What NPE Taught Me: Teaching, Testing and A Broken System

This past weekend, I was honored to meet and hear from some amazing champions of public education attending the Network for Public Education National Conference in Austin. Just when you think you have a grasp on this life of being an educator and parent, you realize that you don’t and that’s a good thing. I’ve never felt the “Texas bubble” more than I did in those conversations because we definitely share very different experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, we are FAR from perfect in Texas and the sad part is that in most cases we are not informed or even involved which begs the question…WHY?

When I first stepped into a classroom amidst whatever political drama was occurring at the time, I was basically told that I needed to worry about my classroom only and not those things that I couldn’t control. I am all about maintaining focus on the things that I can change, but to think that we have no voice…no say…is why we often times just don’t know. As a parent, we do a great deal of talking in places like church but very little movement to school board meetings and state offices where our “voting” words have weight. It’s a systemic problem of “hush and stay in your place”. We do that very well.

In a few hours, I not only understood my place better but I also have some amazing ideas about where to start…our broken system. Like it or not, there is a test and the results of that test weigh heavily on the backs of teachers and students. The system that we live in has truly become one that relies heavily on that test. It shows itself in the grade levels where students can be retained for non-mastery, the lessons that are constructed in order to prepare kids for testing, the professional development that is 100% given as a result of the test and in our graduation rates of high school kids. We literally live for the test.

Many, including myself, have been often critical of teachers when it’s not necessarily them but the system that needs major work. Until your job and future are on the line for a 4 hour limit… 65 multiple choice question test (plus 10 field questions)… you don’t get it. For a moment, I didn’t get it and I lived it. I complained about hearing, “we do tech after the test” and “We can’t use that technology because the kids can’t use it on the test”. I agree that it’s a terrible way to think but I at least get where that thinking is coming from. It’s the broken system…the stigma that jobs can be lost, students can be held back and schools can lose accreditation. For many schools, this is their reality.

I’m not anti-testing. I think that we do need accountability but that accountability should be more learner driven and it’s not. I love that our state cut the number of test at the high school level but more work needs to be done in minimizing it’s place in what classrooms do daily. I’ve talked to many teachers and admins over the years that focus on students very well but I wish that this was something that we could all do. We should.

What I learned this weekend is that I have to do better about not only my thinking but my approach in all of my roles…parent, advocate and teacher. We allow politicians into our classrooms by adopting a “teach to the test” mentality when if we only focused on students learning what they need and want to learn, that testing part should take care of itself.

The question that we must ask ourselves is this…

Until we can change the system, what can we do to support & amplify learning in spite of it…

While we focus on that which we CAN control, what then can we do to change that which is broken.

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