A few weeks ago I met for our annual winter retreat with the Ohio Education Association (OEA) Board of Directors.
As one of our activities, we answered a few questions which we then discussed with another member of the Board. The question set I chose to answer started by asking if I was proud of my job and went on from there.
I am proud of my job. I do a job that matters. Every day I interact with a hundred and thirty students very directly and another fifty or so in passing moments in the hallway, and everyday it's my pleasure - my responsibility, really - to create a stable, loving environment for them.
Yes, I'm assigned to teach them chemistry (or material science or whatever), but there are so many more - and often more important - things that I teach on a daily basis. I teach them discipline and the - hopefully - rewards of hard work. I teach them about responsibility and about living up to your promises - or at least owning up when you don't.
I teach them how to be better people, how to work in groups, how to figure out problems, and fight through difficulties. I teach them the value of hard work and of occasionally taking a break from hard work.
I used to teach them about the value of charity, the value of working hard to help others, the value of working together to plan a charity campaign. See, we used to run a campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It was called Pasta for Pennies - well, it is still called Pasta for Pennies, we just don't run it that same way at Princeton.
See, we used to get a group of students together in the early fall and let them run the campaign. We would call the meetings and make suggestions, but the students ran the campaign. They owned the process and the events. They made the plans. They did the legwork. Yeah, we followed up to check in on them, but the campaign was theirs. They convinced their friends of the value of the campaign.
But February became sacred. February became time for test preparation and not for fundraising. February had to be cleared, so our campaign - our nationally ranked, our morality-teaching, our quarter of a million dollar raising campaign - was shifted. We'd been here before the OGT, but we couldn't win against the state report card.
So we had to move the campaign from February when we'd run the campaign for nearly a decade into October which meant we didn't have time for them to own the campaign. October meant that the campaign became a thing that Lonnie and Becky ran, a thing that we asked the students to participate in but that they didn't own. October meant the campaign became a burden to the students instead of a gift, instead of a teaching tool, instead of a glorious opportunity.
Instead of taking the time to let the students develop leadership skills, to go into the community, build teamwork, work together, grow something that mattered to them, we started telling them what to do so that we could spend February preparing them so we could spend March testing them.
And our scores didn't go up.
And our campaign died.
Yes, it limped on for a couple of more years. We raised thirty-seven thousand more dollars in two more years, something we'd raised in one campaign the year before.
And then we quit because the thing we'd loved had been dying for two years.
Because the testing killed it.
The single thing that I've done with my students about which I was the proudest...about which I still am the proudest was killed by the OGT.
I can't even imagine how much more quickly the PARCC and AIR tests would have killed it.
This is my story of why I hate standardized tests.