Tests aren’t best

I don’t know kids

but I like tests

to know more about kids

I think tests are best  (The anonymous corporate reformer who ate Dr. Seuss)

Tests are preparing to descend upon us. The are being discussed in training, warnings, plannings…

But once in a while you get to be with colleagues and plan the good stuff. I was working with my 4th grade team just a couple days ago, when the teacher who happens to have my daughter (the one that I described at the end of my recent charter schools piece) said “I so wish you and Jen would let Ella take the tests…” She went on to describe a recent piece of writing my ten year old daughter had handed in. Rich in detail, vocabulary, personality…She could describe the way my daughter used punctuation and expanded on statements she had made on the topic, and said something like “I’m sure she would be a ‘4’ ” (the top score on the state test).

There was a moment of internal conflict between forces for me:

1) Pride in my daughter. Though no surprise-all three of my daughters excel and are incredible writers, speakers, idea makers, and Ella came home yesterday and penned a letter of not so gentle reprimand to Donald Trump. We’ll say it was regarding his deportment (and not the kind wall-building will assist).

2) Reinforced pride in her teacher/my colleague

3) A brief mourning second for my profession; and

4) Steeling of my resolve when it comes to my feeling about the state tests.

This teacher and my school shouldn’t be made to feel that they need my daughter’s ‘4’ (although I suspect that for the teacher it is really just curiosity and excitement, on her part, to see what Ella would score). In my eyes this teacher exemplifies qualities that show we need to be thinking outside of the testing box. First appearing in January on this Education Post page, something I had written to that regard appeared:

A colleague recently suffered a series of tragedies, starting with the loss of a son who was grown—but still a young man. Despite this, she kept her composure, her warmth, and her professionalism in front of the children she teaches.

One girl, in particular, had come down with a rather serious condition resulting from a strep infection that had not been effectively treated. The student, formerly bright, capable, active, and always well-behaved, had disappeared and been replaced by a withdrawn, nervous, malnourished ghost…but was slowly coming back.

This colleague found ways to be there for her class and involve and encourage this young girl on the heels of and in the middle of the series of her own personal tragedies (that would have had other teachers taking as many days/weeks off as their contract would allow). I watched and listened as she prepared to send kids off for the holiday break with a few small gifts and the advice to hug, love and thank their parents because their parents love them very much.

How she didn’t lose it—I don’t know. But I do know that her whole class, especially that little girl who is sitting three feet away from me right now and doing well, is blessed by the presence of this teacher in her school.

To try and put to words one of the overlooked qualities of great teachers: gift. Something you don’t always see and can’t  possibly test. I think she is one of the ones who has it, and I know that not all do. This teacher is a gift to the profession, and my school is a gem in a low SES, rural district-the focal point of a tiny community and for some students here: the most stable “home” they have. The push to make tests the valuation of vital public institutions and the cornerstone of reform, as opposed to pushing for a shared-accountability/holistic approach, is a cheap-seats strategy that devalues that varied gifts brought by all, students and staff alike, to the classroom. and seeks to legitimize the wrongdoings of leaders. I oppose that strategy,  and my daughters don’t take them.

They used to, and I have no problem with tests, but for me personally, it isn’t about the inappropriateness of treating my children like this or that-my girls continually meet and exceed demands. It isn’t about me rallying a bunch of parents to make some mass-protest statement. It is about the unwillingness of those leaders and the wealthy propping them up to take responsibility for what they have done to our economy and the majority of our citizens. The ripples of excess, exploitation and inequity are slowly turning into a wake, and could to turn into waves that will wash over the most vulnerable if we just allow it. Presume to measure my children, their teachers and our schools in order to distract us all with numbers-I say no thank you. Suggest that new standards, high-stakes tests and fancy formulas mean more than the judgement and priorities of parents, citizens, and parents (and even children)-I say you are mistaken. I do not need a test to help me see quality in a teacher, because every day I see enthusiastic, effective, inspiring teachers who are a blessing in the lives of kids-especially those young ones who simply need to feel like they mean something to somebody.

The reluctance of reformers to discuss approaches that are more respectful of the profession and what it actually demands is why I resist buying into their insanity or selling my children to their tests. Sell it as “special interest” obstructionism, and I will say “Your damn right, all children are too special for that kind of ‘reform’.

But I start with my own, and their teachers.

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