By Susan J. Hobart
I’m a teacher. I’ve taught elementary school for eleven years. I’ve always told people, “I have the best job in the world.” I crafted curriculum that made students think, and they had fun while learning. At the end of the day, I felt energized. Today, more often than not, I feel demoralized.
While I still connect my lesson plans to students’ lives and work to make it real, this no longer is my sole focus. Today I have a new nickname: testbuster. Singing to the tune of “Ghostbusters,” I teach test-taking strategies similar to those taught in Stanley Kaplan prep courses for the SAT. I spend an inordinate amount of time showing students how to “bubble up,” the term for darkening those little circles that accompany multiple choice questions on standardized tests.
I am told these are invaluable skills to have.
I am told if we do a good job, our students will do well.
I am told that our district does not teach to the test.
I am told that the time we are spending preparing for and administering the tests, analyzing the results, and attending in-services to help our children become proficient on this annual measure of success will pay off by reducing the academic achievement gap between our white children and our children of color.
I am told a lot of things.
But what I know is that I’m not the teacher I used to be. And it takes a toll. I used to be the one who raved about my classroom, even after a long week. Pollyanna, people called me. Today, when I speak with former colleagues, they are amazed at the cynicism creeping into my voice.
What has changed?
No Child Left Behind is certainly a big part of the problem. The children I test are from a wide variety of abilities and backgrounds. Whether they have a cognitive disability, speak entry-level English, or have speech or language delays, everyone takes the same test and the results are posted. Special education students may have some accommodations, but they take the same test and are expected to perform at the same level as general education students. Students new to this country or with a native language other than English must also take the same test and are expected to perform at the same level as children whose native language is English. Picture yourself taking a five-day test in French after moving to Paris last year.
No Child Left Behind is one size fits all. But any experienced teacher knows how warped a yardstick that is.
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