Dear Bill and Melinda,
I truly believe you started with good intentions. As mature adults who make mistakes, it is time to recant your initial perspective.
I’ve taught 4th and 5th graders in an inner city school for the past 17 years. What fun we used to have. Back then…. before the NCLB and RTT…. my students flourished in literature groups reading on grade level classics such as Hatchet, Tuck Everlasting, Call it Courage, The Cay, Caddie Woodlawn, The Little Princess, and My Side of the Mountain. We read Jerry Spinelli, Karen Hesse, C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien. Not anymore. Why? The testing. Since the high stakes tests began in 2001 I have noticed a decline in my student’s thinking skills. Each year they come to me with fewer skills than the group before me. The teachers are the same as before, but something is different. Students were being over tested. They no longer get the pleasure of reading in the “zone” and spending time languishing in the text for the sheer joy of reading. They have to pass these tests. If they don’t the school is punished.
This year, our school is being punished, because we are a “focused” school. As a result, time and time again, I have had to postpone my well planned lessons. These lessons, which are designed to engage students in analyzing and thinking about character motive, theme, setting etc. depend on momentum, continuity and consistency. These lessons are designed to give students time to reflect on their learning. Not this year, sadly. As a focused school, the state is more concerned with DATA. So, I have had to put aside my lessons, midstream, to initiate one edict after another given by the district, which was precipitated by the state mandates of a focused school. (I might add here that the majority of focused schools are located in impoverished districts. It’s not because of bad teaching. It’s because of poverty!) These edicts range from “administering the district exam on material not yet covered in order to input the data, to implementing another NEW strategy, which we were never trained in to use.” Consequently, my well thought out lessons went down the drain, and I collected and input data instead. Those great books we were reading sat on the shelf. The math games and manipulatives, which help my students grasp the concrete before they explore the abstract, sat on the shelf. Instead, I administered exams and in between did my best to cover the material so that the students would hopefully succeed on these exams. If I didn’t do it, I would get a bad evaluation and my job would be on the line. I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Against every bone in my body, I had eliminate the reflective time of learning to move quickly to the next “state” agenda.
The sad part is this. I was miserable and my students were miserable. “Ms. P can’t we get in our reading groups today?” Yes. My students begged to read. They begged to read because when I am allowed to teach the way I KNOW is best, they read and love it. And that simple act of reading and loving it is the aspect of learning that will move the students forward.
However, thanks to your well-intentioned push to improve our schools, my students have less time to enjoy learning and more time to create data so that I can prove that I am teaching.
A side note here: Why are we a focused school? Our students with disabilities did not make AYP (Annual Yearly Progress). You got it. Students with special needs did not “meet state standards.” Now, Bill and Melinda, please read the many posts from parents and teachers of students with disabilities to understand the absurdity of this.
…..and reconsider your alignment with Michelle Rhee and the likes.