(A caveat before you begin reading. Usually if I have a complaint I will vent my concerns, and then I will try to offer solutions. There's none of that in this post. I am fired up. But more than that, I am sad. I am sad about what I'm about to do to my students, and I feel like I have no way out. Because if I don't do it, then somebody else will. And if the poor kids have to do it, I'd rather they at least have a friendly, caring face there with them. So - proceed with caution. This is just me, angry and upset, about what teaching and education have become.)
I push the limits a lot with what I do in my classroom, and I'm very thankful for the support I have to do what's best for my kids. But I'm pretty sure that I'm as close as I've ever been to getting in B-I-G trouble at work, and to be quite honest, I'm not even so sure that I care. After all, what is being written up or sent home without a few days' pay compared to the torture I'm forced to put my students through over the next three week?
I'm talking about the PSSAs. The Pennsylvania high stakes, bull crap, one snapshot picture of my students. The tests that are used to judge my school, used to label my kids, and next year they'll also be used to judge me. Let me tell you why I am SO fired up this evening.
1. I had to waste 45 minutes of my life, 45 that could have been better spent on planning or prepping for my students, to watch a video and take a test about administering the tests. I can't make this up. The ridiculousness of the video is almost difficult to put into words, but I can tell you that if I had heard the narrator say, "Be sure your students have 2 sharpened number 2 pencils with good erasers," one more time I would have used said pencils to poke my own eyes out.
2. Then, because the 45-minute "webinars" weren't bad enough, we had to have an additional meeting. During this meeting our administrators had to teach us what to do if children had cell phones in their pockets, how to do a fire drill if test books were still in rooms, what to do with disruptive students, how to summon a nurse, and .... my favorite.... what to do if a student pukes on a book. We also got to hear answers to amazing questions like, "Can students use post-its to mark their spots on the scantron sheet?" (Because we are not allowed to help our 9, 10 and 11 year olds track such a thing. That would be cheating.) "What about if a kid has a terrible bathroom emergency?" (You are allowed to let them go, and you may actually tell them what number to start working on when they come back if they ask.) And, "So can kids use calculators?" (honestly - not evening touching that one) Again, 45 minutes of my teaching life that I will never get back.
As annoying and ridiculous as that all is, it gets even better.
3. According to the PSSA information there are several accommodations available to ALL students. One of those accommodations is that students may have any of the tests, with the exception of reading, read aloud to them. But wait.... there's a catch. Even though every student has the right to have this accommodation, the only ones who will get it are the ones who ASK for it. If one of my special ed students, who is reading on a 1st or 2nd grade level, can't read a question I cannot simply read it for them even though this accommodation is included in the legally binding IEP we *must* follow. I have to wait for them to raise their hand and ASK me to read it or I can't provide this accommodation.
Riddle me this. If it says that reading the math test is an accommodation for all kids, why does ANYBODY have to ask for it??? If I want to read to my students, why can't I just read to them?
Oh, and riddle me this. If this is supposed to be a test of my students' abilities how in the WORLD are we getting an accurate measure of their math abilities when they aren't getting the accommodations allowed?
4. Many of our students are also legally guaranteed to receive small group testing. Just out of curiosity, how many of you think 17 is a small group? Or even 11? How about 10 or 9? Personally, I thought small group meant 5 or 6. I thought wrong.
5. We received notification that our reading clinics (Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction for those of you RTII fans) will be cancelled on testing days, but the expectation is that we will use those 30 minutes for test-taking strategy review, skill review, class meetings, or class work. It is not to be used as a study hall or <GASP> any sort of free time where I students may actually be able to talk, relax or act their age after being force to sit still and quiet for 2.5 hours.
I'm upset. I'm angry.
My teammates and I have worked hard all year to help our students, no matter what their challenges, realize that they can be successful at anything they put their minds to. And to be honest, they are finally starting to believe it. But guess what - everything about these tests sets them up for failure. They aren't getting the testing settings they need and deserve. They are not getting the support and accommodations they are legally required to get. If even one of my kids cries.........
The worst part? There is nothing I can do about it because, "Our hands are tied." Because, "It's not us, it's the state." Because, "That's just the way it is and there's nothing we can do about it."
At what point will we finally put an end to this madness?