Dear Bill and Melinda Gates,
For 19 years, I have taught middle school students. About ten years ago, I created a program at our school to address our neediest students: those at risk of dropping out of school even though they have no disabilities or other physical challenges that prevent their success at school. This program targets family support services, community involvement (mentoring) as well as each student’s individual circumstance that make success in a public school setting difficult. We saw success.
Recently, though, students with unique learning challenges (most people know them as at-risk students) have yet another hurdle to climb: testing. Here is an example of how a student with chaos at home handles standardized tests:
My student, “K”, entered my room on one of our test days and told me he was going to throw up. I knew he was not sick. He always says this when he is stressed or would like to avoid the classroom. I spoke to him briefly and told him he would be great today. I didn’t lie. This kid is smart. He reads above grade level and could probably out-test anyone. His previous test scores varied widely: sometimes proficient, sometimes advanced, sometimes below basic. We had practiced all year on how to handle stress. I told him, “You got this! No worries, young Jedi! The force is strong within you!” (K likes Star Wars.) With that sweet grin, he sat and worked too slowly through the timed session. He did not get done. Again, I tell him, “No worries! It’s ok! I can tell you tried really hard and I am proud of you.”
The next timed session began. Math. He can do math. What he can’t do well is handle pressure. I see him breathe deeply the way we practiced to calm himself. I can’t go to him. This is the test and I can only read one word per sentence if needed. He knows it. Another deep breath and he closes his eyes, and clenches his fists. He knocks his eraser to the floor on accident. He begins to maniacally lift his test book up and down searching for it, disturbing the entire classroom. I can’t see where the eraser bounced to and he is in full freak out mode. I go to him and kneel by his desk and it is immediately clear to me that there is no way he can get himself off this ledge. I text our school counselor and he is out of the room. I watch him slump his shoulders and quietly leave.
Later I am interviewed about the incident. State officials are called to see if there is a proper way to handle the situation since all students in my room were distracted by the outburst. You know what I was thinking? He didn’t throw anything!! He didn’t cuss at anyone! He didn’t punch anything or anyone! Seven months ago, he would have done at least one of those things. This teacher knows that K made progress this year and I think he scored advanced. If you were to tie his numerical scores to my evaluation, I would probably look like a horrible teacher. I know differently.
You have billions of dollars you are throwing at ineffective strategies for our children. Spend it on creating the type of wrap around services that benefit kids like K. Testing just gives him another reason to call himself a failure. This is just one kid and I bet there are millions more just like him. So, save him.