A Constant Battle: Troubled Kids vs. High Stakes Testing

Teaching is made up of a bunch of little battles, struggles and obstacles that we must overcome each and everyday that we enter our classrooms. From lesson planning to classroom management, to building politics and parental involvement. As teachers, we must find ways to get it all done: to ensure that the children are learning, that their parents are content and that the administration is accepting of how you run your classroom. Of all of these little struggles that take place each day, there is one that is greater than the rest and has become my plight and my mission to overcome as a teacher.

Stemming from a deep-rooted belief that teaching children is much more than producing future millionaires, but nourishing and molding morally-sound and competent adults has caused me to push back against the district mandates and try to find a balance.  Each day in my classroom I must balance my efforts to build character, goodness and bright futures for our most disenfranchised youth amidst the mandates and demands for more testing and more “accountability”.  The kids that I spend my days planning for, preparing for and teaching deserve to be listened to, valued and cared for despite what scores they get on their tests and the color-coded label that they are referred to based on these test scores.

These are children that we are talking about! They hug me and cry on my shoulder after being disciplined, my students argue with one another over jump ropes, they yell out in despair when they cannot solve their math problems.  My students come into my classroom every single morning without fail and make every attempt to let the troubles in their lives disappear for six hours in order to meet the high expectations that are set for behavior and learning. This is a constant battle to prove that these children are more than the scores that they receive on their standardized tests and that the help and guidance that they need is beyond the realm of reading and math practice.

My struggle each day is this: How do I reach all of these students, with all of their issues, problems and idiosyncrasies while attempting to fulfill the idealistic goals of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and teacher evaluations that are based on (poorly written) standardized tests? Do I take the time to nurture hurt feelings and teach the students how to properly interact with one another, or do I spend those extra minutes teaching them testing strategies and how to bubble in A,B,C or D? God forbid a master teacher or administrator comes into the classroom while we are doing meditation, journaling or discussing social problems that do not have a rigorous and posted objective.

My students have issues, deep seeded issues that are not just going to fade away because they received a mark of proficient on their state tests. I cannot possibly be the only one to realize that the greater concern is not whether a student receives a proficient mark on a reading or math test when they are going home each night to violence and drug use. When a student comes in on a testing day and has a psychotic breakdown from endless hours of abuse and neglect, will value-added figure that in? Will the statisticians really be able to find “students like mine” to compare this crying little child to?

Someone recently told me that the behavior problems, outbursts and disruptions in all classrooms would be eliminated if the instruction were more rigorous.  For one thing, the majority of poor and antisocial behaviors do not occur in the classroom, but in the hallways during transition, on the playground, in the cafeteria and at the students’ homes.  There is no amount of rigor that is going to eliminate problem behaviors of a fussy 8 year old on a Monday morning who hasn’t had a healthy meal or a bed to sleep on in days.

Many will argue that despite these conditions, a good teacher will teach their content so well that it reaches all students and their test results will show this, I am confident in saying that this is complete nonsense. My test results have less to do with how much effort and work I put into each lesson, less to do with how theatrical my lessons are, how hands-on they are or even how rigorous they are. Without a doubt these aspects are essential to quality teaching and learning but I promise that these aspects cannot counteract situations such as abuse, neglect, and exposure to “adult” behaviors and violence at home and in the neighborhoods.

I believe that my students have gifts, qualities and academic talents that outweigh anything that can be shown on a multiple choice test. I am not making excuses for my less than perfect test scores or the fact that I will probably never earn a highly effective teaching bonus. My students are very smart and are capable of accomplishing anything that they put their minds to. My students can write stories that will captivate a crowd and argue points with relevant information that the Great Debaters would not be able to conjure up.  They can explain in detail what the lyrics of their favorite songs mean, metaphors and all.  My students know what to do when someone is upset and are well prepared for any tragedies that may occur; their resilience is beyond admirable.  But, there will always be those days when they have hit the wall and they cannot manage the emotions that go hand in hand with their turbulent and risky lives. It is at these times that we must remember that these are troubled children with a lot more than test scores to worry about.

When I sit through meeting after meeting and I am constantly asked to give proof of my attempts to raise test scores, I am at a loss.  My goal as a teacher is so much more than raising test scores. My goal as a teacher is to raise children of great character, to raise innovators and critical thinkers and to raise these children up beyond the undesirable circumstances that they may be exposed to. My goal is to educate students academically, emotionally and socially. Raising test scores is surely an aspect of teaching and learning, but that is not why I wake up each morning. We cannot neglect the social concerns that fall into our hands each day in order to raise test scores for the sake of wealthy bureaucrats and test-producing conglomerates. The fight to raise test scores will always take the backseat in my classroom when broken communities, broken spirits and broken hearts are in my hands each day.

Ms. Olivia Chapman

3rd Grade General Education Teacher

King Elementary School

Now it is your turn to weigh in:
What do you think of student-achievement scores being used to measure teacher-effectiveness?

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    You are so right. We have forgotten about teaching the whole child and what is developmentally appropriate. Maybe we would have fewer bullies if we could teach morals and character skills. I was not a tester in school but my teachers were excellent and they knew that I knew the material that had had been taught. Thank God colleges don’t rely on SAT and ACT scores only.

    1. Being sleepless and hungry are only a few of the variable some students have to endure. How about abuse, molestation, rape, incest, terrorizing from parents, caregivers or peers. Lack support or motivation from parents or others. When coming home after school is as good as shoving three packs of Ex-lax down your throat. Then again you have nowhere else to go and not knowing what to do. Because you lack the coping skills adults may have.
      You need a license to have a pet, but anyone can have children. Sad but true!

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