So….we’re gonna test ya…..


I have sunk to a new low as a teacher.

I should hang up my recess bell and just retire.  Truly.  I have gone where no self respecting child centered educator should ever go.

Before I begin to beat my breast and cry “Mea Culpa!”, let me explain.

This was a really bad winter. As we say in the Boston area, it was “wicked awful”.  It snowed constantly.  Really!  We missed SIX DAYS of school because of the crappy weather.  This is nearly unheard of, but it happened this year.

I find it very difficult to teach children when we are all at home, huddled by our respective fires, and I am not there to actually do the teaching.

It was also a very, very bad year for the flu and strep throat.  I have kids who have missed more than 15 days of school!  I find it really hard to drill math skills into kids who are home with a fever.

Oh, and the brainiacs who make the decisions about education reform are also in the middle of shifting us from teaching the “Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks” to the much heralded “Common Core Curriculum Standards”.  Out with the old, in with the new.  And there are some really serious changes to what we are teaching, believe me.

Here is the difficulty: they haven’t been able to tell us which set of standards will be tested this year.

Ahahaha!!  So, just to get this straight, we are about to administer standardized tests to kids who have missed a week of school due to weather, and more due to illness. They are going to be tested on a bunch of math information and skills that they may or may not have ever seen in their entire 11 years of life.

Are you laughing yet?  Me either.  Because the education reformers also plan to hold me accountable for the scores of my students.

Even the ones who went on vacation for three weeks this month. Yep. I have to get them up to speed on everything that might (or might not!) be tested this year, even if they have spent the past month sick/snowed in/on vacation in the Carribean.

In recognition of the fact that the combined pressures of weather, vacation, and illness have put us way, way behind in covering what may (or may not) be the fifth grade curriculum, we are now finding ourselves desperate to cram math facts into the heads of our poor little students.

My class has spent nearly 3 of our 6 hours together every day this week trying to review the math material, learn new math material and practice the “skills” needed in test taking.

We are bored, we are frustrated, we are feeling overwhelmed and more than a little stupid. We’d like to take those “education reform” people and shake them by the neck until their eyeballs pop out and roll across our classroom floor.

But we persevere.

My poor fifth grade students have just experienced what I thought was a fairly well constructed, if fast paced, unit on multiplying and dividing fractions.  Never mind the fact that NO ADULT on the face of the earth would ever be required to manually multiply or divide any mixed numbers (why do you think God invented calculators, anyway?).  Our kids have to learn  how to carry out these algorithms, and they practiced them over and over again until they begged for mercy.

I thought that they understood the lessons. I did!

Right up until today. When I gave them the Unit test.

I sat down to score the tests, and found that more than half of the kids couldn’t really remember when to find common denominators (when you add? or when you multiply?) They forgot to simplify.  They forgot how to convert mixed numbers into improper fractions.

I know, right?!  You could probably do this in your sleep!

Or not.

Anyway, I had taught it, and they were damned well supposed to “get it”!!!!

Only they didn’t.

And here is where I have failed as a teacher. Here is where I descended into the lowest of educational lows.

I scored those tests, and I got really, REALLY mad at my kids. I was snippy, I was short, I was wicked crabby.

I know, in my heart, that you simply cannot “speed teach” the idea of fractions. I know this!!!

I know that, no matter what the math book says, kids need some time to play with and experiment with fractions.  I understand that people need time to process and to make sense of what they are learning.

And yet.

In the face of the stupid, irrelevant, pointless, totally-lacking-in-validity or reliability standardized state tests, I panicked and pushed and tried to force feed these children.  And when they failed to metabolize all of the nonsense, I reacted with anger and frustration.

Is this really the best we can do as educators? Is this really the best way to create those “Twenty first century thinkers”?

I am feeling truly ashamed of myself tonight.

Watch this video, and see what you think.


29 thoughts on “So….we’re gonna test ya…..

  1. I know Texas rejected common core but we have our own tests. My kids took the test this week and a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, I am pulling them out of the school they are assigned and putting them in a school that doesn’t care about these tests. They care about the actual education and they care about the teachers. It is a public school but charter. They said something like, “No colleges ask how you do on state assessment tests. We refuse to put our students and teachers under the gun for them. We will prepare your children the right way.”


  2. Benchmarks and state assessments make me crazy. I’m a special ed coordinator in Texas and we have kids physiclly sick….parents too….when this time of year rolls around. It’s insanity. I know we need to be accountable in regards to what we teach our children and what they take away from our instruction but I agree with you, we are striking out by teaching kids to take a standardized test.


  3. Oh, Moms. As if things weren’t f’d up enough for you guys up there! All I can do is remind you that yes, they will always use calculators. Yes, they will do fine in life. Yes, you shouldn’t have to teach to the test OR be judged by the test.

    And then I will play my favorite to show that really, nobody needs this stuff:


    • Hahahaha!!!!
      The really funny part is, I used that same argument with both my algebra teacher and my Dad; and now I am teaching math!
      I don’t mind the teaching or the learning of math (even algebra!) but I sure hate the cramming, rushing and frustration part of this.
      And I wonder if the powers that be think we need to even bother to open a math book for the rest of the year, once the tests are over on May 11th!


      • But YOU ended up needing it! Me, I’m right there with Peggy Sue. Except when I occasionally have to figure out some math and then I call my husband and ask him how to do it. He may NOT pre-decease me.

        As for after May 11, with such a difficult year behind them, I think a month of water balloon fights is in order.


    • Yeah, I bet the kids will remember the talk about our class play more than my hissy fit about common denominators, but I still hate that I am being driven by something that I think has no real value. And I doubt that teacher autonomy will come back before I have retired.


  4. I hope you get a minute to talk to your kids about the importance of the math, and just as much, the importance of creativity.
    Sounds like you were under as much pressure as them. I hope the test isn’t overly weighted.


    • Oh, my dear Guap….. “Overly weighted” is an understatement.
      My little Unit Test doesn’t matter (it just shows me that I need to slow down and reteach) because we don’t give letter grades. But the state test, the “No Child Left Behind” test, is the focus of all of our efforts these days. Our class, our grade, our school and our town are all scored based on the scores, and those scores are made public for all the world to see. Individual teachers are partially evaluated on those scores and individual kids get extra support based on them.
      Its the stupidest, most detrimental, most short sighted approach to teaching that has ever been devised.
      But how do I really feel….?


  5. Sounds like the Fractions were just the straw that broke the camel’s back? I’m sure everyone is feeling a wide range of emotion up their, a wicked wide range! But no, I can’t imagine being a teacher dealing with beurocracy, politics and standardized tests.

    I didn’t click with fractions right away either. I’m sure my mom and teachers showed frustratration at some point with me, but I honestly don’t remember. Nor will your kids.

    You’re obviously a caring a conscientious educator. And *that* they will remember.


    • Thanks; I know that they didn’t feel my frustration as much as I did, but it still makes me sad to realize that I am letting the stupid test dictate my teaching. I have never done that before! I’ve always been able to resist, but now that my grade level colleagues and I will be held directly accountable for these scores…… What a mess. 😦


  6. As a former school principal and teacher I can feel your pain. It might help to remember that this has been a particularly trying year for all the reasons you so artfully described. Doing your best, while maintaining a caring relationship with your students, is what matters most. You can’t do better than your best and neither can they. Take a deep breath and celebrate what is going well in your classroom. I have a hunch there’s a lot!


    • I hope that there is a lot that is positive; I hope so!!!
      Given that this year has seen the Newtown shootings and the Marathon bombings, we are all feeling anxious and vulnerable already. Add in the increased test pressures, and it is no wonder that I have children feeling stomach pain, headaches, heart palpitations……
      Such a rough year!


  7. Just yesterday I read an article in The Atlantic that suggests that the pendulum may be soon swinging back in the other direction. It will, of course be moving at its fastest when it reaches the bottom so that ‘middle ground’ we really seek will probably be a fleeting thing. Here’s a link to the article–the title is very over-the-top but the article does make some sense.


  8. I took my first Physics class in college and spent the first few weeks arguing with the teacher about how “that can’t be how things work!” Then one day he took me aside, and explained that higher math isn’t something that you “learn” so much as “get used to”. Eventually I discovered that he was correct: I got a degree in Physics and taught it (at college level).

    Memorizing can be done in a short amount of time, but “getting used to” concepts can’t. Don’t beat yourself up — save that energy for beating up those idiots that think they know more about teaching than you do…


  9. You’re not a lone voice…yours is joined by all of the other wonderful educators out there. Unfortunately for us…and our students…we aren’t in charge 🙂 And the bureaucrats don’t seem to feel the need to ask any educators before they make these sweeping reforms. It is absolutely criminal what has been happening in my state. I am so grateful that my own children are finished with school (youngest graduates in June) and won’t have to suffer the full effects of this “reform”.


    • Aimee, I have had the same thought! So glad that my kids graduated before this all hit! Of course, my daughter the teacher is still in the middle of it, but in a different way. Thanks for the encouraging words!


  10. That’s a tough situation, no doubt. I mean, we may be dealing with two separate state-assessments right now, simultaneously, but at least the State of Texas tells us what’s on them. Very specifically. But you know, kids are smart, and they can understand when you’re having a bad day. Probably they understood that you were just as stressed about their test as they were.

    And don’t feel like you’re alone either. Every other teacher in America (that, you know, actually cares about their kids) are just as upset with the stupid system as you! You should hear my mother-in-law gripe about the requirements put upon her as a sixth grade math teacher. She could win awards for her outrageous comments, I think. But I have faith that somehow someone is going to fix this debacle and we’ll get to actually teach again.


  11. I’ve been exposed to this irrational and totally inane education reform in a most intense way this year, in a kindergarten classroom, which to me, makes it EVEN MORE CRAZY. I mean early childhood education has completely changed, and is incredibly academic, to the point where we’ve had our kids crying because they didn’t have a chance to play with the blocks. I think given how much stress this is causing not only us adults, but also the children who should by right not be experiencing this level of pressure at all, has to push us to stand up and grab this crazy bull of a system by the horns. Thanks for sharing your experience! It’s so important to get the word out there.


    • Oh, good Lord!!!!
      I am most upset about the impact on our youngest children. This has truly gone on long enough. As an older teacher, I remember when the kindergarten “checklist” at the end of the year included things like, “shares with others”. I have seen us move through “identifies consonant sounds” to “reads simple sight words”. I don’t know how to make a change, other than to be that “old lady” teacher who refuses to take up all of the new curriculum and standards and frameworks and rubrics.
      Thank you for showing me that I am not entirely alone in my quest to maintain some sanity out here!


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