Teaching in a high stakes accountability system

The following was shared recently by a Florida teacher (published with permission):

“After 22 years, I don’t know if I have it in me anymore. I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I love teaching, but this isn’t teaching. Everything I am required to do is about preparing my students for “the test.” I spend all day, every day, ramming test prep down my students’ throats. Then I do what seems like 8,000 reams of paperwork each week to prove that I’m ramming test prep down my students’ throats. There is no joy in this for them. I see their blank faces with eyes glazed over. There is no fun or excitement in learning, for they are not really learning.

This past weekend I spent literally every waking hour working, taking breaks only to do laundry and prepare food for my son. I wrote my lesson plans with all of the required “non-negotiables” included and explained. I examined my data to make decisions about what skills might need some reteaching and what skills could be practiced and reinforced in centers. I dutifully created my differentiated centers and made them rigorous (a term that has no business in education). I printed off copies of things on my own printer, using my own ink and paper, because we only get 1000 copies per month. I laminated, cut, and put things in folders to make sure I was all ready for today. Then, in the middle of my ELA block this morning, my principal walked in to do a walk-through.

Apparently, this go round was focused on centers because she asked to see mine as she did for all of my teammates, I later learned. Well, I figured this one would be easy after everything I did over the weekend. She looked at them, asked me a couple of questions, and left. My observation notification came through after school and I looked. Imagine my surprise when I received a Basic for Danielson Domain 1e: Designing Coherent instruction. My principal’s only comment… “While it’s good to see differentiated centers there needs to be paired texts and writing in your centers.” Make no mistake, I am open to criticism, especially when criticism is constructive and valid. This, however, is neither constructive nor valid. This is about playing a game. This is about making up a fault that isn’t included in the rubric when you can’t find one that is. This is about making sure that teachers don’t get too many points so we can keep those merit-based raises to a minimum.

This is what education has become. It’s a game, it’s inauthentic, it’s draining. They’re putting out the fire that has blazed inside of me. They’re destroying my soul and my passion. I don’t know what to do now. I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I love teaching, but this isn’t teaching.”

You may have heard the same, or a similar story from a teacher you know. It’s more likely that you haven’t. Most teachers are not comfortable speaking up for fear of retribution. The reality is that this story is not unique, and these sentiments are shared by teachers across the state.

It hasn’t always been this way, and it doesn’t have to continue. What’s happening in our schools is being driven by the state’s test-driven accountability system. The overemphasis on test scores and data is having a negative impact on the learning environment. It’s also the cause of the statewide teacher shortage.

It’s up to us to put an end to this, to save our public school teachers and our public schools from the top-down, punitive actions from our state leaders and legislators, who are not in the classroom every day and do not understand how their decisions affect lives.

Contact Your Legislators
Some politicians are listening, but not enough. We can change this. As their constituents, we have a voice, and we have a vote. Committee meetings in the Florida legislature started last week, including several that are discussing changes to education-related legislation. Contact your state legislators right away. Ask them to overhaul the accountability system, removing the high stakes from the tests so that teachers can get back to authentic teaching. Click here for sample language surrounding what parents want from tests.

 

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