She defined the group as “a group of educators, parents, and concerned citizens who engage in public writing and public teaching about education in Georgia. Some goals of the collective include: 1) empowering educators to reclaim their workplace and professionalism, 2) empowering families to stand up for their children and shape the institutions their children attend each day, 3) empowering children and youth to have control over their education, and 4) enhancing the education of all Georgians. The numbers are growing, representing at least six counties.”
In its current form, the group has a strong Clarke County presence as this essay indicates, but I thought the sentiment expressed could be appreciated by a wider Georgia audience. So, here is the collective’s first effort for the blog:
The end of the CRCT marks the time of the school year that teachers look forward to most. Its the time when teachers have more freedom and flexibility to teach in student-centered, inquiry-based, and curiosity-driven ways.
It’s the time of the year when tensions subside and mandates are over. Well, at least that’s what we used to look forward to. However, this year after the CRCT is over there is a new district mandate in Clarke County to which third and fifth grade teachers must adhere. It’s called the “Blitz.”
Third and fifth grade teachers across the district have been asked to compile a list of students “projected to fail” the CRCT. Teachers were forced to use previous standardized assessments to determine this list of students. And if the lists weren’t long enough, teachers were told to add more, just in case.
Students on the “projected to fail” list will be involved in a “Blitz” session immediately following the conclusion of the CRCT – before test results are even known. Students will be re-rostered – that is, the students will be grouped with new students and different teachers so all the “projected failures” will be in one class receiving “intense remediation” while the remaining students will experience “acceleration and enrichment.”
This means that while some students are investigating how tornadoes are formed, creating inventions to fix a problem they see in their community, or making informational videos using iPads, the “projected to fail” students will be sitting in a computer lab staring at a screen and listening through headphones to practice skill and drill reading assignments for an hour every day. This is on top of the hour and a half of direct reading instruction they will receive.
When does the torture end? Why aren’t all students given the opportunity to learn in creative and inspired ways? Why are students who may struggle with reading constantly given boring and uninspiring things they must read while other students have choice and learn to read through creative projects? Don’t all students need an enriching and encouraging environment surrounded by friends and teachers that know them best?
“Struggling” students are constantly on the losing end of every battle – and now they lose even before their test results are known.
If students aren’t successful on a high-stakes standardized test in reading, the blame is aimed at the student who is labeled defective and in need of fixing. But what if the student isn’t what needs fixing? What if the way school policies and mandates are created is what needs fixing? What if the budget is what’s broken? What if we stop blaming the students, their parents, and the teachers and instead look at the conditions of schooling that produce failure?
We dream of a school system where students aren’t projected to fail and schools don’t produce failure. That school system would encourage teachers to slow down and learn about a student who is struggling and design instruction to make that student successful. We teachers don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs, we need time to teach our students in the way that is best for them. And students don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs either. They need a less stressful and anxiety-ridden environment and more time in creative, supportive classrooms where they know they are valued and projected to succeed. They need student-centered inquiries back in their school lives, and teachers who do engaging projects with them where they ask questions and find answers.
School systems’ fear of failure has created the conditions for more failure to emerge. We might all be surprised if we stopped making decisions out of fear of failure and started making decisions based on hope and seeing our students as possibility. Let’s change the definition of “success” to include more than one test score and project success for all our students.
We might begin with a different kind of “Blitz” – which is defined as an intense campaign for something, even if most definitions refer specifically to military campaigns. Let’s use the end of the school year for a “School is a place I want to be” Blitz to motivate students to make deep connections to school and inspire them to look forward to the fall.
Keeping them in their classrooms with teachers and students they have come to know and trust all year is one place to start, and engaging them with challenging and creative projects is another. If we don’t, this “Blitz” for the CRCT – even after the CRCT is over – will likely backfire on us all.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog