Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

How Can I Teach Using Poetry and Theatre When There is So Much TESTING Pressure?

Stop believing the rhetoric about testing and start teaching what you know motivates learners and produces joyful, challenging, and meaningful educational experiences for teachers and students alike! Yes–sometimes this actually includes tests! But often rigorous and motivated learning goes well beyond testing into spaces of voice, movement, & creativity.  Below I quote from a recently submitted proposal under consideration by the National Council of Teachers of English–thank you Bob Fecho for sending!  It’s eloquence and import are spot on!
Read on to name the problem as it should be named–our schools are not failing, our kids and teachers are not failing–POVERTY fails–and it fails for us all.  This is why the protesters march Wallstreet and denounce policies and practices that favor the richest getting richer and the poorer and middle class getting poorer.
Responding to my plea to maintain education funding to support Foreign Language Education, my representative Paul Broun (R-GA) wrote back on 10.6: “Unfortunately, as the federal government has taken a bigger and more unconstitutional role in education, billions of taxpayer dollars have been sent to the U.S. Department of Education.  During this period, reading scores have shown little improvement, writing scores have fallen, and mathematics scores have risen just slightly.”
Some misguided policy makers, many of whom are Republican, believe that federal spending for education is misguided and does not show any demonstrable results.  They are wrong.  They do not know how to (or refuse to) disaggregate data that shows that middle and upper middle and upper class children do fine–better than fine–showing outstanding educational outcomes.  There is an intent to rob our educational system of precious funding due to false indicators of so-called “progress” –tests!
I am not suggesting we stop administering the tests–I’m actually quite fond of an occasional test and am one of the few professors I know who has actually given multiple, multiple-choice tests in some of my courses.  However, I do suggest that we exercise our own educational and creative agency and create wiggle room necessary to give much more than the tests in our classrooms.  How can one teach poetry and theatre when there is so much testing pressure? How can one NOT turn to poetry, theatre and the arts in general for some solace, some place for hope amidst a depressing and divided economy and inflated scare tactics that intend to undermine our public educational system.  Add your comments please–you too Representative Broun!
Submitted for consideration by the Committee on Resolutions, via e-mail, on October 10, 2011:
Resolution on National Standards and Tests
The movement for national standards and tests is based on these claims: (1)  Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students’ scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy; (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards and national tests to reveal whether standards are being met.
Each of these claims is false. (1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. Test scores of students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools are among the best in world. Our mediocre scores are due to the fact that the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries.  (2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves the status of families and children’s educational outcomes. (3) There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past.
No educator is opposed to assessments that help students to improve their learning. We are, however, opposed to excessive and inappropriate assessments. The amount of testing proposed by the US Department of Education in connection to national standards is excessive, inappropriate and fruitless.
The standards that have been proposed and the kinds of testing they entail rob students of appropriate teaching, a broad-based education, and the time to learn well. Moreover, the cost of implementing standards and electronically delivered national tests will be enormous, bleeding money from legitimate and valuable school activities. Even if the standards and tests were of high quality, they would not serve educational excellence or the American economy.
Resolved that the National Council of Teachers of English
* oppose the adoption of national standards as a concept and specifically the standards written by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers
* alert its members to the counter-productiveness of devoting time, energy and funds to implementing student standards and the intensive testing that would be required.

Carol Mikoda (contact)
Harpur Writing Instructor, Binghamton University
Teacher Consultant, Seven Valleys Writing Project

Susan Ohanian, 2003 recipient of NCTE’s George Orwell Award
for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language

Stephen Krashen
Joanne Yatvin, NCTE Past President

Bess Altwerger
Richard J Meyer
director of the High Desert Writing Project
incoming president of Whole Language Umbrella

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