With the current tidal wave of educational reforms has come a series of tests, required by the states, to measure students' progress. Schools are given incentives to meet or exceed goals, and underperforming schools have prescriptive remedies foisted on them.
I teach at a school that I like to believe works, regardless of what the data may say. My colleagues arrive every day prepared to teach approved and appropriate material, using sound methods. They also provide caring and nurturing that for some students will be the day's sole example of behavior that fits society's norms. From superintendent on down, I have nothing but unqualified support and encouragement for them.
But as I teach from day to day, the new expectations from the standards movement are forcing a change in my perceptions. I hate to admit it, but I no longer see the students the way I once did -- certainly not in the same exuberant light as when I first started teaching five years ago. Where once there were "challenging" or "marginal" students, I am now beginning to see liabilities. Where once there was a student of "limited promise," there is now an inescapable deficit that all available efforts will only nominally affect.
The pressure is on. Any number of eyes will examine my test results this spring, not the least of them the public's, since in California, scores are posted on the Internet. No apologies or arguments about extenuating circumstances are going to shield me from the new state edict: Improve, or expect us at your doorstep.
I am not entirely opposed to this scrutiny. As a Rockefeller Republican, I can appreciate the role government has in education. As a taxpayer, I desire sound quantitative measurements of the state of schools. But I do question the lofty targets being set.
I could offer many reasons why my class's scores on the tests are likely to be deemed unsatisfactory. I could describe socioeconomic deprivations, broken families, homes where English is not spoken. But vignettes, I know, do little more than elicit sympathy. Stories of neglect or deficiency at home will in no way diminish my accountability as the primary instrument of instruction. Nor will they affect the machinery of the tests.
What the scores will not accurately show, however, is the growth in my students since the beginning of the year. Two who couldn't read in September have started to do so. Those who did have some reading ability now have better comprehension, though, to be honest, given the language of the test and the abstract concepts embedded in most of its questions, probably half of my class will not really understand what is being asked.
I am being asked to exact more from my students than ever before to prepare them for a test whose median or "average" taker is in a world that is socially and ethnically remote from them. How can I place such stress on them, asking them to perform at a level far beyond their current development? How can I do this and still maintain my role as a confidant, a holder of their trust and respect?
And here is my big dilemma. My kids like me. How can I jeopardize my place in their hearts by constantly admonishing, even if gently, about the inadequacies of their best work -- not because it isn't their best, mind you, but because it is so below standards that it practically ensures an unfavorable rating on the test?
It is not that I wish less for my students than teachers elsewhere in the country do for theirs. Nor is it that the demands now placed on me will result in an increased workload. My problem is that I am a realist. ------------------- Brian K. Hixson teaches fifth grade. *********************************************************
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: email@example.com