Counter-Productive

This week elementary and middle school students in South Carolina are doing their first round of end-of-year testing (they have another round next month when high school students will be doing End-of-Course testing).

Before I begin this, let me say, I have no animosity towards the teachers here.  I know of no teacher (and being one, I know many) who is excited about testing.  I know no teacher who believes that testing is a true assessment of his/her students.  I know no teacher who wishes for this moronic testing craze to continue.  Teachers are forced to carry out this counter-intuitive, counter-productive initiative at the behest of imbecilic legislators who know nothing of best practices, child psychology, education, adolescent learning, EQs, formative assessments, or planning for multiple learning styles and needs.Teachers are made to put students in environments that are not conducive to what they know is nest suited for their students.

My 9-year-old 3rd grader began testing yesterday; testing that will last for three straight days.  For the past number of weeks, his class has been schooled about what will happen.  They have been threatened with “the authorities” if they violate the rules.  They have been shoveled information in order to achieve better scores.

Yesterday, he sat in one seat for FIVE straight hours with no breaks.  They could not even leave their desks for lunch.  No recess.  No snacks. No water trips.  ONE bathroom break (which has to be documented by the teacher – time left and time returned for EVERY student AND they must be escorted individually to the bathroom).  I would ask for EVERY politician to perform under these circumstances.  I would ask that they practice what they preach.  I would ask that their children be subjected to the same testing (most are not as they send their children to private schools that are exempt from this testing structure that they insist is necessary even though public school teachers are, by-and-large, more often certified, educated at higher levels, and better-informed on best practices than private and charter school teachers).

In many states, parents are rising up and standing up to state- and federal-mandated standardized tests, as research has shown them completely ineffectual for assessing students (Here is a great article explaining it and you can find MANY more that say the same thing: Why Standardized Tests Don’t Measure Educational Quality.  Here is another: Here’s Why We Don’t Need Standardized Tests).   In South Carolina, I am not allowed to opt my child out of standardized testing, even though it is in his best interest to not be subjected to this.  Now, my son is in Gifted and Talented and a very good student.  He does well on tests and they do not lower his self esteem.  In South Carolina, ALL students are required to take standardized tests (This is the link to the instructions for the test the middle and elementary schools are currently taking:  South Carolina College-and Career-Ready Assessments (SC READY).  ALL students.  Students who are in second language programs.  Students who have physical and cognitive abilities that do not allow them to process this information.  Students who already feel beaten down by a school system.  This is the complaint of the teacher in the article that I read this morning:  SC teacher confronts school officials over ‘inhumane’ standardized tests.  In short she says:  “I object to forcing children to sit through hours of bubble tests when they don’t even understand what they are doing and why they are doing it,” Happel wrote. “This is inhumane. . .I object to children who are just learning to speak, read, and write in English being forced to take standardized tests using English academic language and culturally biased language,” she continued. “I object to forcing children with special needs to take standardized grade level tests when they have already proven to be 1 ½ to 2 years behind typical peers via a formal evaluation using standardized tests. . .I respectfully request that my students not be required to take the SC PASS and SC READY, which goes against my professional conscious,” Happel wrote.

It is interesting to note that Happel comes from a state that has strong teachers’ unions, whereas South Carolina is a “Right to Work” state and our “representation” is weak at best and normally we are simply at the whim of whoever our principal happens to be.  This serves as a stark distinction.  Most teachers who have taught for their entire careers here are tentative to speak out so blatantly to legislators who are so anti-public education, as we know what the consequences can be.

Testing began in education as a way for teachers and school districts to measure whether curriculum was effective – not whether teacher or students were effective.  It was simply a way to assess whether schools wanted to move to a different curriculum or publisher.  It was never meant to be this.  It is what it is because we (those NOT in education, as we have fought hard against this with little to no support from the general public) have allowed publishers to be the ones to choose the path of education.  Publishers who, like legislators, are not trained educators.  We allow presidents and governors to appoint business-persons and those not trained in education to be state superintendents and secretaries of education.  This is insane.  We would never allow someone who has no law background to be the Attorney General, or someone with no military background to be the Secretary of Defense.  Yet, for some reason, America refuses to see teaching as a profession.  While we require an advanced degree plus state certification to teach in public schools, we are still almost completely ignored when it comes to policy.  We are still some of the worst paid, especially given out level of education and specialty.  Our national board certification is almost universally ignored though it is also some of the most rigorous and effective measures of assessing a profession.

These standardized tests, which are the least effective ways of measuring our children, are given precedence over every other day of teaching and learning.  I did not receive a phone call reminding me to feed my child, bring him to school on time, and not sign him out early on any day, except testing day.  This is the result of the pressure that we place on the teachers and the schools to perform on this over anything else.  This is one of the few measurements of a “successful” school.  I have spent the majority of my career at “challenging” schools.  Yet, I have seen the best teaching and learning take place here.  Students do not always test well for SOOOO many reasons and to lay the success and funding for a school on a few days of testing is asinine.

Kids are so much more than numbers and scores. We, as teachers, deserve to be allowed to teach your students in the best way possible – and we have been trained to decide this.  Kids deserve to learn in the way that is best for them.  We all deserve a better educational system, but that does NOT begin or end with this.  This is the antithesis of good education.  As parents, as educators, as citizens, it is our responsibility to stand up and voice this.  The only way this will stop is if we insist that it does.  If we vote out people who are anti-public school, people who are pro-testing, people who are anti-teachers, people who insist that some kids have to be held to standards that other kids are not.

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Family? Family!

I have two families.  I have my older sister and her husband.  I also have my younger sister and older brother and their spouses.  These two families no longer intersect.  These two are completely separate.  We all lived in the same house and yet we were all raised by drastically different parents.

We do not have a huge difference in age – there is a 7 year gap between the oldest and the youngest.  We were all just treated so very differently and not taught to appreciate each other.  In fact, we were taught to compete against each other for my mother’s love, affection, and gifts.  If we did not please her, we would receive none and be the butt of jokes with the other kids.  This was most true for the girls in the family.  My brother never felt this.  He always could depend on her to love him and support him – How a parent should be, but often in ways that enabled behavior it should not have.  Interestingly, her dynamic with him was like how us girls were treated by her – we feared losing her acceptance; she feared losing our brother’s acceptance.

As adults, it has been difficult.  We all left the home after high school and never looked back.  My sisters and I went to college, graduated and moved away.  My brother went to college, then the military, and moved away.  None of us returned home regularly.  My youngest sister was and is the only to remain in Michigan, so she was the best at visiting, but still, it was not like other families.  My mom died suddenly in 2009.  Apparently, she had been quite ill for a bit, but refused to go to the doctor (a lifelong mantra by my mom), and so my dad just tried what he could.  It did not work and she had a heart attack and died in her chair, probably the way that we all remember her.

In our family, my oldest sister has always been treated like the black sheep.  I cannot remember a time when she and my mom were not fighting.  I have two very vivd memories of this (astounding as I remember almost nothing from my childhood).  The first was when my brother and sister got into a fistfight in our living room (probably over the bathroom, as I remember this being a running theme).  My mom, me, and (I believe) my little sister sat on the couch while my mom cheered on my brother and told him where to hit my sister and what to do.  It was one of the first times that I realized that we were not all equal.  The second, I did not witness, but saw the aftermath.  Somehow my sister’s hand ended up getting cut by glass and my mom claimed that my sister had tried to kill her with it. By this time, I had seen my mom lie about my sister and the rest of us so much that I did not believe her and my sister was the one with the injury.  My dad came home, whipped out his belt, chased my sister out of her room, knocking her down our (uncarpeted) stairs and threw her into the bushes in the front yard telling her to not come back.

I desperately wanted and needed an older sister in my life, but mine was barred from me.  Had I aligned with her, I would have been my mother’s enemy.  Not aligning with her cost me a huge part of my childhood. I vowed to be a good big sister to my younger sister.  This did not work out as planned.  When my oldest sister left for college, the pattern repeated with me being the outcast.  My little sister could not align with me.  She cast me out, and I understand it.  I tried writing my oldest sister while she was in college.  I desperately tried reaching out to her.  Until my mom’s death, I believed that my sister had received those letters and chose not to respond.  That she could not forgive me for not aligning with her as a child.  My sister never received a single letter.  They were all confiscated by my mom before they could make it to her.

The events that followed paved the way for my two families.  My oldest sister took charge.  The pain from the past crept into our responses.  It was not pretty and got even worse when my dad died in 2014.  I am currently the only one speaking to everyone in my family. This is hard and I hate it.  I do not agree with everything anyone in my family has done or said, but there is nothing done or said that is worth me losing them.

My oldest sister and her husband have been my rock since my mom died.  I have turned to them for advice and level thinking over and over and over again.  My sister just helped me with my taxes – again!  She never asks for anything in return and I can never thank her enough.  My son ADORES them both.  They are an ever-present source of support for him. My sister has no children and she relishes her role as fun and crazy aunt.

My brother and little sister and I try to plan a trip to get our children together each summer.  It does not always work out, but when it does, it is the highlight of the summer.  The cousins are all close in age (except for my oldest nephew) and they LOVE hanging out together.  Growing up, we were not allowed to hang out with our cousins and so this is important to all of us.  But, my oldest sister is not invited.  This is heartbreaking for me.  She has never let her feelings for my siblings extend to their kids and I know that this hurts her to be excluded.  I wish I could find a way to bridge the gap, but I think there has just been too much hurt that started long before we had any control.

I truly believe that my parents did the best they knew how to do.  I still have a lot of mixed feelings about my childhood that I have not come to terms with.  I try to raise my son by taking the best of what they had and mixing it with the best of what I have read and seen in others.  I do A LOT of research.  I do not want my son to look back at his time with me and struggle like I have.  I want him to have close and healthy relationships with his cousins, aunts, and uncles.  I want him to have peace and happy memories.  I work hard to try to make this happen