I have been very frustrated lately. It seems that I eat, sleep, and breathe test prep. I dream of numbers--seriously. Data flashes through my brain as I try to get a good night's rest. I pick apart data with a fine toothed comb and always come to the same conclusion: I don't have enough time to adequately prepare my middle school students for the new, more "rigorous" high-stakes ISTEP test, and each time I look at the data, I feel like I've failed them in some way.
Between the multiple rounds of Acuity in all subject areas to prepare for the ISTEP test, four rounds of SRI to measure student reading levels, WIDA testing, the state mandated practice ISTEP test, the two rounds of the actual ISTEP test, and the test prep in which we engage, I lose countless instructional hours. Throw in the days that school is closed due to inclement weather and other interruptions that take students out of the classroom, and I am set back even further.
I've talked extensively with other educators and hear the frustration in their voices as well. What happened to building a love of learning in our students? What about the time we used to take to truly build relationships with our students and work on team-building activities? This is key to the socialization of middle school students, but that time has been taken away. It seems that now the focus is solely on test scores. School grades, teacher pay, and jobs are all linked to these test scores. The unveiling of the Common Core and Indiana Academic Standards means a longer, more rigorous test that involves more complex reading, as well as questions that require a deeper level of thinking. However, we do not have adequate time within the classroom to get our students to this higher level of thinking with every single standard.
Let's not forget about what this is doing to our students. The stress and frustration on their faces is enough to break even the toughest critic's heart. I have too many students having anxiety attacks at school. I haven't done any scientific research, but I am inclined to believe that part of it is because of the amount of stress that they feel over the constant focus on test scores. Other students go the other way and become apathetic. They openly confess that after awhile, they just "click any answer so that [they] can finish". ( Do you know any school-aged children? Ask them if they've ever done this. You may be surprised by their response.) Then, of course, there's the elimination of a full year of science and social studies. This is detrimental to the students and causes them to lack the background knowledge needed to understand complex text that is related to these subjects.
The cry of many educators is, "this isn't why I got into teaching." The outrage felt at what's being done to our students festers like a nasty sore. We have a variety of students coming to us from different backgrounds and with different types of baggage. Are we really helping them by making the standardized assessments harder and then penalizing the schools when enough students don't pass? Is it to their benefit to be so focused on testing that we forget about the well-being of the whole child? What are we to do?
The other day, one of my former students walked into my classroom. This is a girl who was reading far below grade level when she was in middle school. My colleagues and I worked extensively with her over the years, and when she came into my room, she said with a big smile, "Mrs. Miller, I have enough credits to graduate early." This young woman did NOT pass the ISTEP test as a 6th grader. Had my colleagues and I relied only on the data, we may have given up on her and focused more on students who were closer to passing. But none of us believed that this was in the best interest of the students. We continued to teach her and work with her, and she was able to stay in school and reach her goal of graduating.
This is what it is all about, friends. I remind myself of this when I feel overwhelmed and discouraged. All we can do is the best we can with the time and resources that we've been given. Hang in there, fellow educators. Keep fighting for your students. You are making a difference.