Three weeks into the school year and I am busy preparing for my classes. Today, though, I am not preparing an actual lesson for the four out of six classes that I teach; I am instead preparing to spend those four hours a day working on other aspects of my teaching responsibilities (writing Advanced Learning Plans, planning future lessons) because I have to take each and every one of my sophomore classes to testing all week. Why do I have to do this? Because 74% of my students qualify for free and reduced lunches. No one, however, wants to talk about this or even admit it.
Let me take a step back and explain. I work (note that I do not say "teach") for a school district near Denver Colorado, one that has a population of 77% Hispanics. For the past few years, the District has posted almost no gains on the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), and so to remedy that issue, they have enacted many policies aimed at changing that lack of upward trend. Among those policies are: Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing four times a year – with each testing round taking a week, with the goals of providing the District with more "data" to improve their curriculum focus, and also to predict what the students’ CSAP scores will be. Each high school teacher must also follow rigidly structured curriculum documents which focus on Colorado state standards – excuse me – the standards most tested by the CSAP. More on that to follow.
Having provided that background information, I must of course revert to the original issue: my students are so frequently tested because they are of low socio-economic status, but no one admits this. The comparable high school in Boulder, Colorado, one that offers the same programs, only has a free and reduced lunch percentage of 4.5, and their percentage of "Students of Color" rests at a modest 15. In this Boulder school, because their CSAP test scores remain high, these students do not participate in such "rigorous" testing practices in order to produce "data" for the school district.
I repeat all of this information to say two things, and here’s one of them: the constant testing of students to produce "data" reduces them to the worst of things – a "Return on Investment" or ROI, a term quite common in the business world. The "business" definition of ROI is "the most common profitability ratio." Interestingly enough, I spent enough time in that world when I was paying my way through college (paying being a loose term as I now have a significant amount of student debt) to know what it really means. A businessperson or manager – or, in this case, Superintendent – expects to put a certain amount of effort into the business, in order to get a certain return, or to keep a job. In the case of my students, they are subjected to a rigorously-structured curriculum, as well as testing four times a year, all in order to produce numbers – numbers that someone who does not know my students will analyze in order to decide how proficient they are at taking a test – not necessarily at thinking.
My second point in this is that if the system treats students of low socio-economic income – or any income, for that matter – as ROI, then it deprives them of the same educational opportunities that those students who constantly achieve high marks on the CSAP – such as those in Boulder – already receive, and therefore results in a perpetual cycle.
Due to the CSAP (the current ultimate determinant of ROI), I have certain things that I must teach my students at certain times of the year, all in preparation for said test. To make sure I do this, an administrator – either of the school or district level – comes to my classroom at least every Tuesday to check my board (which the students hardly even glance at) and make sure that what I’m saying actually matches up to my goals that must be posted on the board every day. All of this to build a foundation for that precious Return on Investment.
I guess I wanted to write this to say three things, and this last one is most important to me: I want to teach. I want to teach my students to think critically, to come up with new ideas, and to be problem-solvers because goodness knows our country has enough problems. I had a problem: I didn’t like the layout of the desks in my room, but a student who had more of a vision for such a thing figured out where they should go, and now my students work better because their desks are arranged in a smarter way. (Yes, I know I’m a teacher, but visual-spatial was never one of my strong points). However, that particular skill utilized by my student is not on a standardized test, nor was it on my board, and if the administration had walked through as we were re-arranging the desks, I undoubtedly would have received no check-marks on my walk-through evaluation form.
And now for the caveat: I know I have proposed no solutions, and I know that there are greater issues at play, and that I’ve included merely a microcosm of the problem. However, I feel that if perhaps one person at least talks about it, and then others read about a true-life situation going on right now, then maybe more people will start to pay attention, and maybe something can be done to solve this problem.