Last week I was fortunate to be in attendance at the South Carolina Teacher of the Year Banquet. Simply being around passionate educators is incredibly inspiring. Over the past few years, I have become acquainted with many of our State and District Teachers of the Year. It has been my honor to work closely with these leaders as they pour their lives into improving education in South Carolina.
In my discussions with these outstanding teachers, one thing has become abundantly clear. Evaluating the quality of a teacher based upon the results of a standardized test is damaging the teaching profession and, ultimately, the students of our state.
When schools and teachers are judged, in large part, by standardized tests the system becomes geared toward maximizing results on these tests. While tests can provide some useful data in assessing student growth and developing plans to improve achievement, they are narrow, objective, and VERY LIMITED in what they can measure. Thus, the education of our children becomes narrow, objective and limited. In this test-crazy environment, many teachers lose their passion. What should be an art is reduced to a technical process that sucks the soul out of many teachers. They are forced to paint by numbers rather than create masterpieces. Sadly, the passion for learning, so natural to all children, is also crushed in this environment because preparing for bubble-in tests is antithetical to igniting students’ passion for learning.
We have become so caught up in improving test scores that we have forgotten to consider whether the "test and punish" culture we have built is really the ideal approach to educating our youth. This culture has had devastating impacts on our teachers. Forty-six percent of our teachers leave the profession within the first five years. We should also consider the great number of young people who refuse to even enter the field because they cannot envision themselves spending their lives in a profession stripped of its autonomy and degraded by a growing lack of respect and dignity, evidenced by the common practice of excluding teachers from providing input on the very policies that impact them and their students most. The quality teachers who remain are forced to follow these policies, and they often conflict with a their own consciences.
Well-intentioned people outside of education commonly think they have the answer. Whether it is to integrate a business or military style approach, those who have NOT spent time leading a classroom simply cannot be trusted to create policy without SIGNIFICANT input from veteran teacher leaders.
Having never spent a day in the military, I would NEVER consider authoring or even supporting legislation impacting our soldiers without a high level of consultation with soldiers who have been in combat and military leaders who could provide informed input on the merits of the legislation.
As our teacher leaders are constantly bypassed in the creation of educational policy, we are sending them the message that their thoughts and ideas simply do not matter. We are telling them that their education, experience, and wisdom are trumped by the ignorance, inexperience, and folly of ideologues who arrogantly think they know better.
America’s teachers deserve better. They are heroes who should be treated with deep respect. Reducing them to test-preparers is misguided and immoral. Judging them by the results of a test would be like judging your doctor based upon the results of your cholesterol test. If your doctor prescribes the right medicine, treatment, diet, and lifestyle changes, what more can your doctor do? She can’t swallow the statins for you!
Besides, there’s much more to good health than your cholesterol levels. Likewise, there is so much more to an education than what can be measured on these tests. Creativity, compassion, mental health, honesty, integrity, happiness, and physical health are all essential to a quality life. As a father of three children, I would rather my kids have high levels of these qualities than those measured on a test.
I am calling upon educators everywhere to insist upon building a NEW culture, one that emphasizes student growth while investing in and cherishing their humanity, one that generates a universal respect and admiration for our teachers, one that eschews “test and punish” in favor “love and develop.”
We know what must be done. We just have to be willing to dream big enough to make it happen.