Tomorrow my students begin taking the big state test. It will completely hijack 5 school days over the next two weeks. The schedule on those days will center around 3 hour sessions of testing each morning, followed by 20 minute class periods and an assembly each day. 5 days of instruction lost, so that my state can assess in October of their seventh grade year the skills students learned in their 6th grade year. 5 days of instruction lost, so that the state can hold up these students’ scores and compare them to how well a completely different group of students did on a different test last year. This is what politicians call accountability. Those of us who teach know it is actually called insanity.
I have refused to teach to this test in any way. Within my department, I have silently made different choices than my colleagues, who pass out practice packets and drill the kids with strategies and terms. I have aimed instead to challenge my students’ creativity and critical thinking by opening the year with poetry and memoir units, encouraging the students to read and write on two levels. We have searched for symbols, deeper meanings, and universal themes in the mentor texts we read, while we have stretched to create our own underlying symbols, figurative meanings, and themes within our own writing. I have consciously resisted mentioning this test at all, except to explain the schedule to them today. I have never asked them to answer the questions: “The main idea of this selection is…” or “An alternate title for this selection could be…”
When these two weeks are over, I will plan every class period down to the very last minute until I feel we’ve taken that lost time back. And when their scores are mailed out 5 months from now, I will remind my students that this is one arbitrary assessment of answers to questions about stories they never read before, prompts they couldn’t have cared less about, and math they may or may not have been taught, all on one random day in seventh grade.
This is how I occupy education.