achievement gap, administrators, Children, classroom, community schools, equitable education, failing schools, High school, high stakes testing, new york state tests, regents, Teacher, teaching, tests
On Monday, we begin the week of proctoring a series of exams taken by High School students across the State. This week has its perks, I am not going to lie. It is a chance to break up our routine, converse with different groups of children and provides some pockets of time for reflection and assessment of teaching strategies to come in the Spring. However, overall, it is a joke. I am measured by the students’ performance on these tests. For the armchair civilian army examining and scrutinizing the educational system, this seems like a reasonable assessment. Oh you all are so very misguided. I am sure I would have been too if I had not become a teacher. I cannot speak for every school, every student or every teacher. I will not delude you to think I am uber researched and prolific on the state of high stakes testing. I can however, relate some of my personal experience and observation to help broaden the conversation.
During Regents week, many of my students do not attend their schedule tests. For various reasons, they do not feel that it is the priority stressed upon them by their counselors and teachers. It is a wonderful week off. This is a problem for them as yes, one cannot pass a Regents test if one does not even take it. Also, if the administrators, politicians and general public want to rate me as a teacher according to test scores – well I rate very low if my students don’t show up. Many of my students suffer from emotional trauma, disorders and anxieties. High Stakes Testing proves to be a week of defeatist attitudes and paralytic behaviors. Some of the students feel that they couldn’t possibly pass anyway so why bother. We do our best to encourage them. There is after school and Saturday tutoring available for months in preparation. We devote class time to go over segments of these tests and try to assure them that trying is half the battle.
Then there is the reality that I teach many students with learning disabilities. Everyone is required to take these tests. Yes, many children get accommodations but they are not realistic for what these children must do to succeed. It is borderline cruel punishment to make some of these children sit for these tests. If a student with extended time takes a morning Regents test, they work right up until the next test starts in the afternoon. When they finish one test they have to immediately start the next. This could result in a child sitting taking a test for almost six hours. How many of these politicians and administrators could do the same? Many of these students received a small percentage of promotional criteria to graduate from Middle School. That means they were able to move up to High School only having to learn or Master 20-30% of the curriculum. These students enter High School at a deficit and then are expected to uphold the same standards as their peers and graduate in four years. They are expected to pass the Regents the same as everyone else when all their life they had a different set of criteria. Please don’t forget that it is now my responsibility and fault if they cannot make this huge leap quickly.
Let me also point out that many of students live in low income situations. They are the faces of poverty. They come to us from shelters. Many students have medical conditions or live in homes with family members that are not and cannot give them the academic support needed to be successful. They walk through gang territories, drug deals and robberies to get to these classes and tests. Many of their parents are young and stopped their own education when they became pregnant with these kids. They don’t have the knowledge to navigate the injustices or resources presented to them. Getting to school to pass a Regents test does not hold the same compartment of importance as it might for a child that doesn’t have such worries. What shall I say to them? “Please take these tests seriously so you can go to a college you cannot afford or be told that you need remedial classes that won’t give you credits.” Or maybe I should try the tactic of “Please take this test seriously because apparently I am only a good teacher if you pass and do well.” If you were a teenager, would you care? If you were a teenager with learning disabilities, medical neglect, educational neglect and living in the projects, would you care?
The Regents tests are giving during extreme weather conditions. They traditionally are administered during the end of January and June (or August for a few). In my school, many of the classrooms do not have temperature control. They students are often subjected to winter testing with low heat or blazing stifling heaters. It is very difficult to find that middle ground. So proctors alternate opening windows and doors enduring blasts of cold wind or noise from the hallway in order to regulate the inner temperature. There is also the Summer testsing. Is it equitable to have some children take state tests in a room with no air conditioning, no wind, sweat dripping off their faces or the loud hum of fans (brought in and supplied by ‘horrible teachers’) while their peers at a school less than a block away have central air and comfortable conditions? I try to remind myself that many children and teachers around the world use sticks and dirt in horrific weather for the sake of learning.
The New York State Regents exams do not measure the worth or even the knowledge of my students. They certainly do NOT measure my worth or contribution for these childrens’ lives. They are a VERY small piece in the puzzle of their academic careers, VERY SMALL. Why are so many non educators reluctant to have this conversation? I know that I could spotlight some students’ stories about their growth and success I have witness and contributed to that have been hugely beneficial to the student but do NOT translate into a high score on a Regents test. Perhaps that is what I shall do in some following posts. Let you get a glimpse of the REAL success.