Chances are that if you are a regular Radical reader, you are a practicing educator, right?
And if that’s true, chances are that you are either in the middle of giving standardized tests to your students OR just getting back the results of this year’s standardized tests. I know that’s the case for teachers on traditional calendars here in my school district anyway.
So I’ve got a simple reminder for you:
That dehumanization is especially pernicious in states like mine, where principal pay is tied to test scores and where teachers of reading and math can earn bonuses for producing gains on end of grade exams.
The result: Our students become a numbers game to us. Who is going to earn a mark that helps us exceed our targets? Who is going to hurt us by failing to meet expectations this year? How can we squeeze more correct answers out of the students in our class who sit on the edges of “success?”
Need proof that testing changes the way we think about kids?
A good friend of mine told me this harrowing story the other day: His son is nine years old — a third grader who was taking standardized tests for the first time ever. He came home on the night before the tests and told his parents that he wanted to get a good night sleep so that he could do well on the exams. “It’s really important,” he said to them in the adorably serious way that nine year olds act when something is on their mind.
My buddy and his wife were surprised because they hadn’t even mentioned testing in their house. They probed a bit to find the source of their son’s concern, only to find out that their teacher had told all of her kids that if they did well on the exam, she would get a huge bonus. “I want Ms. Messenger* to like me, so I’ve got to do well on the test,” he said. “She’ll be mad at me if I don’t meet my target because she won’t get extra money.”
Think about that y’all: A teacher has guilted a group of nine year olds into working hard so that she can get a bonus.
Now, I’ve been working in classrooms for 25 years — so I get that there are plenty of teachers who would never make their kids feel like they had to do well on exams in order to be liked.
But I’ve also been in schools for long enough to know that the kind of high stakes that we tie to test scores really DOES change the way that good people think and act. Here’s just one example from my own career. (And here’s another.)
Long story short: Check yourself when those end of grade exam scores come back.
They AREN’T indicators of the success or failure of the kids in your classroom because our students are “successful” in a thousand ways that can’t be demonstrated by answering multiple choice questions for three straight hours day after day for an entire week.
*Name changed to protect the identity of a person who is making REALLY unhealthy choices that are harming the nine year old children in her care.
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