A Teacher’s Story
A friend who is a teacher told me his story after I shared my last post, and I asked if he minded if I shared it. He agreed, so here it is. As I said before, testing is only part of all this. It’s important to understand it in light of the issues discussed in my earlier post.
I teach elementary school in a socioeconomically diverse district in Northern California. Like many states, California is preparing to unveil new online state tests to assess the mastery of the new Common Core State Standards. In the upcoming months, California students will take part in the new online testing. In a wise decision, California has decided to use the 2013-2014 school year as a trial run for the new tests. Individual scores will not be reported to students or their families. Instead, the state will use the massive amount of collected data to assess the new assessments by weeding out poorly designed questions, examining technological difficulties, and by discovering areas of learning that teachers will need to focus on in the coming years. California chose to make this a trial year for the new testing despite threats of reduced federal education dollars made by the US Department of Education. Unfortunately, my district did not make nearly as sensible decisions this year.
When the 2013-14 school year began in my district of 14,000 students, teachers were informed that new online district tests had been designed that were to be administered at the end of each trimester. Like most decisions in my district, teachers were not included in the design of the tests. Initially, the district claimed that these tests were simply trial versions, and that they planned to follow a similar model as the state. Despite an appalling lack of available computer time and tests that were riddled with poorly designed questions, inaccurate curriculum sequencing, and dysfunctional interactive elements, teachers struggled through administering and scoring the new tests at the end of the 1st trimester.
We were not warned that students would be re-directed automatically to a screen that reported their scores upon finishing these “trial” tests. Students scored uniformly poorly, and many were deeply upset at the sea of red “far below basics” that appeared at the end of the test. Many cried. Others responded by defensively saying that testing was “stupid” and “pointless”. Neither reaction is desirable, obviously. At least, students were relieved that the scores would not appear on their report cards. Most of the students at my site had always scored “proficient” or “advanced” in previous iterations of district and state tests.
At the end of the second trimester, the district issued equally poor tests. Students and teachers struggled through the process again. With only a week before report cards were to be printed, the district sent out an email that stated the second trimester test scores would be included on the report cards. After a strong push back from our 700 union members, including a threat to simply not print the reverse side of the report cards where the scores were to have been reported, the district backed off . . . or appeared to back off. Only days later, the district said that they would be mailing the scores individually to families, a process that will cost thousands of dollars.
During this same period, our local has been in the process of bargaining for an increase in compensation. Our district is receiving a 20% increase in ADA funding [average daily attendance–the formula used to calculate state funding] over three years, and our members haven’t received a raise in seven years while our benefits have eroded steadily. It’s hard to not feel as though this asinine push to get the test scores home to parents isn’t meant to undermine teachers as they bargain for improved compensation. Despite lip service from the district about the “terrific, highly qualified teachers they have,” the district has consistently chosen to ignore the “experts”, showing no interest in including teachers in any of the major decisions being made about new funding, new assessments, or new standards. By trying to undermine teachers with the parents of our students, the district is playing a divisive game that helps nobody and certainly gets us no closer to functional, useful assessments that can actually help to drive instruction in a meaningful way.