Thursday, March 26, 2015

This Test. An Open Letter to Parents from Teachers

It's that time of year again, y'all. That time that every teacher dreads. Our feet are dragging in the door each morning as we, with 20+ students in tow, head towards annual state testing. You can't even watch the news without hearing about it. Even the lady I see in the morning when I stop for breakfast tacos has asked me if my kids are ready. Every hallway is covered in butcher paper, blocking every ounce of text that might help aid the students in some form or fashion. My classroom feels like a paper dungeon, ready to issue paper cuts at any moment between the paper on the walls, and the thick tests I'll place on their desks on Monday morning. The teacher's lounge starts to feel a little stiff, too- definitely less laughing and lunchtime merriment than the fall and winter bring. And then there are the parents. The people that we share our precious students with. The ones who can see the stress like we do. The ones who, sometimes, feel like this is the doing of the teacher. An evil scheme we use to torture students with from August til May. Oh, Dear parents, I can assure you that it is not. If only we could all speak out honestly about how we feel towards this... Unfortunately, we don't all have that luxury so here are a few little bitty points that might help you see where we are coming from.

1. Teaching to the test is not the reason we picked this career. 
We chose this job because children and their education is our PASSION. We fervently love all things related to making and watching children grow and learn. We love the lessons, the activities, the engagement, the fun, the laughter, and the building of knowledge. And we hate the absolute dullness of doing practice Reading, Editing, and Revising passages with our students. We hate spending valuable time on testing strategies and how to answer multi-step Math questions with 4 tricky answer possibilities. It's a laborious process. It's tedious and boring. But we do it because giving our kids an idea of what they are in for is better than watching them suffer, unsure, for 4 torturous hours when we are not allowed to reassure or assist them in any way. I tell mine this all year- I won't be able to help you, so I want you to feel confident. I want you to sit down in that seat and open that test without a single fear. I want you to finish with a smile on your face, not a tear in your eye.

2. We don't want them to stress!
We love these kids, but we don't love the stress that this kind of testing puts on them. It is not fair to their little bodies and little minds to have to be stressed about anything, at all. Please reiterate to your child that this is not something that will determine their entire life. It may help determine their readiness for the next grade level. It might be used to decide whether a student should be tested for a learning disability. It may even play into what teacher your child has the next year. It could decide whether your child needs a remedial course in Middle School or gets to take an additional elective, but it won't decide their life. While this test is something to take seriously, it is not something to take to their grave.
3. We feel the stress, too.
Not every teacher has the luxury of having an opinion. Not every administrator allows "dissension" from the test. Not every district is comfortable speaking out against the way their state has elected to test it's students. Just because a teacher is under contract in a certain place, doesn't mean that he or she holds the same testing values or beliefs. Some administrators will stand up and say that these tests are the only way that they know we are doing our jobs.  Some will tell you that they're ridiculous and need to be changed, they'll encourage you to talk to your legislators and unions. But in the end, the majority of teachers can't pick their campus, so please remember that they're essentially products of their environment.

4. Is assessment important? Yes. Are state mandated tests the best way to assess? That's debatable- but almost every teacher you'll meet will tell you no (this may only happen in the privacy of our own homes or under the influence of a glass of wine, but we'll admit it). There are many ways that we determine if your child knows what they need to know- rigorous, lengthy, standardized tests are unnecessary. We have to assess to do our jobs, but we can assess in ways that prove to be more meaningful than a pencil and a packet of paper. We don't make these tests ourselves. Many of the people who make them, and make decisions about them, have never even been classroom teachers. How whack is that?? Please keep that in mind when you're frustrated about crazy homework or an obnoxious question on an assignment (Refer to 1- Teaching to the test is not the reason we picked this career).

5. Despite what any news source tells you, we are doing our jobs. 
I read a quote from a district "curriculum specialist" that floored me. This person stated that if a teacher's students can't do well, then that teacher is not doing his or her job. I laughed. This person clearly hasn't been in the classroom recently- especially not a classroom with learning disabled students, dyslexic students, students with Special Needs, or Title 1 kiddos who don't know if they'll have a single meal to eat all weekend who will come in to school on Monday morning with the worst hunger pangs of all... Sorry, but we have other fish to fry besides your fancy test. We are adamantly teaching our curriculum, while the people writing these tests are adamantly seeking new ways to confuse and destroy students. I'll stop my rant here, as long as you promise to know how hard your child's teacher is working around the clock, even if some of that time is spent preparing your child on how to take a test.

6. Help us speak out against this.
 Is this level of testing even developmentally appropriate? Again, this is debatable, but almost every single teacher will tell you that it is not.  We don't agree with this either. Writing two grammatically correct, full page essays, back to back at 9 years old is a bit silly. Testing on financial literacy and Economics and being able to calculate interest and balance a check book in Elementary is even more silly. We know that this is not ok. We speak out against this kind of testing to our legislators, and you can do the same. It takes a village to raise these children. If we speak out together, we can make a bigger difference, faster. We can't fix this without you.

Chances are that fixing this testing business (that's a whole different post...) will take time, but just know that we are for you and your children, and not against you.

Love Y'all,
L. S.