This is the night I used to dread as much as the night before the first student day. It wasn’t going back to work that was the problem. It was knowing what the weeks after Christmas break meant: test prep and the big push. In my former district, that’s what it was called: “the push.” We were tasked with writing push plans for the number of weeks between the first day back and the first day of the test; my final year of teaching, it was no longer called our “ten-week push plan” because there weren’t even ten full weeks’ worth of instructional days, so administration just called it our “push plan.” The entire district was scheduled for an in-service day because there was a large wrestling tournament held at the high school, and teachers used the day to write ten-week plans incorporating data, best practices, and the standards to get students ready for the tests. (No word on how losing an instructional day to a wrestling tournament helped student achievement, though.) Academic vocabulary and higher-order questions were the emphasis my final year. And, I would spend this night, the night before the first day back, fretting about the kids that I knew would not be ready, the instructional time lost to test prep, and all of the things I wanted to do with my students but was hesitant to do because of the tests.
Here’s the thing: the years that I spent using test prep materials and emphasizing test prep in my push plans turned out to be the lower test score years. In reality, my students’ test scores improved more during the years that I used novels and literature circles and journaling and creative writing and partner/group activities and the things that I wanted to do to inspire and engage students. The years that I made the test a part of our subconscious turned out to be better testing years. I was happier, my students were happier, and it just so happened that my administrators were happier when the numbers jumped. None of this surprised me, but nobody really wanted to hear the truth about what worked in my classroom.
When I taught in spite of the tests, when I had the data and the push plan in a folder on my desk but not in the forefront of my mind, my kids read more, wrote more, learned more, and understood more. The tests were just an afterthought and their higher scores were just one result instead of THE result.
This won’t work for everyone. Teachers have administrators breathing down their necks, asking what they are doing to prepare students and how they are accomplishing the push, and demanding they show data that is aligned to all of the test prep materials and assessments. I didn’t throw my rebellion in anyone’s face; I just quietly did what I knew was best for my students and myself. It kept us sane in the midst of the testing madness.
Pledge to break out of the cookie-cutter testing mold this second semester. Dare to use engaging lessons and strategies. Invite creativity back into the classroom. I urge you to opt out of testing and to share opt-out information with parents. The least you can do is opt your students and yourself out of the test prep craziness. Do your students and yourself a favor and do what you know works. You know your students. You know what they need. After all, you are a professional.
Teachers know better than anyone what kids need, despite what many of the headlines and social media chatter have been saying lately. With all of the hashtag backlash after Arne Duncan’s ridiculous tweet and his online education discussion with a pop singer, it is time to start a new trend. What do teachers know? Here are some ideas to get you started:
#WeKnow kids need to be inspired
#WeKnow kids need the arts
#WeKnow kids need foreign language
#WeKnow kids need libraries
#WeKnow kids rely on school breakfast and lunch programs
#WeKnow technology is a tool and not a solution
#WeKnow the toxic effects of high-stakes testing
#WeKnow kids need local public schools
#WeKnow kids rely on school nurses and guidance counselors
#WeKnow education reform is not about kids
You may not keep your New Year’s resolutions. But, you can pledge to take back your classroom, to be the teacher you want to be, and to show everyone what teachers do, in fact, know about teaching. #WeKnow.