A teacher’s take on education policy

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I became a teacher out of a passion for providing quality learning experiences for students.

Over the years, I’ve become loaded with certifications required by the state of New York. Some have been useful, but I have begun to feel that the profession of teaching is being degraded by bureaucracy. Rather than letting teachers teach and students learn in the way that best meets their individual needs, there's hurdle after hurdle.

The main area where education has failed students, is increased testing, which leads to a major problem – “Teaching to the Test." Quite literally, this means that teachers are left with no option but to teach only the material that is going to be on an assessment, so that the students will score well and the school will be viewed as ‘successful’ and not ‘in need of improvement’. Teaching to the Test has narrowed the scope of education and created a growing generation of drone students, who are expecting to only learn what they will be tested on, not encouraged to use their imaginations (cutting the arts doesn’t help either, but that’s another topic!) In my professional experience, a looser environment, one free from standardized testing of any sort would foster natural curiosity and real learning.

Unfortunately, state and federal lawmakers have tied funding primarily to results on specific tests. It is intended to make teachers more accountable, but instead makes the stakes of the testing disproportionately high. On paper, this system is a great idea and plan, but in practice, it fails students constantly; Students learn only what will be on a test and not broader scope information that can provide greater context to a topic.

An example of this would be learning about the causes of the American Revolution and teaching them the reasons, including (but not limited to) the various ‘Intolerable Acts’ imposed by England, the lack of ability to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains, and being unable to own guns and having to quarter soldiers. The why of these is no longer explored in most classroom settings because it takes away from what might be featured on a state test. Not only is the “why” important information, the understanding of it supports a deeper understanding of the tested content.

One district in Upstate New York recently pushed back, in a non-binding vote that was likely the first of its kind: Saratoga City School District voted on April 9 to tell the state ‘enough is enough’ and to stop putting undue pressure on kids and teachers. It doesn't really have any teeth - they still have to follow the state guidelines. But their hope is that this measure will cause the state to wake up and see what this testing is doing to students and teachers.

Could this spread to other districts? Well, a few counties north in Saranac Lake, NY, some parents are opting to keep their kids home on test day.

Let's home this ripple starts a wave. The system is broken and as a teacher, I see it first hand. Without a major change, a generation or more of American students will be programmed to look narrowly at information so they might pass a test, rather than let their imagination and individual learning styles roam free. There’s got to be a better way than “teaching to the test.”