To start, I’ve taught in the Kansas/Missouri area for the last 16 years or so. I have seen several curriculum overhauls and the last few state test “makeovers” and I am happy to see what the new CCSS brings (heck, I’m excited). We have had state testing (before NCLB) and the data was used to look at how we are performing as a school, as teachers, as learners. I remember teachers feeling like they didn’t “look good” because they didn’t have higher scores. I remember us complaining that a question wasn’t well written or that an area wasn’t emphasized enough. That isn’t going to change.
Historically, we have taught, the states have tested, we have looked it over. Sometimes, the review of data actually led to staff development and focus on a specific area in which to grow. We looked at gaps in the curriculum, but it was still all about covering things for the test. I remember wishing that the test was better. I wished that the time we spent looking at test results was more meaningful. I dreamed of a day where the content could take a back seat to higher level thinking and a better way to measure student problem solving and achievement. I wanted better test questions that all students could approach even if I didn’t cover topics like Japanese Feudalism or a specific piece of literature. I wondered how my teaching and my students compared to others – especially in other states where they were using a totally different test. When I hear about great scores coming from other states, I always wondered how that could be determined if they gave an easier or more difficult test. I know some states supposedly had “more rigorous” testing – but I am not sure how someone determines that either. State testing is not new – it isn’t “evil” and if we’re so dang mad about state testing – why are we content to keep using the flawed state-specific system we have been using? It just doesn’t make sense.
From the student side, they hardly care about the tests (from my experience). I mean, they want to do well and it interrupts their schedules, those are sources of stress and inconvenience. But they aren’t crying and being traumatized by state testing. Students in advanced course stress of AP exams, they want high SAT/ACT scores, they want to do well on end of course tests to meet graduation requirements. All of this can be stressful, but it is a stress with which our students are familiar. Several of them comment that testing means “no homework” and they like that. It isn’t torture. I either hear teachers complain that the kids don’t care and don’t try their hardest or that the kids are overstressed about testing. I see a lot of kids who understand that the state test is just something schools do – like a survey or filling out paperwork for enrollment. I think the “extreme” examples are just propaganda to stir up excitement on Twitter or in newspapers. Its silly.
Now, the Common Core has been developed (and still in development). What a great opportunity. They elicited input from lots of professionals – lots of them are the same organizations who helped to make various state tests in specific content areas. They looked for some pretty universal skills and standards so that kids in different places, with different teachers, different texts, and different curriculum could find the test accessible. That’s not an easy task and it takes many people to pull it off. This effort was funded and included different people (including Bill Gates), different organizations, and input from the different states. This wasn’t a conspiracy – it was the answer to all of the questions that I had in my teaching/testing experience. Now, any state that chooses to adopt the Common Core can focus on the same standards as other states, standards that can be engaged in a wide variety of classrooms with a wide variety of context. The tests cost money (and so do our current ones). The tests are more expensive – they should be, they involve computers and are more complex than the current state tests used in MO. The tests will be created by a company – like a textbook or other materials that we use without hesitation. So what? How is this SO different than the tests we already use?
Why aren’t we excited to see how our kids fare on the tests? Why aren’t we excited to learn that one strategy (or several) work better than others to teach a concept or skill? I want to know that – I want to adopt that. What if our kids aren’t learning as much as they could? I want to know that and I want to change that! What if I need to change? I want to change. What if I am the best teacher in the world? The test will make me proud and I will have a line of followers at my door. What if I’m not the best? Then I’ll work hard to improve and do the most I can for my kids. These tests and standards have an upside and an upside.
This isn’t perfect:
Of course, this won’t be perfect – what is in education? Different politicians and educators have talked about the potential use of these test scores – could we use them for teacher evaluations? Merit pay? We could. They have talked about that in the previous incarnations of state testing and standards. So what?
Why is this so “scary” to us and why do I have to read all the crazy talk about them on Twitter?
Why are dedicated professionals who want the best for our kids and who want to be great teachers so afraid of these things? I worry that these people that fear the tests or fear that they will have a higher standard to meet are missing the point. These test-haters are turning this into a propaganda war to try to include other teachers and pushing an agenda with no better alternatives. They are using students as an excuse to betray students we are supposed to serve. It is simply a way to sabotage the CCSS and better comparable state tests and disguise all of the good that might be found in these tests. Twitter could be a vehicle to have an open dialogue about the CCSS and state testing, but I get zero response from the “anti-testers” when I reply to their carpet-bombing tweets (an effective approach at spreading propaganda). Aren’t we smarter than that?
Its about teaching and learning. Its about being better for kids and preparing our kids for this unknown future.