Peer through the doorway into my classroom, under the Tibetan prayer flags and past the bookcases, and there I was distributing yet another set of answer sheets and test packets. “Hey, Ms.,” one outspoken student shouted from the back of the room. “What’s this for anyway?” Their groans and sighs were audible; clearly, they have been in public education for far too long to need the answer to that question.
I struggled with what to say. Fumbled through my words even saying “it’s stupid, really” at one point before backtracking. The problem is I wanted to sigh, groan, and roll my eyes too. I settled on the words, “The district requires it…” I was torn between being honest with them and having them feel truly encouraged to do their best as to not have it be a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, our school district does require students to take this interim assessment, which means my seniors, many of whom will not be retaking the ACT or choosing college over a job, had to take an ACT practice test so that I can further disaggregate their data. That data, I am sure, will tell me what I already know: My students are drastically behind grade level in their reading skills, and taking test after test is not going to magically put them back on track with their peers around the country, and world.
What gets lost in all the assessing, is teaching…and learning…and the inspiration needed to fuel both. I want my students to leave class feeling energized from provocative conversations and authentic writing. That can be hard to establish and maintain when there are further outside restrictions on how we spend our time in the classroom. For true learning to happen, there needs to be more freedom and inspiration in public education.
For now, I hope for less comments on what the district requires and more comments on what our students actually need.