Being THAT Teacher

Before reading on, please know the point of my post is not testing but instead the poor administrative decisions being made in its administration. In our school and district, testing is fairly uneventful. Since Smarter Balanced, our Department of Education has done a good job lessening assessment requirements across the state and I feel the environment around testing has gotten relatively better. We now have only one testing period, instead of three, during which students spend approximately a week (of just mornings) taking the tests, with their teacher, in their homeroom.

Unfortunately, a school in another district was given the autonomy to treat testing much differently.

Current Situation

This school year, one elementary school spent 1-2 weeks of precious instructional time to give every 8, 9, and 10 year old in the school a standardized interim assessment midyear. This assessment was not mandated by state. It was completely optional, however the administration at that school was given the autonomy to make the students take it. It was the only school in that district to give this assessment.

Based on that assessment each 8, 9 and 10 year old in that school was given a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4. Little did the students know, that score defined how they were grouped from that point forward. The scores were used to group or re-group students for building mandated test preparation for one to two months before they took the spring test. As if each student associating their academic ability with a number was not bad enough, when spring testing began, every other student in the class knew that score as well because they were pulled to test by that score.

This is where the standardized test becomes quite un-standard.

Students in that school were tested in groups based on those interim scores First the 4’s, then the 3’s, then the 2’s, and I am assuming the 1’s were left for last to allow for more test prep time.

Even more interesting is how the proctors rotated mid-test. Let’s say it was the 5th  grade “3’s” turn to test. Those students left their homeroom to go test with one of the other 5th grade teachers. The rest of the students in the proctoring teacher’s homeroom, who did not get a 3, were shuffled out into the other 5th grade teachers’ classrooms. Not to worry, that teacher doesn’t have to do that everyday because another teacher from the 5th grade administered the second or third part of the test to the 3’s, and also with the 4’s, 2’s and 1’s. So, technically speaking, a teacher could administer the test three times before they administered it to the 1’s? Interesting. [This changed immediately after I brought it to the district office’s attention. Funny the grouping couldn’t change immediately, but this could.]

As with any great testing situation, it also came with the go-get’m pep talks from the administration. Sending the over-achieving 4’s into panic attacks and the test-prepping 2’s seeing their work as drills before the “big game.”

I can only assume the administration believes there is no harm being done to children administering a test in this manner or why else would they do it, right? There is no way they can think this is bad for students’ mindset and image of themselves as learners or they wouldn’t keep doing it, right? And, worse, what if the superintendent found out, investigated, and did not see enough wrong with the situation to bother changing it immediately?

The most heartbreaking piece was hearing what students were saying and doing….

I am going with the other dumb kids that got a 2 to do test prep.

I am not a 3, so I am not testing today.

“I don’t need to have any more novels to read because we are test prepping in reading.”

“I didn’t test with my friend ___ because she is a 3 and I am 4.” 

“I got called in from recess after 5 minutes because I had to finish my test.” 

“Don’t opt me out because then I am bored.  At least the test is on the computer.

An 8 yr old gets sent to the nurse with what seems to be a panic attack after being given the 4’s pep talk before taking the test. Not to mention, she has a pre-existing heart condition after having heart surgery at 2 weeks old.  Upon picking her up from the nurse’s office, the parent was told by the nurse to take the child immediately to her pediatrician because she was stark white with an incredibly high heart rate. 

And these are only from three students, can you imagine if you collected them all?

After hearing this, I was thinking to myself, there is no way the superintendent would ignore my concerns of such blatant disregard for students’ well-being and emotional safety in a school when brought it to his attention.

Evidently, he can ignore these concerns, for weeks. After three weeks, he responded with a message that basically said, “We have looked into your concerns and your opinion has been considered. I will not meet with you because you do not have children in the school.”

Wait…I cannot be an advocate for children if they are not mine? Isn’t that all part of being an educator? Standing up for what is best for them? Any and All of them?  Maybe that is the problem here. They are not the administrations’ children, so why care what is happening to them? I have been teaching for 20 years, not one student has been my child, but I cared about them as if they were.

After three weeks of ignoring my requests, a family member who has children in that district requested a meeting for us. She had previously met with the building administration about this same testing situation so she was invested in this situation. Upon her request, we finally got a meeting date with the superintendent.

Before the meeting, I was still hopeful for change. That was, until we arrived for our scheduled meeting and was told by the curriculum director that the superintendent was meeting with someone else at the moment but we could go “get him if we have any questions.” Really? We waited 3-4 weeks for a meeting and he isn’t there when we explicitly requested he be there? We said we would wait and after the 10-15 minute power trip wait, he finally showed.

The parent started with the firsthand student accounts described above, accompanied by quotes from her children in regards to the teacher testing “pep talks.” It was gut-wrenching as she held back the tears that come when talking about your children. It was so disheartening and equally as infuriating to see the smirk and hear the chuckle that came from the superintendent as if to convey the “Oh, the silly things kids say” message as the parent spoke. I felt me heart actually beating out of my chest at that moment.

How could he not be infuriated by this happening in one of the elementary schools in his district? How did he not feel responsible? How could he give autonomy to a building principal who is so obviously not doing what is best for students?

After establishing the principal had not communicated any of these testing procedures to parents and told blatant untruths about other related items, the meeting continued to be about all of the great things the principal says he is doing to ensure the students do their best on the test, you know, for the student’s sake. Are we really trying to convince ourselves that the test score is not more about the school looking good than the child’s testing pride?

Then the blame game began. I was also told that the teachers in that school requested to give the interim assessment so the principal agreed. So, what, not his fault? Am I to believe he accommodates all of his teachers’ requests as willingly?

After hearing that the building administration “didn’t mean to make the students feel bad,” I couldn’t listen to one more thing. There is too much information out there to use that excuse…you didn’t mean to? Are you kidding me?

It unfortunately ended with the superintendent not being about to assure us this would not happen again next year. He said “we could expect change” but could give no specifics. That is not good enough for me since also finding out that this same issue was brought to his attention last year with no changes.

Fortunately, there are so many wonderfully caring people surrounding this principal and superintendent that I have talked to, that I DO believe these testing/grouping situations will not happen again next year.

The saddest part for me was the dismissive, “my school/district, my way” nature of this principal and superintendent. I am embarrassed for them as educators in this situation. 

As teachers, we want to empower our students. We want them to have a voice, share their thoughts and opinions, feel as if they can take control of their given circumstances and make change. However, as adults the harsh reality of what is really like to make change in education leaves us, at times, feeling powerless, like our hands are tied. Oftentimes it is because we don’t want to be THAT parent or THAT teacher, afraid of the repercussions for our children or ourselves in the workplace.

Sadly, I find myself in that place. Knowing this is wrong for students, wanting to make a change, fighting to do so, yet feeling like I am the one in the wrong because I am calling out bad practice.

This entire situation reminds me of a quote from a post by this author to school superintendents about data walls in schools, “This madness in our education has to stop. All of you run schools or districts and you have the power to put an end to this absolute insanity happening in our schools.”

It truly is insanity and this superintendent had the opportunity to make it right and he didn’t. Sad.

I truly always believed if people in education could not answer, “Why are we doing this?” with “Because its what is best for children.” then it would indicate a needed change.

10 thoughts on “Being THAT Teacher

  1. Rose Roberts

    I teach HS math in VA, where students must pass at least 6 state tests in order to graduate (math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and one more of their choice). I appreciate the accountability this puts on the students for these tests, because when I was in school in MI the tests meant nothing to the students and so most kids didn’t care much about getting good scores. It definitely causes a lot of stress come test time though, especially if you’re a senior still trying to pass one of the tests.

    On top of those exams (which, btw, a passing score for the Algebra 1 exam is 26/50 and the math exams takes students 2-5x longer than any other state exam… why? who knows) my district has the following mandated assessments:

    1. at least one quiz each unit
    2. a unit test or project for each unit
    3. at least three administrations of the SMI for our SMART goal data
    4. 3 quarterly benchmark tests

    So on top of their SOL test, the students in my year-long Algebra 1 class are REQUIRED to take at least 28 assessments over the course of the year. And again, that’s assuming there’s only one quiz per unit and that does not include the practice SOL that we give at the beginning of our test-prep period. And again again, this is only for Algebra 1. These students have 3 other classes each day.

    I don’t know how they do it.

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  2. Elisa Waingort

    Wow! This is amazing. My hat’s off to you for your courage even though it feels like an uphill battle. We must stand up for kids. This definitely sounds like malpractice. I feel myself getting angry all over again as I write this comment. Get as many parents as you can up in the superintendent’s office and he might just be forced to do something about this situation.

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    1. mathmindsblog Post author

      Thank you Elisa! I agree, it is so incredibly infuriating and upsetting at the same time. The hardest part for parents, and I completely understand, are the possible repercussions of questioning these decisions. Also, due to lack of communication, many parents do not even know what is going on. Sadly, the culture in that building (supported by the superintendent), is not one of that encourages parents to challenge their choices. I just can’t believe that “I didn’t mean to” is anywhere near acceptable when talking about how kids are treated and the instruction they are receiving.

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  3. Leah

    You are my “she-ro”! Thank you so much for being who you are, for advocating for children (whether or not you birthed them!) and for being a voice for the children, parents, teachers and everyone who feels that there is something fundamentally wrong going on around testing! I truly hope that the support you need to effect true change gathers itself quickly around you and that the collective voice will be heard!

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    1. mathmindsblog Post author

      Thanks Leah! I have to admit it is a really uncomfortable position to be in and I can definitely see why parents and teachers in that building do not say anything. I have never felt so “talked down to” or dismissed as I did in that meeting. It was really unbelievable. I have an idea these types of conversations happen in this building/school often, but remain behind closed doors so people are not fully aware of what is happening.
      I have been told, by people of influence in this district, that this will not be happening next year, so I am hopeful. If not, I guess I will see myself in the same position next year!!

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  4. Joe Schwartz

    Kristin, You are a true hero. We work in an environment where our voices often go unheard, mostly because we’re afraid to speak up. You stood up, took a stand, and set an example for us all. What happened in the district you described was unacceptable, and a violation of all we know to be best practice in our field. A doctor or lawyer might lose his or her license for a violation like that, but in education we regularly condone practices we know are harmful to students. Not only that, we often act as accomplices, and then rationalize away the moral compromises we make. What you did was important. Thank you for sharing this story.

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    1. mathmindsblog Post author

      Thanks Joe, I agree with you on every single point, it is so difficult and uncomfortable to do within a school system. I never want to be thought of as a complainer or troublemaker and I never fight the teacher union fights but when administration is making these decisions that harm children, my patience ends. Even more unbelievable to me was how terribly the principal and superintendent of a PUBLIC school treat the very public they are there to serve. Can you imagine if a teacher tried this with a parent? I cannot imagine a time when ignoring a parent’s email, taking 3 weeks to set up a conference with them, or shaming their child would EVER be acceptable. So, what, when you get to be a principal and superintendent, it doesn’t matter? Shameful.

      This situation reminds me of a quote from a post by this author about data walls in schools: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/delaware-public-schools-you-have-until-thursday-to-get-rid-of-your-data-walls-or-i-start-filing-ferpa-complaints/ “This madness in our education has to stop. All of you run schools or districts and you have the power to put an end to this absolute insanity happening in our schools.”

      It truly is insanity and this superintendent had the opportunity to make it right and he didn’t. Sad.
      Thank goodness for the #MTBoS and the other wonderful people who are always trying to what is best for students, I appreciate you!

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  5. Eric Shane

    Right on. Shame on this district. If only they put their students first and the test second. This administrator should be removed from his position for his baltant disregard for his students.

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    1. mathmindsblog Post author

      I could not agree more Eric, it is disgraceful. If either of them read or understood any research on the damage they are doing to children they may have a clue. Unfortunately, they are completely uninformed and wrapped up in how they look based on their test scores. Unacceptable.

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  6. Joe Schwartz

    Hello! This post was recommended for The Best of the Math Teacher Blogs 2016: a collection of people’s favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts at the end of the year and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via http://goo.gl/forms/LLURZ4GOsQ whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.

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