Wednesday, May 21, 2014

SBAC Vignettes - Ethnographic Slices from a Day of Testing in Connecticut Schools 2014

It's May.

Graduation was Sunday, so I scheduled this week to be in schools. I am greeted in a parking lot by a teacher I've worked with all year. "Why are you here?  Everything is crazy here. We're still testing."

Nothing is working and the kids have had it. The teachers are calling in sick. The kids are not themselves. They've had it, too. We have endured so much the last few years, but this year is extreme. It's dysfunctional.

(EF: I love this school. I love these teachers. I love these kids. What is going on?)

"I fuc#$#@ can't stand her, Ms. I'm going to kill her," says the middle school student to her administrator. "I've had it with all her #$@#."

"Calm down. I'm sure we can settle this. Did you have breakfast this morning?"

"#$@$@ no."

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
And to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Yo prometo lealtad a la bandera de los estados Unidos de America,
 y a la Republica que representa, una Nacion bajo Dios, entera,
 con libertad y justicia para todos.

I'm glad you're here, Bryan. The teachers will be excited to see you. 

(EF: I was to meet them in the library but only 2 of 52 showed). 

There might be a slight glitch, though. The teachers are not their usual selves. Everything that gets them excited about teaching has been destroyed . About 3 months. We've lost about 3 months of instruction due to these tests. There are so many glitches in them but we're trying to remain positive. Everyone is telling us, "They're here to stay. This is the way we do school now - we're preparing our kids for the 21st century." My husband and I have discussed opting our son and daughter out, but we decided it's best to support teachers at other schools. Tests are a part of life, but this has been outrageous. We want our kids to be strong - to be a part of something larger. We're not sure, though, if this is what we want them a part of. 

Ms., Ms., Ms., Ms., 
The computer logged me out again. 
Ms. I just lost everything I wrote for the last 30-minutes. 
Ms. This is the 3rd time, I've had it. 
Ms. I'm not doing it again. This is all we do now. 
Ms. I'm trying. 
Ms. I'm really trying. I know you're trying, too, Ms. 
Can't you write a letter? 
Seriously, Ms. I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, Ms.

(proctor in room walks over to the failed computer and types)

 To Whom This May Concern: This student has worked diligently for the last two weeks. She is a good student. She continues to get logged out of the program. This is not fair. This is not a measurement of this student. She is amazing. This is a systemic problem. I might lose my job for typing this, but this is the truth. The kids are aggravated. They're tired. They want to learn. They come to school to learn. They are being bullied by this system. We are being bullied by this system).

"How's it going?" I ask a principal I've worked with for two years. 

I admire him. He is dedicated to his school and every time I visit, I leave with tremendous optimism about education and what is possible. 

The principal smiles with gritted teeth and says through his clenched face with sarcasm, "Can you tell how it's going? This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to education. I am the happiest man alive." 

He maintains the grin as if I am wearing a surveillance camera on my forehead and have been sent as a spy to his school. "25 years in the profession. I'm used to this frantic time of the year.  How am I doing? Look at the kids. Look at the teachers. Look at my smile. (OC: it's usually a beautiful smile full of hope and positive energy). I'm trying to keep this ship going. The captain will go down with his ship. It's sinking and I don't know how to stop this from happening. None of us do."


Banner given to me as a gift in 1998: My child is so much more than a test score. 

I hung it proudly in my Kentucky classroom. 

Kids asked me why I had it in room 301 and I said, "It was a gift from a parent to remind me that she wanted more from my classes than just a test result."

(OC: stopping to see the ESL teacher). They come to me asking, "When can we learn again? Why are they doing this to us? We've never seen half of this stuff in our lives." I tell them, "Shh. This is a trial year." 

There's sure to be a few glitches, right?  Our English language learners are staring at the screens in complete fear. They need vocabulary instruction. They need guidance. They need to learn how to type. Many of them have had very little experience with keyboards and screens. Some don't read in any language. Some arrived to our school a few weeks ago. If a politician came an interviewed us, any of us, we could tell them how the students are doing and what we want to do to make them better. Instead, the tests measure what we already know. The truth is we need more instructional time, more support, more teachers, and better environments. Instead, this machination has been delivered upon us. It's like a science fiction film, but it is not an American film. This does not have a happy ending.

I will stop here at 9 vignettes. 6 hours in three Connecticut schools where I stopped by to meet with administrators, teachers and students. As I wandered from room to room, lab to lab, library to library, I began to take notes. 

I like to think that 9 is a gestation # for giving birth. So this will be my last stanza.

This is my perspective. As a human being, my subjectivities influence the views I have of the world. I arrive to schools as a student, an urban educator, a director of a National Writing Project site, a White, Western educated male, and a lifelong learner. I returned to my office to type my notes. The computers in the schools were off limits to everyone: teachers and students, UNLESS they were  used for SBAC testing. 

I was told its been this way for weeks and it will be this way for more to come. In the office, there is a giant laminated calendar for the months of April, May, and June. Giant red X's cover the days where testing will occur - needless to say, it is a bloodbath of scarlet ink. 4th grader, 8th graders, 11th graders have it really bad. I see a music teacher. I see an art teacher. They tell me, "That calendar isn't for us. We never know when we're going to see our students. Sometimes we have them, sometimes we don't."

It's the end of the year and I remember a time when computers were in high demand for producing papers, final projects, Powerpoints, and portfolios. They were tools that helped students to demonstrate  knowledge and growth from yearlong learning. Now? Not at all. Students are kept away from them at a time when they should be creating, culminating, and demonstrating their growth with reflection and research. Instead, the machines glow with an eerie login screen to take the daily tests - each has brand new earphones plugged in them. 

The rooms are extremely quiet, except for the sighs, groans, moans, and ubiquitous, "Ms., Ms., Ms."

Teacher: I thought the four hours of testing would give me a place to grade today. I spent all four hours putting out fires. It was like playing whack-a-mole. As soon as we got one student logged on, another student was logged off.

(rumor: there is an embargo on discussing the tests).

Another teacher:  Bryan, we're blessed. We have technology - state of the art technology - but the system keeps crashing. We have no idea what will become of this. We know neighboring schools do not have such technology. When they asked about this at a district meeting they were told, "The tests are not going away. This is the new normal."

9 vignettes. 


I am giving birth to the reality of national standards, measuring a child's worth through high stakes testing, and the PTSD that results. I'm not sure who knocked me up, or who is knocking them up, or if this is an immaculate conception, but I have my suspicions.

Cry The Beloved Country.

Our paved roads have intentions, indeed, but whether or not they are good remains unseen. They do not lead to Johannesburg; progress leads to those places where a dollar can be made.

For now, my water is bursting and I'm pushing the only way I know how....with words.

I am remembering happier days in education.

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