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Topic: How tests change a teacher
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
How tests change a teacher
Posted: Jan 26, 2000 12:05 PM
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From New York Times on the Web, January, 25, 2000 [Op-Ed piece]

How Tests Change a Teacher

By Brian K. Hixson

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

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)


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