What has Testing and Accountability Taught Us?

opinionAfter spending close to 30 years in public education, I now find myself rather conflicted. I feel confused and frustrated, not knowing which direction to turn. I feel as though public education has been hijacked by corporations and politicians who have set us up to fail.

I have worked in both private and public schools and have taught all grade levels from Kindergarten through 6th as well as some middle school teaching experience.  I have been an elementary music teacher, band and choral director, technology coordinator, classroom teacher, an assistant principal and a principal.  During those 30 years, I wrote school musicals and music curriculum, and worked numerous committees  including: visual/ performing arts, health, technology, safety, and curriculum. I served in the teacher’s union as well as on the administrative side of bargaining committees. I have written district level technology plans, school improvement plans, crisis response plans, workshops, presentations, staff development and more.  I was active in numerous federal reform initiatives including Standards, Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind – with its testing, accountability and data mining, Race to the Top, and Common Core.  Now, I watch my grandchildren flourishing in a home school program and find myself fully supportive – something I would never have thought of a decade ago. Now, I don’t know anymore.

I was on board with all of them – the various initiatives.  We needed these reforms, right?  I trained teachers and administrators as well as parents.  I tooted the horn of how important they were and how they would help the schools – I should say children. (I find it fascinating that I typed “schools” and not children.)  Some may say I had no choice since I worked in the public school system.  While that may be true to some extent, it is not completely true because I also believed in those reforms. But did they help? No, kids still are still not proficient in reading and math (but don’t know it), teachers are still struggling, parents are still frustrated and schools are still marked as failures – all because of test scores. Children are still dropping out of high school and assuming they graduate, are unprepared for college.

Most of our former standards were so vague, they were nearly useless.  Testing and accountability have marked the majority of public schools systems as failures in spite of incredible success stories and high scores.  Creativity, hand-on activities, the arts, and field trips are nearly extinct.  Testing and punishment (by withholding funds) didn’t work.  Do they ever?  Enter Common Core national standards with more testing and more accountability. Really?

I did everything I was supposed to do both as a teacher as well as an administrator.  They said, these initiatives would improve our schools – there I go again – why didn’t I say the initiatives would improve student learning?  Was this the goal all along?  Have we, as a nation, lost our focus on “student learning and achievement” in order to have schools with good test scores?

Schools are not cookie-cutter factories from the industrial revolution.  Not all children are the same nor do they all learn the same way or at the same rate of speed.  You cannot put a child into the system at age 5, send them through all the channels and stops (grade levels) along the way, with each operator (teachers) doing the same thing at the same time in the same way expecting the child to come out looking identical to every other child put through the educational assembly line.  We do not assemble our children.  They are not just an accumulation of parts that can be tinkered with. Every child is unique.  In the same way, neither can our schools be cookie cutter factories.  Schools must meet the needs of the individual children they serve – not just some national standard or test score.

Does anyone else feel this way?  Am I alone on an Island of Doubt?

More to come….

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About Lucy Salerno

I have been a resident of Fairfield for over 25 years and have 30 years’ teaching experience in California K – 6 schools. I have been a music teacher, band and choral director, elementary teacher in grades K – 6, a district level technology coordinator teaching, and an elementary school administrator. In 2011, my most recent school, Scandia Elementary, on Travis Air Force Base, was awarded the California Distinguished School Award for work and programs implemented under my watch. Because of my broad educational background, I know and understand what is needed in today's difficult educational environment. I have taught writing to children in numerous grades as a core subject as well as integrating writing into other curricula areas. I retired a few years ago from the Travis Unified School District, I love working with children, and am now dedicating my services and skills in support of your children. Through love and patience, I hope to understand a child's needs, meet them where they are, build self-confidence and develop a life-long love of learning.
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