I have been a very bad blogger. I’ve let it get away from me. My only excuse is actually two excuses. First there is the wonderful world of standardized testing. My school took the state mandated standardized test last week. This means that in addition to the stress of the normal school day we added the stress of testing that will mean a difference between pass and fail for some students, the score anxiety that teachers experience and the actual testing tension as well.
My state takes what is known as the CRCT (Criterion Referenced Competency Test). It always reminds me of the book “Testing Miss Malarky” which shows the testing week from the student’s point of view. The only difference in the book and real life is that the kids in the book come to believe the test isn’t so important after all. Our kids know it is important. You wouldn’t believe the number of stomach aches and the amount of vomiting going on. (And yes, one of those was me…I’ll get to that later.) Our kids know these are gateway tests and that they have to pass them at the third, fifth and eighth grade levels or they can’t go on no matter how they have done in classes throughout the year. In other grades, the kids know that placement in things like foreign language and gifted courses along with remedial connections classes are also determined by the test. If you do badly you could find your two elective classes taken up with remedial math and study skills.
The teachers are wound just as tight. We know that it doesn’t matter how great a job we’ve done with our kids that year, if they don’t pass this test it reflects on us and our school. The No Child Left Behind act was wonderful on the surface of it’s intent, but there has been no financial support for schools to implement the standards and even more the standards set are nearly impossible to reach given the current social climate.
I teach reading to seventh graders. If they are in my class it means they have problems with reading and didn’t score high enough to earn placement in foreign language or that they have behavior issues that excluded them from the invitation only foreign language program. I have about 50% of my students, and remember this is of the kids assigned to me not of our school population as a whole, reading at least 2 to 3 years below grade level. I have several 7th graders who read at a 2nd grade level. But I’m expected to have these students ready to pass a test in one year? I have occasionally been able to work miracles but I am not divine. My questions of how did they get to me in this situation are never answered. I’m just told to fix the problem because someone has to.
And when there is support from home or even just the drive from the student we can accomplish a great deal. I had one student, 15 years old in the seventh grade. He transferred in from another state. His reading level was 2.3 in August. I will never forget Alex. When he turned in his first book report to me, there was a note on the bottom that read, “This is the first chapter book I ever read all by myself.” I sat down and cried. Cried for Alex and for me. How was I going to get him ready for this test.
The answer in Alex’s case was that I didn’t, he did. He worked hard for me and I know he did it because I had his back. In conferences (the few we had) I told his father how polite and respectful he was. I told his father how proud I was of his work. I spoke out for him when he got into trouble and took ownership of him. I even stood up before the police and told them that Alex hadn’t done what they said he did. I think that meant something to Alex. At the end of the year we allowed him to take the 8th grade test so he could move on to high school and not be 16 years old in middle school. Alex passed all parts but math and passed that after two weeks of summer school.
This isn’t my achievement, this is his. And if it seems like I’ve gotten myself off topic, I have. And I needed to. I needed to remind myself why I do this. Why I put up with the lack of respect, the no money. Why I put up with the attitudes and the rules that are supposed to make sure I do my job but simply end up making my job harder to do.
I needed to remember Alex. And Neilson. And Andrew. And Lucan. And Nick. And Drew. And Monty. And…
The second reason? The nausea is still here. It doesn’t seem so important now, but throwing up in the middle of the CRCT social studies test certainly seemed like a big deal at the time.