I wrote this piece to the members of the Board of Education in Massachusetts to be read today, prior to a vote which would tie student test scores to teacher evaluations. Ann O’Halloran, an educator in Waltham, was collecting statements like mine from teachers across the Commonwealth and would be present at the Board of Education to give our words a voice. So here it is for you to read, wherever you live – because data and testing are the catch words of the decade and reformers everywhere are using them to vilify the very people they have trained and encouraged to teach our children without addressing the real issues of poverty and educational equity. Comments are welcomed.
While teachers may be able to control the security of materials, the testing environment, and the tools used for MCAS, here’s what we cannot control: the will of each student to try on the test, the school attendance of each student in the months prior to the test, the student’s ability to understand the questions being asked, or the environment each student comes from before the test takes place. Ask any teacher and he/she will tell you how they have observed students scrawling foul language on an open response answer sheet (due to frustration or apathy), or simply making a pattern with the circles they are tasked with coloring in on an answer sheet, with no reading of the questions taking place prior. The anxieties and home environments of many of our students are of more concern to many students than the government-imposed standardized testing that has become the answer du jour to measure student learning and teacher accountability. Shall we now be forced to beg our students to try because our jobs depend upon their scores?
As a special needs teacher, I cringe when MCAS time comes, because I know that I will see increased anger, anxiety, and out of control behaviors no matter how many accommodations I am allowed to provide for my students. A brilliant mathematician may score poorly on the math MCAS simply because his reading level is not up to par. A talented writer may write a substandard response to a writing prompt having to do with a family vacation, because she lives with her aunt in a subsidized housing development and has never been on a vacation. There is too much which cannot be controlled by the teacher or the district to put such blind faith in a single test to determine a professional teacher’s worth to her students and her district. Our students are people, not products that can be manipulated and redrawn to become “new and improved” like a shampoo or tile cleaner. They will take the MCAS because they are told they must, but they will not put forth their best effort if they are frustrated or unmotivated to do so. That is something we cannot teach, and as such is not a proper indicator of teacher value.