Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why do great teachers leave our profession? There are several reasons:

High-stakes testing:  First introduced as a way to measure the quality of education at schools, test scores have now become the educational goal at far too many schools.

What do these bubble-in-the-answer-test actually measure?  At their very best, they measure a child’s ability to identify a correct answer from a group of red-herrings.  Critical thinking, writing, analyzing, connecting, and using information in real-world ways; these skills are being pushed out in favor or low skilled, drill and memorize test prep.  Teachers enter our profession saying things like, “I want to teach children to read and love literature”, “I want to help children speak a foreign language”, “I want to watch children experiment with science and explore their world.”  No one every says, “I want to help children score higher on state-mandated tests.”

Unfortunately, that is what they are being asked to do.   Ten years ago, my then principal said, “Don’t worry about the tests.  We will never teach to the tests.  We teach our curriculum and the tests will take care of themselves.”  Five years later a different principal said, “This is not the cruise we signed up for.  But it is the cruise we’re on.”  Then, just last week, my principal said, “You know what your PowerStandards are.  The state has told us.  We know exactly how many test items apply to each standard.  The state has told us.  Those are the standards you should make sure to do a great job on.  Don’t worry about the others.  Now I know what some of you teachers are going to say, ‘Does that mean I am teaching to the tests?’  Yeah.  You are.”

In just ten years, I seen the progression from “We will never teach to the tests” to teaching to the tests.  I’ve seen dozens of self-styled educational experts come to my district with strategies and tools that are “research driven and shown to be effective.”  Which really means, these techniques raise tests scores.  I’ve seen teachers labeled ineffective because of chronically low test scores and other labeled effective because of high test scores.

I haven’t seen a teacher labeled great because her students can write creative essays or his students can research an excellent paper, or her students can conduct an outstanding experiment, or his students demonstrate the curiosity to ask questions and show the skills to find answers.  Lately, it’s been all about test scores.

I haven’t seen anyone ask the question, “At what costs?”  Sure this technique may raise test scores, but at what costs?  Sure this teacher has gotten her students test scores up, but at what costs?  Sure this school have great test scores, but at what costs? 

If test scores go up, but children do not remember what they have been taught, are we really better off?  If test scores go up, but children’s curiosity is lost, are we really better off?  If tests scores go up, but children learn that learning is memorizing facts for a test, are we really better off?  If we train a whole generation of people with amazing skills at finding a correct answer from a group of red herrings, are we really better off?

A future manager at Apple may ask this future engineer for a creative idea for the next iWhatever.  That engineer, with years of high-test scores behind her may say, “I can’t think of anything new or creative.  But if you put the correct answer here with three or four incorrect ones, I will totally spot the correct one.”  Are we really better off?

Tomorrow, tune in again, when our intrepid teacher comments about the harrowing adventures of new teachers in Non-Academic Needs Land!!!!!!!

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