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thinking things through.

The past week of my professional life has been dedicated to meeting with teachers and reflecting on their writing workshops. The gist of our meetings involves discussing successes and general good stuff happening in workshop, as well as goals and hopes for next year. I’m touched by how driven many teachers are in the quest to constantly improve their practice for the students in their classrooms. It seems that in the face of No Child Left Untested, err Behind and the constant degradation of public schools, many teachers have found the will to continue doing what is best for kids, even if it appears out of sync with standardized testing.

Now if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m all about balance. I tend to preach balance between standardized prompt experiences and pure workshop experiences.

However, if I were to tip the scales and choose a side, it would be that of workshop. I believe writing workshop does prepare students for standardized tests. I believe teaching according to best practices prepares students for standardized tests. I believe caring about students, reading a poem aloud because it reminds you of a student, sending a kid on a silly scavenger hunt prepares students for standardized tests. I believe sharing our passion for language arts prepares students for standardized tests.

What will happen if we take away our joy of teaching in order to prepare kids to get better scores? What will happen if we sacrifice building relationships in the name of more grammar instruction? What will happen if we crumble under the pressure to conform our instruction to standardized tests?

When asked, “What is your goal for next year,” a teacher answered me, “For my classes to get the highest score on our district writing prompt.”

I sat in silence.

The teacher continued, “Isn’t that what it’s all about? To raise scores? I suppose I also desire for all of my students to pass the ISTEP test.”

My silence sent the wrong message. The teacher thought I was judging, that I wanted some other answer. But all I felt inside was sadness.

I was sad that all this teacher has to offer — humor and experience and a genuine love and understanding of language arts — was reduced to helping students do better on some stinkin’ test.

Then I was angry. Angry that so much pressure has been put on teachers, that we believe our roles are reduced to that of “score-increasers.” Angry that this good teacher isn’t valued.

And I understand. I understand the frustration of having scores placed on a graph and put up on a big screen in front of the entire staff and being told, “If we don’t increase our language arts scores we will be a failing school . . . ” I understand the sinking feeling of getting class lists back with blocks of yellow highlight indicating all of the students who didn’t pass the district assessment. I understand feeling those above us don’t care about the growth and improvement students make unless it yields a passing test score.

I understand. But I’m sad. And angry.

And still trying to sort it all out.

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

4 thoughts on “thinking things through. Leave a comment

  1. I want to thank you for writing what my colleagues and I have been feeling. This year, a core group in our building took on the workshop model completely in language arts and math. Throughout this process, we developed relationships with our students and strengthened our relationships with each other. We saw success in promising readers. Those readers were “asking” to read during inside recess, where before they were fighting reading at all costs. We saw students independently writing, collaborating with one another, publishing, and sharing their written pieces. We saw students work together to solve complicated math challenges. When it came time for the standardized test, they were prepared. We were a team and we trained all year. On the day of the tests, I had to hold back tears as I looked at my group of 4th graders tackling another challenge with determination. They gave their all and that is all I or their parents can ask of them. I was very proud of them, but most of all I was proud of the success they have shown all year. Those students moved mountains this year and I am excited about other strategies to use next year. For me…the workshop WORKS!!!!


  2. And I think you are right, Ruth. Teachers are valued less if “their” scores aren’t good. I am not sure it is fair to judge teachers solely on those results, and that is what is happening. There are plenty of other things to judge the teacher for!


  3. Hmmm…

    I liked it better when local educators could do what was best for their kids instead of having to hold every child in the state to the same standard.
    I am going to agree with both of you. When the test is the goal, one CAN lose site of the bigger educational picture, but teaching all the every day things SHOULD give the kids the info they need to pass. Unless the test is so ridiculously biased in one way or another that nobody but the “best”can pass it.


  4. I’m posting this for the teacher referenced in my post. He writes,

    I might add some thoughts that you might include in your blog. A rebuttal if you will. I think you are wrongly assuming that having the goal of every student passing the standardized test negates the other processes that enrich the student’s academic experience. Teaching which conveys the joy of good literature and the magic of poetry and striving to bring each student to a level where that student can pass the standardized test are not mutually exclusive endeavors. While the academic community is being held hostage by self-serving politicians who attempt to advance their own agendas by taking potshots at the schools is regrettable as well as detestable, it is nevertheless a reality that we are being held accountable for the progress of our students by administrators, politicians, and the community. Also, as educators, we have a moral, as well as professional responsibility, to prepare those entrusted to us for the realities of the “real” world. This includes facilitating their ability to write competently in a way that will give them the ability to succeed in the workforce. None of this prevents the creative and dedicated teacher from bringing his students to a realization of the enrichment that the great authors have brought to the world through the printed word. Again having a goal of helping a student experience the success of passing a standardized test does not preclude the student from coming to experience the appreciation of writing for enjoyment and finding fulfillment in putting one’s own thoughts and experiences on paper. Success in both areas is possible and desirable. Instead of feeling sadness at the realization that a teacher is trying to help students succeed in the prescribed curriculum, I believe, one should feel happiness that a teacher is trying to not only help students meet the academic requirements of the state, but also as part of that goal is helping students to find meaning in the creative process of writing. As I have said the two accomplishment go hand in hand. One need not discard teaching to enrich lives in order to achieve success in accomplishing the academic standards. I enjoy seeing my students succeed on measurable assessments. This brings a tangible satisfaction. Seeing their eyes light up and seeing fascination on their faces when they read Frost, Poe, Hughes, or Riley is also extremely satisfying. Observing their eagerness to share what they have written, and seeing writing techniques that one has taught applied to paper makes the effort seem worthwhile. So, in conclusion, with hard work, caring, planning, and keeping in mind that our taskmasters in the statehouse with their ridiculous inane programs are only the masters of their sweaty little reigns of power temporarily, the possibilities in the classroom are limited only by the creativeness and imagination of the educator


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