A Kentucky Teacher Talks Poverty and Testing

Kentucky Education Report is always looking to highlight teacher voices on education policy issues. Too often, education debates leave out input from the frontline players: The teachers.

Today, teacher Tiffany Dunn shares with us her thoughts on two key issues: Poverty and testing.

About Tiffany Dunn:

I am a parent whose child (3rd grade) attends one of the highest performing elementary schools in the state (Kenwood Station – OCPS) and a teacher in one of the lowest performing middle schools in the state (Lassiter Middle – JCPS).  I am in my 6th year of teaching and this is my 2nd year as an ESL teacher at Lassiter, a “low performing” school.

How she became an education activist:

I became involved in education activism after starting my first year at Lassiter.  Going into the position (after seeing their KPREP scores – oh my!), I thought “great, I’ll stay here one year and get the heck out as soon as I can apply for a transfer!” BUT I soon found out that Lassiter is an amazing school with so many wonderful kids…poor kids.  I found out that Lassiter has many great teachers, that the reason for the “low performance” wasn’t the teachers, it was the socioeconomic status of our students.  Who knew all the bad teachers didn’t just congregate at all the “low performing” schools?!?!  Now I’m telling anyone who will listen about the real crisis in education, poverty.

How poverty impacts the kids Tiffany teaches:
Lassiter is over 85% free and reduced lunch.  We have a large ESL/LEP population.  These kids are at a disadvantage.  Most of them started school behind and they will stay behind because of the conditions they live in.  They worry.  They worry about food.  They worry about utility bills.  They worry about clothing.  No child thinking about these things can give their all in school.

Is all that testing and test prep helping the kids at Lassiter?

Unfortunately, we are not addressing this issue.  Instead of putting an assault on childhood poverty, we’re pumping money into ill-advised standards and testing.  We tests these kids ALL the time.  On top of all the state/federal mandated tests our district has its own mandated diagnostic and proficiency assessments.  They require us to teach certain CCSS standards each 9 weeks and then test them.  This is ON TOP of our own classroom and PLC assessments!  All in the name of the almighty KPREP.  The district uses these tests as a predictor as to how well kids will do on KPREP.  Because this ONE test is how we label our kids, our schools and our teachers.    As an ESL teacher, I can’t keep up with the teaching/testing schedule.  My kids are way too low.  It is educational malpractice to set kids in front a test knowing they are going to fail or move them along at a pace that is too fast.  Best practice would be to take all of this time testing and test prepping and put it into actual teaching.

On Labels from Tests and Opting Out:

I could go on and on about the wrong direction we’re taking in education.  I refuse to accept the labeling of our children and schools by one test score, by one set of standards.  Ranking, filing and pitting schools against one another is wrong.  There will always be a “loser” in this system.  I will be opting my own daughter out of any and all testing that does not guide classroom instruction; this includes KPREP.  Teachers and especially parents must speak up and demand more for our kids!

Are you a Kentucky teacher with a story to tell? Email me at andy@spearsstrategy.com

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

The Danger of Achievement

Drew Perkins of Perkins Ed Consulting writes about the Culture of Achievement and how it can be harmful to students.

Perkins specializes in professional development related to Project-based learning, a topic I’ve written about before.

This column originally appeared on his blog, and is republished here with the author’s permission.

Achievement sounds great doesn’t it? What parent doesn’t want their child to achieve? What teacher doesn’t hope their students achieve at a high level? Of course achievement in general is a good thing but the Culture of Achievement created by high stakes accountability measures is having a dangerous effect on education.

A culture of achievement places it’s focus on the most easily quantifiable and measurable results, test scores. As superintendents and building administrators work to keep their jobs and show they are successful it’s somewhat understandable (if not short-sighted) that this would be a focus. Test scores are the currency in which the general public uses to judge schools. Want to know which schools are the best just ask Google and the top results show rankings like US News & World Report and SchoolDigger.com who state very clearly that test scores are a major factor in their ratings system. For example, US News & World Report explain they begin their rating of schools by “…using performance on state proficiency tests as the benchmarks.” The unfortunate truth is that these tests are not measuring things important to creating the type of graduates society needs and is longing for. Most standardized tests attempt to measure content knowledge and understanding and not skills or thinking you would find on the upper parts of Bloom’s taxonomy. What this often creates then is an approach by administrators that demands a focus on identifying exactly what parts of the test students are not performing well (disaggregating the data) and pulling those students for intentional work on shoring up those specific shortcomings. Sometimes these are called RTI classes and other times teachers are just asked to analyze student data in their PLC’s and reteach or somehow get these students to “achieve” so they can compete with other students and schools.
This detachment from the purpose of school and learning creates a level of frustration, anxiety and burnout that I experienced first-hand as a teacher and from students who have little to no interest in playing school. The misplaced focus of a Culture of Achievement manifests itself in ways that include test prep, students working on and celebrating closing of achievement score gaps, emphasis on coverage of content and almost always an unacceptable level of anxiety & burnout. Perhaps the most saddening part of a Culture of Achievement is it’s low ceiling. While it may be politically and strategically smart to pursue the quick hits of raising test scores it’s a fool’s bargain that limits the potential of our students in a myriad of ways.
What if we pursued a Culture of Teaching and Learning? One that placed an emphasis on things like deep, rich inquiry and craftsmanship? What if the learning had no ceiling and students were authentically assessed and did real-world work where they uncovered and discovered content? What if instead of disaggregating data our teachers engaged in quality professional discourse about their work in ways that excited them and their students? A Culture of Teaching and Learning often produces great (test scores) achievement but a Culture of Achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning. A Culture of Teaching and Learning rewards and professionalizes teaching and helps create students who are empowered by their possibilities and less than concerned with test performance.
If your school is looking to create great thinkers and learners and not just students stuffed full of content take a look at your culture. If your school is wishing your students were excited to be there instead of feeling the tension of just trying to attend and endure take a look at your culture. Is your focus on test scores and “achievement” or do your teachers and students engage in ways that allow them to grow and make meaning out of their learning in ways that tests don’t measure and quantify? Is the purpose of your school to produce great test scores or students capable of thinking creatively and critically about things that matter?
Are you interested in improving your Culture of Teaching and Learning?
For more on moving toward a Culture of Teaching and Learning, visit Drew’s site.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport