We seem in constant conflict about numbers and test scores and teacher accountability.  People who rarely visit a classroom want to quantify everything.  How many widgets did you produce today?  Why didn’t you make as many as you did yesterday?  Was it your supervisor’s fault?  Did they tell you to do something that did not result in more productivity?

All of this effort to force square pegs into round holes is nerve-racking to teachers and principals.  Morale drops and frustrations bubble over.  Here are the thoughts of a long time principal in a rural school I know well.

“I do think tests are necessary to monitor progress and to identify individual needs. I feel the ACT Aspire is really aligned for those students who are gifted. I do feel teachers need accountability–but the pressures on them are driving them away, especially from rural schools like ours.  Many of our children come to school with no help from home, most do not know where they will be when they go home because of so many parents on drugs.

Due to the high stakes test we don’t have many opportunities for the fun things. The teachers do not have time to teach so many life skills like we use to do.  Things as simple as addressing envelopes.and writing letters to send to various classes like pen palls. 

Teachers at my school haven’t had science books in years but now we give the big science section on ACT Aspire.  Students know these tests do not count as part of their score and even parents wonder why we are testing to just rate teachers and administration?

Years ago when I taught we gave the test and went back to teaching as normal.  And the last six weeks of school, my sixth graders did puppet plays for the entire school. They designed the characters, clothes, wrote the script, practiced.  Even made the curtain.  Students who struggled soared with this.  But today we can’t spend six weeks doing that even though students really learned a lot.

We used to study historical events and do huge murals as sections of history were studied.  Simply put, we taught students who prospered and became doctors, lawyers, etc. And had fun along the way. Students had great scores that came from daily, weekly, and benchmark testing along the way.

But we have squeezed the joy out of learning.

Today teachers work so hard, but when they see failing grades from ACT/ASPIRE they feel so defeated and so do I.  Something just doesn’t jell and so many good teachers retire now with 25 years verses 30 or more not because they do not love children, but the pressures of the test are just too much.  Yes, accountability is needed,  but not like we are now doing it..”

I was once in a meeting with Governor Bentley when he said he was looking for “innovative ideas about education.”  I told him I had one.  That we should pay more attention to the real experts, teachers and principals.  He quickly agreed.

But nothing changed.