• carrie bell

Day #71 Withering on the Vine

Dear "Unstandardized" Teacher,

I read a letter from a superintendent in upstate New York. The letter did not include a name but said he was from Voorheesville.

After reading the letter, I'm a good mind to do some serious stalking for an email address, so I can, likewise, write him a letter.

I want to thank him for shining a spotlight on a prevalent issue in education and express gratitude for his sincere understanding of the plight teachers today are facing.

Mr. Upstate New York superintendent asserts that talk of standardized testing in the midst of a global pandemic is purely asinine. I agree. Throughout the letter, he poses a question that, frankly, should be plastered on every billboard in the U.S. The question is this: What on earth are we trying to catch them up on?

He goes on to add, "The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We can make these invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply anymore."

I am pausing here in hopeful anticipation that any person reading this will revisit the previous paragraph and slow down for deeper comprehension.

I am pausing again. This time I am listening for the thunderous echo of a collective amen clap from educators all over the country.

In 1930, we never would have dreamed of administering a state test to children during the Great Depression, children with hungry bellies who walked five miles in the May heat for three hours worth of education. We never would have handed a sharpened No. #2 pencil to a bone-thin boy for bubbling in answers on a score sheet. It would have been dang near impossible to know if he was even coming to school that day- his sporadic attendance record serving as a vivid reminder that some days school was simply a luxury he could not afford.

After all, some days required him to drag a sun-bleached sack across a dusty row of crops that were dried on most every vine. Other days required him to bust up a load of kindling for the fire or stay up all night with a malnourished baby sister who was likely not going to hang on until morning.

Some would argue what our children are facing now is not the same ordeal. I, respectfully, disagree.

Modern conveniences have convinced us our children are okay. They are not. Their attendance records are just as spotty as children from the Great Depression, and they are living through legitimate trauma, even if it is gift wrapped in the numbing formaldehyde of electronics.

State legislatures, please explain the differences.

Have they not stayed up all night in anticipation of good news in the morning and have they not become well-acquainted with sorrow?

Are there not countless crops withering on the vine of destitution?

And now a serious consideration is shoving a kid in an isolated partition for half a day to take a test to measure what he doesn't know from the half a year he has already spent in a different kind of isolation?

This makes sense?

What exactly are we measuring?

Maybe for one year alone we could stop the insanity, and let school be the haven it can be, and should be, the same reprieve it was to kids during the Great Depression.

Maybe young people as the author states, "should be heard, and given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post-pandemic world."

After all, as he mentions, "They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They missed you."

On the days when he isn't sick from COVID, quarantined from an exposure to COVID, or anxiously sitting by a phone waiting to hear an update from a loved one with COVID, I hope every student in America is greeted by an "unstandardized" teacher who hands him a riveting book about a child who overcame adversity in the Great Depression instead of unwrapping cellophane to dole out a testing bubble sheet that pops the very last bubble of hope he had left.

In my experience, hopelessness has never been a solid predictor of quality test results, but then again, I am only a teacher. What could I possibly know?


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