As an Algebra and Geometry support teacher at The Duke Ellington School of the Arts, I am concerned about the influence that national tests have on my, and other teachers', teaching.
David Simon, who is responsible for my all time favorite TV series, "The Wire", was on Bill Moyers last night.
He referred to our national zeal for test taking as "juking the stats", a quote that comes from an episode where teachers in a Baltimore inner city school are told that they must teach strictly from the test for the few months prior to giving Baltimore's version of the DCCAS.
The cop turned teacher from the series is familiar with his city's police force (and incumbent mayors) needing positive statistics and draws an analogy between the school's superintendent needing better test scores and the police chief needing better crime stats.
Simon adds that this need for positive statistics has made real police work nearly impossible, a theme that ran through "The Wire".
Real teaching is also inhibited when teachers are asked to abandon the literature they love or mathematical investigations that involve time and the building of things for mass produced DCCAS test taking practice materials.
A newly minted graduate of Howard University called me recently. She is working as a long-term sub at a DCPS Public elementary school.
She was overwhelmed and jittery. Her 4th graders were badly behaved and could not focus on the materials she had been given to use for the three hour Language Arts block.
"What curriculum are you using?" I asked.
"Test taking skill stuff. You know, read a short passage and pick out the main idea. Or, underline the verb in the following ten sentences. Materials like that. We have been ordered to use them."
"For three hours a day? What about history and science?"
"We have been asked to not teach history and science for the time being because they are not subjects on the test."
“Who's your principal?”
“He is new,” she answered. “Hand picked by Michelle Rhee.”
The friend that called me studied theater at Howard University. She knows how to get kids excited about language, movement, the spoken and written works. She has her favorite stories and plays.
But no, like the Baltimore Police Force, in the name of juking the stats, she has abandoned her instincts and dutifully followed her principal's orders.
How sad is that.