. He pointed around at all the kids testing and said "I try." Kid can barely read English......but he wanted to do what everyone else was doing. I can think of about a million better choices for that.  C.S.  Michigan

The story that breaks my heart the most involves my own son. He had been an avid writer since he learned how to manage a pencil. Grocery lists, comic strips, stories, thoughtful pieces about current events--nothing held him back and his "voice" was powerful. But then, in third grade, they began grading my mildly dyslexic, sensitive son on writing conventions rather than content. He began to fail at something he loved and believed, until then, he was good at. He learned to write short simple sentences that would please his teacher. It makes my heart bleed that the pressure on schools to achieve forces teachers to go against what they know works and ultimately destroyed my son's passion and belief in himself as a writer.  D.S. Texas

Four years ago, my heart broke watching a 4th grade student with learning disabilities, language impairment, and behavior problems, sit for hours to do her math FCAT and really TRY! She WAS doing all her learned strategies--underlining, writing the math problem down and doing the MATH correctly!!!! She had learned this school year!!! As I read her the questions aloud, one of her accommodations, I had to turn my chair away, so she couldn't see my face.She could not apply what she had learned to the higher order questions that finished those questions!!! I was trying NOT TO CRY as she chose the wrong answer question after question after doing the MATH CORRECTLY!!!  C.P. Florida

Some school districts in FL, kids couldn't access their tests and had to sit there, some for over an hour while they tried to get on-line until they decided to send kids to class and try again next day. This went on for several days. Some kids started testing in places and where knocked off the test and had to start over next day. G.P. Florida

I want to tell you about a positive testing experience with a wonderful 7th grader. This story will warm the cockles of your hearts.  This young man had severe dyslexia, and his reading was at the first-grade level. Therefore, I could read the tests to him, which went fine.  Except, of course, the reading portion of the assessment. I gave him the test, he opened it. I explained that since it was a reading test I couldn't read it to him. He looked at me, and sighed. He knew the drill from previous tests.  "Do you want me to fill in some bubbles, or can I just hand it back to you?"  I told him I couldn't help him with the answers. So he very neatly drew an "X" over the whole page, and put it in his test booklet.   "So, Mr. D, what do you want to talk about?"   We wiled away an hour telling stupid jokes  R.D. Georgia 

My then second grader asked me to ask her teacher if she could be retained in second grade because she was afraid to go to third grade. Why? The end all and be all FCAT reading test.  D.M. Florida

My son, third grade last year, was so excited to go to third grade after we found out he was having the same teacher his older brother had. Then, on the first day of school, he curled up on the couch as we were leaving and started crying. Why? Because "I don't want to take FCAT." This is a child who has NEVER struggled in school!!! I told him then and there that mom would take care of it and he didn't have to worry about FCAT any more. We were the 1st and only family to refuse the test in our school district.  C.P. Florida

Last year my husband received a call from our daughter's 3rd grade teacher. She was administering a pilot math test called Creative Response Assessment. Our daughter, who won math award in 2nd grade, completed part of the test but started crying unable to understand what was being asked in the open response section. By the end of the test, she and 3 of her classmates left the room crying while another left vomiting. Thank goodness our child had a teacher who chose to call and who loved on our 8 year old the rest of the day!  A.W.  Tennessee

 Last year, on the first day of third grade, one of my students was upset that she would not pass the test that was to be given in April. Also, younger students lose art, and music classes if they are scheduled in the morning, as 'specials" teachers are proctoring tests. (Teachers also lose planning time). Students are not allowed outside for recess until the "all clear', which is a long time as many students have unlimited time.  P.H. Florida

My daughter spent 3rd grade (5 years ago) anxious and terrified from August through April, fearing she would "fail the ISAT" and not get promoted to 4th grade. Nothing I could say would convince her she was prepared, not even showing her previous test scores. After the first day of the test she was *indignant*: "That was EASY! Why did they make such a big deal out of it?" At least my son didn't have go through that; his big sister weathered the storm for him.  A.L. Illinois

 One of the worst things about standardized testing is when administrators try to make decisions based solely on "data." This year, they placed a student in the lower academic track Language Arts class based on a low score from 3 days of standardized testing. They ignored 180 days of excellence in the classroom. They valued a snapshot more than a fully realized picture of the student and a recommendation from a valued professional. Thankfully, they reversed the decision after pressure from the parent, but this is a far too common occurrence.  Read about it here   S.S. Pennsylvania

A few years ago, I proctored a paper version of the WorkKeys test, which is given to Juniors in Alaska. My group was in alphabetical order. Because I knew only a few of them, check in procedures and identity verification took a significant amount of time. During the test, I saw two students fill in all the ovals in a section without reading any of the questions. They then put their heads down and napped for the duration. The building administrator had budgeted too little time for check in and directions and when the bell rang for fourth hour, non-testing kids kept trying to enter the classrooms. They were unsupervised in the hallways and made a lot of noise which made it difficult for those students who were taking the test seriously because there's trade school scholarship money potentially available. Last year, we were ordered to go to computerized testing. Our computer labs -- including our school library -- were tied up for a week. Teachers who have computer banks in their classrooms because they teach subjects that require computer use were kicked out of their classrooms and required to teach multiple classes in a shared space. Those of us who teach juniors were required to repeat lessons multiple times because 1/3-1/2 of our students were absent due to testing. And then an Internet service overload meant that we had to do it all again for two testing groups the following week. What an incredible waste of time and resources.  M.H. Alaska

Two years ago, during the Alaska Standards Based Assessment (SBA) and the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam (HSGQE -- to be replaced this year with an SAT, ACT, or WorkKeys test), we had an outbreak of norovirus. Kids were projectile vomiting in classrooms. Non-vomiting students were forced to remain in proximity with vomiting students. By week's end, 40 percent of the students were out absent and 20 percent of the staff were ill, including the Freshman house teacher who had been given the task of test coordinator and who was ordered to don scrubs, gloves, and a mask and transcribe student answers from contaminated vomit-spewn tests to clean test booklets, all under the watchful eye of an observer. The smart thing to do would be to close the building, decontaminate as many surfaces as possible, and stop the infection cycle. Instead, the building could not be closed because we were in the testing window and students who were ill and probably contagious were encouraged to return one makeup testing days so that they would have a score.  M.H. Alaska 

 One summer in a course I taught for students who had not passed the GA state graduation test, I had a boy come to me after the first class to let me know that his learning disability caused his writing to be incomprehensible and that he would have to read it aloud to me so I could understand it. He assured me that he could express his ideas well but that it was just his spelling that was causing him to fail and not be able to graduate. I'm not a special education teacher but it was clear that he had a serious problem with his written language output. When he read his work aloud to me, it was full of advanced vocabulary and sophisticated ideas that were clearly expressed. But even though he had an accommodation to type and use spellcheck, the spelling of many of his words was so far off what he meant that spellcheck was useless. 
Because it was just a short summer session designed to give the students basic information and test-strategies to help them try to pass a retest at the end of the course, I suggested he stop using his advanced vocabulary and memorize as many simple words as he could and that he simplify all of his writing. He didn't pass that summer but I heard he finally did after a few more tries, and that he did it by following my advice to consciously dumb down his ability to express himself.
I always thought that situation was a travesty. He was such a bright kid but he had been made so anxious about his inability to pass this test that he desperately wanted me to know he was not "stupid" the first time I met him, and he had to struggle to find ways to express himself below what he was actually capable of in order to pass a test graded by strangers.

S.D. Georgia

My neighbor's son is bright, impulsive, and spunky. I've known him since he was born. On his second grade MAP test last year, he clicked random answers to get through it -- and finished it about 3 times faster than his classmates. All his teacher was permitted to do was ask, "Are you sure you're finished?" and he said he was. His parents were called in for a meeting because his score was the lowest in the class, which certainly did not reflect his ability or intelligence. Who knows what opportunities will be denied him because that score is part of his "data"?  M.M.  Ohio

I had a student who was hospitalized after threatening suicide. He had to take 'the test' in the psych ward while he was recovering. He was 9 years old.  A.P. Kansas

As I continually walked my classroom filled with students taking the KPREP, I noticed one student pulling their hair out. One strand at a time. This was a 7th grader, pulling their hair out! By the time testing was finally over, this student had a 2 inch long, 1/2 wide bald spot on their head! There is not enough time or red wine to erase that memory.What are we doing to our students?!?!  B.L.  Kentucky

 I taught 9-12ESOL in an exurban Atlanta public school. In my district, all new students are screened for language proficiency, and if they don't make a specific score, they are retained at a language school which is part of the district. Dependent upon funding and the current sitting county superintendent-- my district, due to mismanagement, collusion, and theft has had five or six since 2000-- students identified as needing international school services had six weeks or fewer of English instruction. One day, the beginning of Graduation Testing week, I received a NEW 11th grader who had left the international school the previous Friday. She knew so little English that another student had to TRANSLATE that everyone was going to be taking an important test on Monday-Thursday of that week. The student burst into tears. Through her student translator she said she was humiliated. In her country she had been an excellent student and her parents were proud of her. Explain to me what purpose a test written in English serves, except that my students didn't know English, which the state of Georgia already knew; otherwise, they would not be in my class receiving state-mandated ESOL services? This is ONE example that I could give you of how detrimental incessant testing is, especially to special populations: I have had students drop out because they couldn't pass the tests! How can our society survive if our kids don't stand a chance of getting a high school diploma? -- And the more tests the kids failed, the more time was devoted to the re-administration of those tests. Two years ago, I took the county testing calendar and counted the number of days we were allotting to testing kids who don't know English ...I had exactly 57 out if 182 instruction days! So, not only was it impossible to teach my kids because all we were doing was testing them, some rocket scientist then decided that teacher evaluations had to be aligned to testing? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? In what alternate universe is any of this even remotely related to teaching and learning? And why have we allowed bean counters, computer technologists, and lawyers to determine excellence? Due to our society's inability to rein in unchecked corporate greed, I bailed out of the profession I loved, abandoning the students I love, because I couldn't take hitting my head against the wall anymore. J.T. Georgia

It's really a sad thing when you see a high school student not graduating because they couldn't pass their last required regents  D.T. New York

Sometimes we raise our voices and are answered with a swift slap of a reprimand: Earlier this month my district sent teachers a letter saying we would not be allowing parents to opt-out of NWEA testing. Knowing what I know by being a BAT and union officer, I sent the email on to my state Office of Public Instruction with the question, "Is this true" and a statement saying I, a parent and educator, am "confused and concerned." Today, in my home mailbox, I received a letter from my HR director saying she had a copy of my email, and "my actions were not at all constructive" and it goes on to say I should have gone to my admin...and a copy of the reprimand is in my file as of today.
How's that for trying to advocate for my own sons and my special needs/ED/LD/resource English students who will be forced to take the tests for FIVE days straight next week?!?  S.H.  Montana

2 years ago, I heard about a kid who was wearing his cap and gown, sitting with his graduating class, waiting to hear his name called so he could go up and get his diploma. The principal walked over to him and quietly whispered to him that the scores had just come in and he wasn't graduating with a standard diploma. Aside from the fact that this was heartbreaking for this student, it also illustrates how we are at the mercy of indifferent, profit-driven test corporations (chiefly the odious Pearson). The scores of these spurious tests are never back when they're supposed to be. Because nobody at Pearson gives a damn. A.B. (State not reported)

NY after my 9th grade daughter took her common Core Algebra Exam.. She refused to take the regular exam... She said to me .. " I'm never going to pass so why bother". They should have given the regular exam first..  D.B. New York

As an English III teacher in TN, I have the unique ability to see all students' testing data throughout their school career. It is laid out in charts and graphs through the amazing EVAAS system. I was encouraged to show these, along with projections, to my students before their EOC test. When I showed one student, who had a significant drop in 6th grade, he said in a matter-of-fact voice, "Yeah, 6th grade was the year my mom died. I didn't really try on my test.". That moment changed me. I no longer cared about test scores, even if that meant losing my job. I still showed data charts, but when I saw a significant drop, I would ask, " What happened in your life that year, if you don't mind sharing?" Stories of divorce, death, rape, abuse, depression, substance abuse, and more were shared. I encouraged journaling and would find counseling for students when needed. People are not products - our worth cannot be measured by numbers.  A.W. Tennessee

Way back in the 90s, Ohio began to administer proficiency tests once a year in core subjects. I announced to no one in particular that the day the state required a standardized test in drama would be the day I walk out the door. That time has finally arrived, much to my chagrin and despair. Last year, when required by the state of Ohio to come up with an SLO plan for my drama students, I created a digital portfolio for each student that showed growth over the course of a year. But at the end of the school year, my SLO was tossed out and I was given the aggregate math and LA scores for the entire district as my Value-Added Measurement. This left me with a grade of "D" as a teacher for the year. This year, I was told to write TWO SLOs, which could no longer be portfolio-based but rather must be a test given on a computer. That is when I decided to retire rather than create an inauthentic measurement of drama student success. The next drama teacher can deal with the problem -- I refuse to have testing blood on my hands. W.D. Ohio