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“Two teachers sitting and talking”

July 21, 2010

This opinion piece, from a teacher in Colorado Springs, is a simple but telling summary of many of the issues that troubled Colorado teachers this past school year.

There’s the ever-present anxiety over test scores:

“I’m pretty sure we won’t score well on this year’s CSAP, either,” he mused, smearing a bit of Devonshire cream on his orange scone, “we’ll stay on the watch list for another year, and I don’t know what’ll happen.”

“Mmm, I don’t know either. It’s an annual tragedy for me, going through the process. My kids try so hard, it makes tears come to my eyes, but the learning disabilities they have make it so hard for them to understand the complicated language of the directions.

“Plus,” I continued, “over the years, I’ve come to believe it’s kind of insane to expect the kids to do their best on these tests, when how they perform doesn’t affect their lives one bit. Until we make their advancement in school somehow dependent on their progress on the tests, why in the world should they try? What do they get out of it?”

and the stress over new legislation:

“Well, yeah, but the tests aren’t supposed to assess the kids, they’re supposed to evaluate the teachers and schools. And I guess now they’ll help to decide if we keep our tenure,” David said.

“And that’s a mystery to me, how they’ll make the decision in my case as a special educator,” I said.

“Some of my kids do OK on CSAP’s, but others stay in the unproficient range – but show progress, sometimes significant progress, on other nationally normed tests – so will they look at those, or will they decide on my tenure with just CSAP scores? Cause if they just look at the state test, I’m sunk.”

and of course, the trouble with runaway administrators:

“I guess Mike Miles (the superintendent) said that just because none of her evaluations were unsatisfactory, that doesn’t mean she was a satisfactory teacher,” David said. “But I thought that was kind of the definition of satisfactory – not unsatisfactory! I mean, it sounds like everyone told the teacher she was doing fine, and then all of a sudden she didn’t have a job. That doesn’t seem right.”

While I disagree with some parts (For instance, the standardized tests currently used in public schools were not designed to assess teacher performance, and can’t reliably do so; and K-12 teachers don’t get tenure, they get due process rights), I can certainly identify with the feelings of confusion the author conveys. And though many of us–teachers, parents, etc.– rightly disagree about what should be going on in schools, I think we can all agree that confusing the people responsible for educating children can’t be good for students.

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