Monthly Archives: March 2015
Under Pressure: Does Test Stress at School Added to Economic Stress at Home Constitute a Toxic Combination?
During the last decade, America’s public school students have seen a steady increase in the amount of testing they have to endure. As a result of state policies and federal mandates, schools have transformed curricula from Pre-K up to raise scores on standardized tests, and have put immense pressure on teachers to do that, putting their jobs in jeopardy if they fail to do so. All over the nation, stories abound of classrooms becoming zones of extreme stress, with teachers and students displaying symptoms of anxiety,rage and depression in response to the new demands. Intentionally or not, our elites have sent a message to public school teachers and students– produce or else- and have made it seem as though improving test results is everyone’s patriotic duty, and that activities which don’t contribute to that are not only a waste of time, but a threat to the nation’s future
From a strictly educational standpoint, these policies are highly questionable. There is no evidence that students learn better in an atmosphere of fear and stress, and that they will become more productive citizens if they are deprived of play, emotional support and opportunities for self-expression..
But what makes these policies all the more tragic is that they come at a time when many students face increasing stress at home because of severe economic pressures on American families. During the Great Recession,, according to economists Thomas Saez and Thomas Piketty, blue collar and white collar families suffered a sharp decline in income (12 percent) and have gained almost none of it back in the ensuing recovery in which 95 % of the income gains have gone to the top 1% or earners. The result, making ends meet has become an uphill battle for many Americans, often requiring them to work multiple jobs, put in longer hours at the jobs they have, rent rooms out in their homes or apartments, or move in with relatives. And when this happens, children feel the pressure. Not only do they get less personal attention from the adults in their lives, they see the people closest to them getting beat down and filled with worry, sometimes leading to outbursts which leave children traumatized and filled with fear.
In a time like this, when many families are feeling extreme economic pressure, one would think there would be an emphasis on making schools safe and nurturing places, where children are loved and cared for as well as taught and where teachers are encouraged to be kind and supportive to their charges. But in fact, the exact opposite has taken place. Schools and teachers have been put under so much pressure to get results on tests that they have made classrooms into zones of fear where children are given less and less opportunity for play, exercise and artistic expression- activities which might relieve the stress they have in their lives.
There is an explosion coming and when millions of children begin acting out in ways which make classrooms ungovernable, policy makers will begin wondering “Why did we let ourselves get so obsessed with testing that we forgot we had children in them.”
It is not just NY. In NJ we are in deep trouble. I would guestimate that 80% of the senior teachers have retired, a large proportion of principals as well. There is a mass exodus. Young teachers are in hell. They weigh thier student loan debt against lifetime of data gathering, test prep and unfair evaluations. I hear the conversations in the teachers room “this is not what i signed up for”. The ones that stay will be the acquiescent among them. Our school is a “focus school”. under state scrutiny for possible take over. The game is fixed. The state scrutiny is the result of low test scores. We have a huge spanish speaking population that tests poorly. Are we spending money to hire people to educate them and allocating time for that education? No, instead, we have bought bandwidth, new routers, chrome book laptops, iPads, iPad stations, an evaluative system called McCrel, and CCSS aligned textbooks. Students are test-prepped to death. What is the effect of telling students “this matters” when it really doesn’t? How can students respect teachers that lie to them every day? What is the effect on educators forced to suck the life energy from their students? This already has and will continue to have an effect. Behavior is the worst i have ever seen because school sucks for kids now. Teacher morale is the lowest I have ever seen because school sucks for teachers now. The majority of teachers have little awareness of the forces amassed against education. Very few are informed. Our local union has been weakened to the point that only 10% of membership shows up to general meetings. Parents are clueless, and the “unwritten law” that teachers must not tell the horrible secrets of CCSS, PARCC, ed reform and administrative data love is rarely to never broken. Teachers, fearing for their jobs, comply with ridiculous evaluation systems. There are four levels of proficiency in our system. To achieve each one, teachers must earn an evaluators confidence to check of EVERY box in a rubric that makes me insanely angry. Dozens of pages of evaluative rubrics that are weighted against teachers. If, in our 3 classroom evaluation visits, some of those categories are not checked, then to prove we deserve them checked, we must present “evidence” that we do them at a meeting with our evaluator. It is punitive by design. Some evaluators see it for what it is, and help teachers, other evaluators see their job as finding the lazy, ineffective teachers and setting them up for loss of tenure (Now possible thanks to new laws). It is hell. It also must be mentioned that the evaluative systems make no accommodations for art, music, gym, or other less quantifiable subjects. At the end of next year, when districts begin to shed teachers (the higher priced ones?, the trouble maker ones?) there will be hundreds of lawsuits. One possible outcome of this is a financial strain on the county and state unions. One of the benefits of union membership is that the unions will provide legal counsel if needed. What happens if hundreds or thousands of teachers need legal counsel to protect their jobs as a result of unfair evaluations, inequities in evaluators and other problems in that system? I have not mentioned that there are state mandated (Christie/DOE) “SGO’s” (student growth objectives) that were sold to us as a way for teachers to work on their own growth, but have now become another evaluative tool to beat teachers with and strike fear in our hearts. This is “moment” is not just in NY, it is national.
First Draft of Teachers Petition Refusing Merit Pay
As public school teachers in the State of New York we categorically reject Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to give merit pay for teachers rated “Highly Effective” on the State’s flawed teacher evaluation system. We oppose this not only because merit pay creates a competitive atmosphere in schools where there should be collaboration, but because it will increase the emphasis on testing in schools already filled with stress, discriminate against teachers who work with ELL students, Special Needs Students and Students who live in poverty, and lead to an exodus of experienced teachers from high poverty districts. As professionals dedicated to serving all our students, and to reducing the stranglehold of standardized testing on the schools of New York state, we will not only protest against the imposition of merit pay, but refuse any merit increment we are offered based on the junk science teacher evaluations used by the state.
This is our commitment, and our promise
Name School District
At a time when our sisters and brothers in Chicago are being fired and while the city is signing a new contract with Teach for America, anyone on the Badass Teachers Association site who defends Teach for America as an organization is going to BE BANNED from the group. We feel at this point in time that a defense of TFA is counterproductive to our mission here at BAT and a threat to all we stand for. BATS regard TFA as a replacement labor agency and will treat it and its supporters accordingly. Teach for America recruits and alumni are welcome so long as they do not defend organization policies which demean the teaching profession and encourage the firing of veteran teachers to make way for TFA Corps members
While campaigning for a reduction in high stakes testing, along with recognition of the right of parents and students to opt out of state tests, education activists should also launch a movement for TEST TRANSPARENCY- demanding that tests be made public after they are administered, and that tests after they are graded should be given to teachers so they can use completed tests as an educational tool to HELP individual students, not use them for secret calculations to rate students, teachers, and schools. Test secrecy in its current form is profoundly undemocratic. It protects public officials and test companies from the kind of scrutiny necessary to prevent corruption and abuse, as well as inhibiting public discussion of the value of current test policies. There will be disagreement among people of good will about how much testing we need in schools, but there should be no disagreement of the need to have complete openness about how tests are developed, how they are implemented, how they are graded and how they are used.