Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Say "Sayonara" to the Japanese Language Program at Langston Hughes Elementary

Banner at the entrance to our school reads: "Welcome to Langston Hughes Elementary"
For the first time in fifteen years, the students at Langston Hughes Elementary School in Chicago did not participate in a Japanese World Language program. Hughes is a high-poverty school in the heart of the African-American Southside neighborhood of Roseland. This school has had a special relationship with the Japanese Consulate which provided a unique opportunity to study the language and culture of Japan, allowed students to participate in local Japan-related activities, and most strikingly, brought a group of students and staff from Langston Hughes to visit Japan each year free of charge to the participants.

Fourth graders created some Haiku as a "secret assignment"
 we completed on a day when no substitute was available
This year, I was hired to fill the Japanese Language Teaching position. I was to replace a sweet, older Japanese women who decided to retire after experiencing the chaos of trying to teach in a receiving school after Mayor Rahm Emanuel viciously closed 50 schools in 2013. When I hear stories of the fights, the anarchy in the hallways and lunchroom, and the tumult for the staff trying to survive resulting in a mass exodus the next year, I am not surprised to hear she chose to leave.

Due to the destabilization of the school closing and consolidation process, Langston Hughes saw a decline in their test scores and attendance rates which led to receiving the lowest possible rating, a Level 3. Our administration and Network reacted with an obsessive focus on improving test scores. They asked me to begin the year filling a special education position until they could hire a replacement. Our staff spent countless hours pouring over test score data, creating lesson plans aligned to a meticulous test-prep focused pacing guide, and shifted most after-school programs to either a remedial or test-prep focus instead of enrichment activities such as art or dance. If you were to walk into our classrooms, you would see kids doing often content-free, skills-based, tedious work. There are no projects, science experiments, or even the study of history. The fights continue and there is little joy in our building for students or staff alike.

And so, in the name of higher test scores, the Japanese Program has been discontinued. I never taught a day. At first, the hope was that it was only a temporary break, but it is looking more and more like the program is gone forever.

I had such high hopes...

A small portion of the Japanese curricular materials
and Read-Alouds
I had planned to build a culture-focused curriculum with language infused throughout that began with the students' lived experiences. I had hoped to infuse art, music, dance, math, science, history, and literature into the lessons. I had purchased a whole curriculum series from Australia, bought dozens of Japan-related Read-Alouds, and invested in numerous games, toys, and cultural objects. A friend connected me with a former Japanese elementary teacher who gave me hundreds of flash cards and lesson plan ideas. I bought numerous CDs of Japanese music and collected age-appropriate songs to facilitate
Flashcards, projects, and lesson plans have been
sitting unused all year
teaching the language. I ordered DVDs such as The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Happy Family Plan to have movie events. I had planned a Japanese website where we could share projects and videos. I reached out to current teachers of English in Japan to setup real time language exchanges. I started researching ideal spots for field trips such as the Mitsuwa Marketplace and Japanese Gardens. I planned to organize cultural events like "Multicultural Day", "Japan Day", or a "Japanese Sports Festival." I had begun to reach out to Japanese guests to share Taiko, Awa Odori Dance, Calligraphy, and Martial Arts.
A small fraction of games/materials 

I had ideas around examining critical issues in both countries such as race/racism/xenophobia, testing mania, and bullying. I was planning a cumulative video project with each class contributing a small section entitled "Our Community, Our City, Our Country" that we could bring on our annual trip abroad to share a more complete view of Chicago and The United States.  Students could take pride in their community as they shared who they are with our partners in Japan.

I was genuinely excited to teach this subject, to continue this truly special program, to bring kids-some of whom have never left their neighborhood-across the sea.

But, no. Thanks to the school closings, thanks to high-stakes testing, thanks to Common Core, all of that is shattered.  This program is lost forever to these children, only to be replaced by joyless, motivation-killing test prep.

Sayonara.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Teachers: How We Treat Each Other Matters

Teachers are under attack. We know how our profession is being dismantled, our job protections are being systematically removed, and our working conditions are becoming ever more deplorable.

Many teachers are suffering serious depression, anxiety, and health problems as a result of these attacks.  We are suffering.

And yet, I continue to hear some teacher activists make disparaging comments and display underlying hatred towards our fellow teacher colleagues.

The other day, in a CORE meeting, there was a panel on Opting Out of testing.  During the panel, a student shared how her activist teacher convinced many of the Middle School students to Opt Out.  However, she also explained how they had to do this action “behind their teachers’ backs.”   I do not know the details of this action, but it raised a red flag to me.

What do we think about teacher activists who despise their colleagues?  Who do not bother to listen to colleagues and organize them? 

We hear it all the time.  “The teachers in my building won’t DO anything.”  “These teachers just don’t get it!” Complaints about biases and misconceptions, even racism or sexism.  And I have to wonder, what have YOU done to organize in your building?  Have you bothered to listen to your brothers and sisters fairly and respectfully, to attempt to understand where their ideas might be coming from?  Frankly, our union has been absolutely consumed by electoral politics for nearly the whole school year while the rank and file has been suffering under ever worsening conditions.  Who is listening the teachers’ pain?  And why should teachers risk their careers for whatever activist concern is in vogue? Who is teaching the teachers?  

Teachers are a diverse bunch who bring with them all the same biases and prejudices as any other segment of society.  Not everyone among our ranks has a deep analysis about race or critical pedagogy or issues like testing or education justice issues.  But the best way to challenge people on their ideas is to bring them into the movement.  It is through the struggle that we learn. 

How we treat one another matters.  We will never all agree, but we can approach one another with respect and caring.  Karen Lewis often challenges members to ask the question, “Does this unite us, does it build our strength, and does it give us power?”

And when I see some of the nasty comments about fellow rank and file teachers both in our activist spaces and online, I think the clear answer is “No, this does not unite us, it does not build our strength, and it does not give us power.”  There is nothing more divisive than the haughty self-righteousness of activists who “know-it-all”.  That smug, arrogant tweet or teacher-bashing comment in passing is simply not OK.  Someone took the time to educate you on the issues that matter.  Give others that chance. 

I keep thinking, what does it mean for people in the Caucus of Rank and File Educators to show outward contempt for actual rank and file educators? 

So activist teachers, please remember to be patient and kind when working with fellow teachers and staff.  Yes, challenge others.  But save time and energy to get to know our workers on the ground, to build relationships, to have those challenging conversations in a context of trust.

And remember, to attack our colleagues instead of organizing them is anti-union.

Let’s focus on who the real enemies are: The 1% who seek to destroy our profession, the neoliberal ideologues pushing austerity, school closings, and privatization, the union busters and those employed by the corporate reform movement. Let's keep building solidarity in the many inter-related fights for justice happening around our city and around the globe.


A contract fight is coming.  It’s time for unity and strength.  CTU! CTU! CTU!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

How &*%$ed Up is PARCC!?!

The Chicago Public Schools testing window for the first round of PARCC testing is set to begin in just over one week, from March 9th-April 2nd.  No one yet knows whether we will be forced to administer this exam.  Everyone at my school is on edge, wondering what will happen.  For now, all we know is that we need to prepare for this test as if it is happening, despite no official word from CPS.

Yesterday, we were all forced to sign a "Test Security Agreement and Schedule" and were informed that our whole staff will be required to take a mandatory, paid, after-school PD on PARCC.  Our administrators have also told us that all classes grades 3-8 will need to take the practice tests next week.  Some classes started administering these practice tests this past week, but gave up after an hour or so when students had only progressed through less than seven questions.

The scheduling alone is proving to be a logistical nightmare. The first "round" of PARCC consists of:
  • PBA Language Arts (3 Units): 105 minutes, 120 minutes, and 90 minutes
  • PBA Mathematics (2 units): 120 minutes and 105 minutes
(I thank the people who spoke at the ISBE PARCC hearings, because despite the fact that I'm expected to administer this ridiculous test in a few days, I had no idea how the test was divided up.)   And then there is another round of testing done at the end of the year:
  • EOY Language Arts (2 units): 90 minutes and 90 minutes
  • EOY Mathematics (2 units): 110 minutes and 105 minutes
Now, we just completed our Middle of the Year NWEA testing (the window was 1/5/15-1/29/15) and that in itself was highly disruptive and fraught with technical and logistical problems despite being a less time-consuming and less technologically demanding test compared to PARCC.  For NWEA, classes one by one took the test in the Library making that space unavailable for students or staff for nearly a month.  Our students with special needs were supposed to be tested in a separate locations, but as only our school counselor had access to the administration of the test, we ended up having to walk back and forth multiple times just to get the kids successfully into the program.  A bunch of our computers malfunctioned as well, sometimes kicking students off the test mid-way through causing mad scrambles to search out help during testing sessions.

And scheduling was a mess for students and staff for much of that testing window.  For example, at our school the 7th and 8th grade teachers are departmentalized (one teacher teaches Reading, one Math, one Social Studies to all the 7th and 8th grade students.)  So when one of the four classes was testing the other students could not switch classes as that teacher was with her homeroom class.  That meant, for an entire week, the seventh and eighth grade classes stayed in their homeroom class and did not receive instruction in any other subject but the subject taught by that teacher.  That homeroom teacher also was given the extra burden of figuring out activities for the students which they normally only saw one hour a day.

For special education, the scheduling problems were doubled.  All of our special education teachers teach more than one grade level.  So, when I was forced to administer tests to my students with special needs in one grade, the students in the other grades did not receive their IEP minutes.  For the teachers who teach self-contained classes, it was even worse, as their students who weren't testing had to spend the whole day in their general education classes, classes already burdened with being stuck in their homerooms all day, doing little work of value as a result.

Now that was just the NWEA which requires each class to take two testing sessions (one Reading, one Math).  The PARCC requires FIVE testing sessions this round alone.  And for each of those sessions at every grade level, students with special needs will need accommodations including testing in a separate location-space our school which was recently combined with a closed school after the school closings simply does not have,   These tests will throw off regular scheduling for nearly the entire window-that's almost four weeks of instruction.  Nevermind the large number of students who will need the make-up testing (our school, like many high-poverty schools, has low attendance and high mobility) and will miss instruction even after the regular testing ends.

And the end of the year testing schedule is even worse where PARCC and NWEA will overlap. The EOY schedule for PARCC is 4/27/15-5/22/15 and the NWEA is 5/11/15-6/12/15. Can someone explain to me how it is OK to put our school in utter disarray from April 27th until June 12th??  For the entire year so far, this means we would have the disrupted schedules for 4 weeks in January, 4 weeks in March, and 7 weeks in April, May, and June. That's fifteen weeks of testing!!!!  How many missed IEP minutes? How much lost instruction?  Our kids won't have access to our beautiful Library for months! 

And I haven't even touched upon the many ways these tests completely warp the learning in our school when we aren't actively testing.  PARCC and testing obsessions are destroying the joy of learning.  Nor have I talked about the massive amounts of money on these tests, the online test prep programs, and the technology upgrades being implemented solely to take these monstrous tests.  And the inappropriate and arbitrary raising of the difficulty of these tests guaranteed to fail most students, will cause all kinds of mental health and political repercussions.

There is no excuse for implementing this test  None. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

How the Sorting Game Hurts

Chicago has a long, racist history of sorting kids by race and class, thanks largely to highly-segregated housing patterns.  But the neoliberal push for "school choice" has created a chaotic marketplace of schools in my city which has exacerbated this massive sorting process further by adding new layers of sorting by attributes like test score taking ability and behavior/special needs.

WBEZ's Linda Lutton beautifully documented this new phenomenon in the report The Big Sort:

From WBEZ: http://www.wbez.org/news/big-sort-110502 
And I've been thinking a lot of about what this massive sorting mechanism that is the public schools looks like down at the grassroots level, such as the small elementary school where I teach on Chicago's southside.  Seems to me that it ultimately hurts the kids who are "sorted" to the bottom the most.

Kids as "Liabilities"

The idea of shopping around for a school has become second nature for many Chicago parents. Schools spend more and more energy on "recruiting" parents through marketing campaigns and school fairs, but importantly, schools are looking for the "right kind of student".  Charters, Magnets, and Selective Enrollments are screening on the front end (recruiting process) and the back end (pushout, expulsion) for students who will get good test scores, have fewer behavior problems, and raise the prestige of their schools.

However, this mad scramble for the kids schools consider to be assets, begs the question of what to do about the other kids, the kids everyone now considers "liabilities" to their rankings and image.  Even at the micro-neighborhood level, there is a push to stack the deck in your school's favor.  As the number of students enrolling in schools outside their attendance boundary increases, schools may take or refuse kids depending on the principal's discretion. This leads to an even further sorting of students based on ability, test scores, and special education status.  And this sorting has dire implications when your school rating determines the fate of your school to operate autonomously or whether it stays open at all.

According to members of my staff, my elementary school has become the local "catch-all" in the neighborhood.  Teachers with colleagues in nearby schools have overheard parents being told, "Go to Langston Hughes, they'll take you."  Apparently, everyone knows which schools are the--and I hate to use this phrase, but it was what was reported to me--"dumping schools".  Now, I have no idea how accurate these rumors are, but I think the way people discuss schools locally is important.  There is a perception that some schools are "better" than others, and this perception is largely based on how well the school manages to "sort" out the tougher to educate students.

And I have noticed how a disproportionate number of students transferring in to our school have high numbers of IEP minutes leaving us with significantly more students with special needs than surrounding schools.  Our school currently has a special education population of about 24% while the nearby neighborhood schools have between 8%-14%, with the charters and magnet schools serving the least numbers of students with disabilities.  Part of that difference is explained by our pre-school blended program, but that program is not nearly big enough to account for all the difference.  If schools were truly taking students randomly, there should be pretty similar levels of special education students in every school, especially within a specific geographical region.

Choosing Between Good And Bad ClientsA large part of the differences between schools and their school ratings seems to be explained by how well administrators "screen" kids.  In fact, there are teachers at my school who complain that our principal "just lets anybody in."  And given the fact that our school is one of just 26 other elementary schools in the district to be given a "Level 3" status, the lowest school rating possible, this difference matters.  For better or worse, teachers know that the fate of the school is on the line.

And it seems clear to me how the school was already at a disadvantage after being a receiving school and having another local elementary school folded in with our existing one last year after fifty schools were closed causing massive chaos and disruption. According to the residents in the neighborhood,  the kids from the closing school came from the "tougher" part of the community, even though they were just a few blocks away.  The families were just a little worse off, housing was just a little more unstable, and violence was just a little more prevalent.  Again, these micro-level differences matter in a cutthroat competitive environment.

A School Dream Deferred

And then there's the "consequences" of being one the lowest tiered schools which demonstrably worsens the experience of schooling for students and staff alike.  Everything is dictated to us from above, with no autonomy to tailor lessons to our unique students' needs.  There is a testing obsession-absolute obsession-as we desperately try to raise test scores.  Every meeting, award ceremony, assembly, or discussion centers on test scores and test scores alone.  Since we are a "Level 3" school, our Network is constantly in our building mandating bad practice over which we have no control.  We are forced to use multiple computer programs guaranteed to "get those scores up!"  We must teach in the most formulaic way possible.  We must do the exact opposite of what we know our students actually need and deserve.

So our students are subjected to dry, disjointed, test-centric curriculum.  They are told over and over how they are nothing more than a test score and even our student conferences center around these scores.  Our kids with special needs are repeatedly being given inappropriate material and pacing guides all in the name of raising test scores.  "The diverse learners are bringing us down" our special education department is told over and over again.  Projects, field trips, and foreign language programs are being abandoned as they take away from the test prep.  As the curriculum becomes more and more tedious and inappropriately "rigorous," behavior problems worsen causing the school to react with stricter discipline and punishments.  We are forced to do everything wrong in the name of raising test scores.

Being at the bottom of the heap means every bad ed reform out there is fed to us on steroids.  From Common Core, to edtech, to Teach For America, to data-driven obsessions, to oppressive discipline...we have it all.  It's a vicious cycle where our low rating causes the school to be forced to do bad practices which leads to more bad ratings.

So when people complain about my school being the "bad" school, there is truth in that statement.  But that "bad" designation is one manufactured by competitive "choice" policies and solidified by top-down reform.

I try to imagine a world where kids are allowed to be kids.  Where schools that serve needier kids, kids who have experienced more trauma and upheaval than most adults, would be wrapped in love instead of bounced around schools like an unwanted pet.  I imagine a place where a child's negative behavior is seen with understanding instead of the fear of bringing down the entire school.  I imagine a world where kids are welcome no matter where they go and aren't viewed as a "liability" ever.  I imagine a world where we acknowledge the differences among kids and celebrate those different strengths and weaknesses, instead of using them to juke the stats.  I imagine a world where the students who need the most are given the best education we have, instead of the very worst of test-prep, lock-down torture.

But I don't live in that world.  I live in Rahm's Chicago.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Don't Know How to Teach Under EdReform


It's formal observation time at my elementary school.  In the Chicago Public Schools, we have a new evaluation system that mandates a lengthy, complicated, and ridiculous process of administrators going into classrooms for formal observations at least three times a year for nontenured teachers like myself.  During those observations, administrators are expected to record every little detail they observe over a forty-five minute period of time and then use these "snapshots" as a large part of our total evaluation.

In order to prepare for this observation, I was forced to create a very specific type of lesson, one carefully aligned to the Common Core State Standards and that follows our mandatory pacing guide dictated by our Network.  I was expected to demonstrate that I used student data to guide my instruction.  I needed to follow a very regimented lesson plan format that left virtually no room for creativity on my part.

I told myself I could make the lesson at least somewhat engaging for my students.  I purposefully picked a high-interest reading passage that was culturally relevant to my students to use as my model and practice guide. I chose a fun, game-like way to introduce the skill as if that could mask the stink of what I was asking my students to actually do.

But it was after delivering this lesson, with a slight gleam of sweat on my brow from the anxiety of such an intense and punitive process, that I realized, I have no idea how to teach this way.

I don't know how to teach without context.  I don't know how to teach reading without centering literature at the heart of it. I don't know how to teach the discreet "skills" of reading according to standards which tell me I must teach how to infer, how to compare/contrast, how to analyze author's technique completely divorced from the content.  I don't know how to teach without inspiration or creativity.  I don't know how to teach to data points.  I have no idea how to go through a whole lesson without acknowledging my students for what they bring to the table instead of simply assessing if they left that table with the meaningless new "skill" lodged momentarily in their brains.

I did not learn to read by filling out a graphic organizer on plot structure.  No one forced the ten-year-old me to repeat back literary terms or dissect a reading comprehension passage as if this was what reading is all about.

I read because I love it.  My earliest memories of reading were of wonder, and curiosity, of staying up too late in bed with a book I couldn't put down.

It's true.  I must be a "bad teacher".  Because I don't know how to teach under edreform.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Forget Winter, PARCC Is Coming...

My school is drowning under the ridiculous Common Core Standards.  Everything I know to do to inspire my students is forbidden.  Instead, we are forced to deliver truly horrible curriculum in developmentally inappropriate ways with pacing charts that move so fast all our heads are spinning.  My students with special needs are shutting down, acting out, or just giving up entirely.  Sometimes I hear them whisper, "I hate school".   And they are right to think that.  All the teachers are upset.  And every time we ask "Why? Why are you making us do this?" the answer is always the same.  PARCC is coming.

Today I read a piece about PARCC on Diane Ravitch's blog called Bob Shepherd: Why PARCC Testing is Meaningless and Useless which hit on something I don't feel like we've been talking about enough.  Mr. Shepherd complains how PARCC and the Common Core are truly warping what reading means.  He says, "...these are tests of literature that for the most part skip over the literature, tests of the reading of informative texts that for the most part skip over the content of those texts."   I haven't heard many people complain about our skill-based reading instruction that has been in vogue since before CCSS, but now under the new standards is bad literacy on speed.  We are teaching reading without enjoying words, or thoughts, or the context that created the stories we read.  Even when we choose beautiful pieces of literature, they become lifeless vehicles to teach a dry, decontextualized skill.

For the past two weeks, my co-teacher and I were teaching off the standard that asks our fifth graders to compare and contrast two pieces of literature from the same genre.   In my inclusion classroom, that looks like reading two myths without any teaching around what myths are, about Ancient Greece, about how the myths point to our own humanity.  No, we are told to have the kids create a Venn diagram of the two texts and then practice writing a constructed response.  The kids have no idea who Zeus or Hera are.  They know nothing about the way myths were used to explain religion and nature to an ancient people.  There is no chance to connect these ancient stories to the kids' own lives.  I hear the kids mutter, "Why are theses such funny names?"  But because we are on a strict pacing guide, and because the teaching of Greek Mythology is not in the standard, we simply moved on.  This week we're on to comparing poems.  In order to practice more constructed responses.  To get ready for PARCC.

I cannot believe how we are warping the experience of reading for these children.  Sometimes we are told to do a "close read"of stirring passages about the Underground Railroad for the sole purpose of pulling out the main idea and supporting details. We don't actually talk about the Underground Railroad-letting the horror of slavery sink in.  No, it's simply about getting the skill, so the kids can demonstrate the same skill on the dreaded test.  What a ridiculous disservice.  I still remember my fourth grade teacher reading us a novel on Harriet Tubman and how that story was one of my first understandings of true injustice.  We were inspired to create art projects, to write poetry, to pull out further texts on slavery from our library.   We had class discussions.  We wrote letters.  We felt the text come alive.  Our kids are not getting anything remotely like that experience.   Because of PARCC.

And to make things worse, I teach at an all African-American school in a high-poverty neighborhood on Chicago's southside.   Killing the love of reading before it starts for my students is nothing short of criminal.  But because of the high-stakes nature of PARCC, knowing that schools just blocks away have been closed for their poor test scores, our school is in a sickening frenzy to raise our test scores by any means necessary.  Everything revolves around this test.  And my students who so desperately need safe, supportive, relevant, and engaging learning environments, instead are given high-pressured, standardized, test-prep CCRAP.

This type of readicide is not new because of PARCC.  Schools under high-stakes accountability have been forced into this twisted form of reading instruction for many years.  But things are getting worse, so much worse.  Thanks to PARCC.

Any chance that kids get to become enthralled in a story, to become spellbound by a fictional world, to be pulled into the past through powerful prose, is done through teachers secretly stealing time for that wonderment.  It is not in the standards.  It won't be on the test.  And it's definitely not in PARCC.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How Testing is Destroying My School

Testing is out of control in our schools.  I knew this before I stepped back into a public school classroom this past September after teaching for many years in a psychiatric hospital.  But seeing the testing obsession play out in students’ and teachers’ lives…well, I simply was not prepared. 

In just the first six weeks of school, I have administered more pointless, random, unnecessarily difficult tests to my students than I can count.  We have barely had more than two consecutive days to simply teach where we were not interrupted by some ridiculous mandated assessment. There’s the REACH (for teacher evaluation purposes only), On-Demand Writing Tasks, tests that go to our network, tests for the district, tests because our school in on probation, and placement tests to use the TWO online test prep programs our school is forced to use weekly.  These tests are not aligned to the curriculum, they don’t measure what we are actually learning in class, they are not tied to a broader unit of study.  These are tests just to feed the data monsters.

And thanks to Common Core, these tests are PURPOSEFULLY too difficult for the students.  We are told kids should be frustrated and learn to “persevere”.   They need exposure to “complex text”.  And we need to measure what they don’t know so we can measure what they learn.  But the reality is the kids are upset, they are demoralized, they are learning that they are no good at school and that defeat plays out in their behaviors.  The school is in a constant state of unrest and anger-fights breaking out, kids acting out to disrupt class, and the school lives under a veil of surveillance and punishment.  A climate of pressured, high-stakes testing is exactly the opposite of what our kids need.

And it’s not just the tests, it’s also the test prep.   We have not one, but two online test prep programs our school is mandated to use weekly.   45 mins per week, per subject, plus an assessment in one program and completion of 2-3 “lessons” in another used directly for math.  These expensive programs are basically test prep questions presented in a video game format.  Get the “right” answer and earn coins to play games.  In some classes, these programs take up as much as 40% of instructional time each week.  Even our little kindergartners are forced to get on iPads and practice taking tests.  Our Early Childhood teachers know this is wrong.  In fact, all our teachers know this is wrong.  But the answer to every question we ask is…”because this is what they need to know for PARCC (the Common Core aligned test.)”

And I haven’t even gotten into the numerous and constant technical problems with these programs.  “My iPad doesn’t work.” “I can’t remember my password.”  “I’m new to the school and don’t have a password.” “I can’t get on the internet.”  “The program keeps logging me out.” “My iPad is all in Japanese.” We waste probably 20-30 minutes per use just on technical difficulties.  While I love the use of authentic, meaningful  technology in the classroom, I hate, I HATE edtech.  But Silicon Valley is no doubt making a bundle on the backs of my students.

And what’s worse, I am a special education teacher, so my students are the most fragile of all.  And these tests are killing any possibility to motivate my kids.  There are only so many times I can repeat the mantra that “These don’t matter, guys!”  “Just do your best!” These tests are breaking the trust between me and my students.  It feels so unethical to day after day administer tests that are so far beyond their current abilities.  It’s like we’re giving these kids tests in Chinese, just to prove they don’t know any Chinese.  And they leave feeling just…dumb…because they couldn’t answer any of the questions.  I don’t even need the data these tests generate-they are so inappropriately hard, they tell me nothing of use.  Besides, I have a whole Individual Education Plan that tells me exactly what my kids need to work on. 

But still, every single week, here I am giving yet another absolutely disgusting test.  My kids bang their heads on desks, they cry, they whine, they give up and say “I’m done” in front of a blank answer sheet.  They fidget, they act out, they get in trouble just to get out of going to yet another class where they feel stupid. 

I feel dirty when I come home.  I wonder, “Should I start to boycott administering these tests?”  But I don’t have tenure.  Everyone tells me to lay low, to take the bold moves in three years when I've earned tenure.

Three years…how can I do this evil to children for three more years?

My school was already destabilized as a receiving school after Mayor Emanuel’s vicious school closings-undergoing massive changes in enrollment and staffing last year.  The neighborhood around us suffers from disinvestment, foreclosure, unemployment, crime, and poverty deeply impacting our students’ readiness to learn.  And instead of wrapping our kids in love and successes, we batter them with cruel, impossible tests. 

I think about how all this bogus data is going to be used to “prove” our school is failing.  Testing is so wildly out of control in my school because we are “on probation”-like so many other schools in low-income, African-American communities-and somehow this justifies these disgusting interventions.  We have a phenomenal staff and school leadership, but instead of being allowed to create a beautiful place of learning, we are forced to do wrong by these kids.  We are the hammer driving the nail into the coffin of this little school.  We are giving them the very information they may someday use to destroy us.

Anyone who says high-stakes testing and the Common Core don’t matter, you are wrong.  These policies are destroying my school.  They are destroying my profession.  They are destroying the bond between teacher and student.  The testing madness needs to stop.  Now.