SHREVEPORT – As a secondary ELA teacher of twenty-two years I have had a growing concern over the changes I’ve seen in education over the past few years, primarily with the advent of Common Core and its many forms.
I was against the principles of Common Core when it started and now that it is in nearly every classroom I am even more against it. Do not be deceived: your district very likely has some form of this insidious curriculum in place.
Two articles of note to look at right now: the first is Bruce Dixon’s piece on standardized testing. In my Louisiana district, we are on block schedule which means we complete a semester from August to January. When I return to classes this week I will have all new classes. In the semester just completed, we had four standardized tests in 10th grade English: one diagnostic test (two days), three interim exams (also two days each), and an End of Course test (three days). We were also asked to give a practice test before the EOC (two days) and a final exam after the EOC (one day) because the EOC scores would not be back before the semester ended. Count it up: that is fourteen days of high stakes testing.
That does not even include the time in class talking about testing or teaching kids how to take the test (required if you want your students to succeed.)
Given all that, I’m really interested in the subject of standardized testing right now. Bruce Dixon addresses this subject perfectly. He refers to this test mania as “tyranny” and “an insidious virus.”
It might come as a shock to some politicians, but learning is not a competitive sport, so how about we stop treating it that way. Why do we persist with ranking everything, naming and shaming schools by publishing test results like they’re sporting scores in league tables?
Neither is learning a zero-sum game- as in I learn, you don’t, or you learn, I don’t. Contrary to the core statistical assumption that standardized tests are built on, we can both learn, and both benefit. So why do we continue to treat learning as if there is only a fixed amount of knowledge that any one person can access at any one time?
Next, we need to be more public and open about the harm that these tests are inflicting on our young people. There have been literally dozens of papers, articles and books written on the damage and deceit of standardized testing, so take your pick.
I’ve seen what this non-stop testing does to kids. The ones who care deeply about their GPA suffer one kind of crushing stress and the apathetic ones, the ones we have to work harder to reach, are affirmed in their feelings of failure and inadequacy.
Another article that I found revealing was from Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post:
The overemphasis on testing has led many teachers to eliminate projects and activities that provide students with an opportunity to be creative and imaginative, and scripted curriculum has become the norm in many classrooms. There is nothing creative or imaginative about filling in a bubble sheet for a multiple choice test. Students are so tired of prepping for and taking standardized test that some have protested by dressing up like zombies to protest — and thousands of families are opting their children out of taking high-stakes exams.
As a teacher who has tried to be innovative, creative, and work hard to engage my students, I can affirm that this is true.
The Common Core curriculum has given rise to the scripted curriculum which is supposed to serve as the magic bullet that has all teachers teach the same content in the same way in every classroom because some teacher somewhere said it worked in her classroom, or something. This will vary a little from district to district, but in some schools teachers are expected to stick to the script, show the pre-prepared slides, and pass out the pre-prepared worksheets and graphic organizers.
As a parent, is this the classroom you want for your child? As a teacher, I struggle with this. It is very, very hard for me to do this, but we do it because we want to keep our jobs and we want to help the kids who look to us to lead them to success.
Because there is so little outcry from parents we can only assume that this is what they want. Teacher-bots.
So many of us decried the principles of Common Core when they began to roll out years ago. If you teach long enough you see these fads come and go through the years – one after the other. They come and they go.
It’s time for this one to go. It’s time to let teachers be the professionals they are, use the judgment they have as the professional in the room with the child, and to return creativity and innovation to the classroom before this type of instruction becomes entrenched and we lose an entire generation of kids.
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.