Tuesday, April 14, 2015

(Un)intended Consequences

by Kate Sacco, a New York BAT

Today was the first day of the NYS ELA tests. I must state right from the outset that my students do not take these tests. Not yet. But in two short years, they will. And yet, these tests had an effect on my students today and will continue to do so in the days to come. You see, these tests have a ripple effect. The immediate effect is that my students who receive services such as reading and resource will not receive these services for the next TWO WEEKS since the teachers who provide these services are proctoring the state tests. They will also lose services when some of these same teachers are pulled out to score the tests in the subsequent weeks. (They will lose out again when we begin the SLO testing in May, but that is for another post). The longer term effects are more devastating. You see, their education has been hijacked by these tests. Although my "Firsties" are not taking these tests yet, they are preparing for them and will continue to do so throughout their Elementary years.

When I started teaching oh so many years ago, we focused on thematic instruction and integrating all subject areas so that our students had opportunities to make connections. We taught in ways that honored many learning styles, student's individual differences and developmental stages, along with their individual needs. We understood (and still do) that each child has different intelligences and learning styles. My walls and windows of my classroom were covered with songs and poems, student artwork and artifacts of student learning. My little ones sang and read and played. We taught using literature with rich language and focused on building background knowledge. Children were encouraged to synthesize knowledge and draw conclusions using what they knew and what they were learning. We used a tremendous amount of glitter and paper and encouraged children to express themselves in ways that played to their strengths. We did projects and had lots of hands-on learning with manipulatives. I assessed through observation and working directly with students.

Over the years, we have had to move away from what we know is right for kids to what we are told we must do in order to prepare students for the tests. At first, teachers knew that we could use those tests to help identify areas where students needed further instruction and where we could improve our teaching. We accepted that our 4th and 8th grade students would be tested and we knew how to prepare them. We focused on those areas and we saw growth. We didn't like "No Child Left Behind" but we could work within it. Fast forward to "Race To The Top" and Common Core and the use of the tests to evaluate teachers. Without going into all that is wrong with this, let me just say how it has effected my little ones: My walls are no longer covered with songs and poems and artwork. That has been replaced with "anchor charts", "I can statements" and "Learning targets". We barely use construction paper and I have not purchased glitter in 3 years. There is no time for art projects or creative expression. Children can no longer choose their learning. They write to prompts and must write different genres at certain times. Math is done on paper and manipulatives are few and far between (except when I pull out the old stuff). Reading is "close reading" and answers to questions are to be solely based on the text, without synthesis of prior knowledge. Assessment is daily and must be documented along with being scripted (because Big Brother is watching). Modules are scripted, teacher led and boring for little ones. We have to have 50% of text presented as informational text. Students have to write essays before they even have automaticity of letter formation. ALL THIS IS DONE SO THEY CAN PREP FOR THE TESTS. My students will take keyboarding in 3rd grade so they can take the tests online...BEFORE SOME OF THEM EVEN HAVE THE PHYSICAL HAND SPAN TO USE A KEYBOARD.

Our littlest learners are preparing for these tests as soon as they enter school. We know that. We know that our colleagues in grades 3-8 depend on us to lay the foundation. We know that our little ones are being used as weapons to help destroy public education. We know that they cannot possibly do well on these tests as they are written 2-3 grade levels above their current grade level and that an arbitrary "cut score" will be determined AFTER the tests are scored to manipulate the data. We know that we cannot discuss these tests and that they cannot be used to inform instruction nor to inform us of our students' progress. These tests are solely being used to create false data about our students and our schools. They are being used to make our public schools look as though they are "failing" and that our teachers are incompetent. They are creating a pressure cooker atmosphere.

Our Bully of a governor wants to turn our public schools into For-profit Charter schools (which are little more than test prep factories that do NOT have transparency of finances). He is beholden to his hedge fund donors and his big $ donors. In addition, he has publicly stated that he wants to break the teacher's union. Our children's education has been hijacked. Our teachers are being abused by an agenda that puts money over what is right for kids. Our society's future is being manipulated to create a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, both in terms of dollars and education and opportunities. The simple fact that the private schools where the children of the elite attend do not have to participate in these tests or this curriculum, is very telling.

Today's refusal numbers are encouraging. This is a lesson in civil rights and civil disobedience. We are teaching our children that they have a way of changing what is wrong in our government and our society through nonviolent means. We are teaching them that they have a voice. We are showing them that we can all create change. We are also showing them how to stand up to Bullies. And THAT is a great lesson that no amount of test prep can compare to.

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