Do we care more about test scores than safety? It certainly looks that way.
After eighteen weeks, the high school at which I teach will end a semester that has been totally virtual. And I feel extremely lucky to have been blessed with the opportunity to still do my job and feel relatively safe.
For example, my students and I meet every day over a virtual platform called Google Meet. And regardless of what uninformed parents, politicians, or the public at large believes, there’s not a huge difference in what I do over the computer and what I do in school. We read. I teach. I question. They answer. They do projects. They take tests. They even collaborate in groups virtually.
The students can present their screens to show me their work or simply share a Google document with me, one on which I can write immediate feedback just as if I were looking over their shoulder. If they have questions about my written comments, they can then ask me verbally on the meet. If they are scared to ask me verbally, they can email me and receive a direct response back. In addition, there is also an almost two hour long break from classes where they can communicate with me privately or receive one-on- one tutoring if they so desire.
Granted, I teach at a high school, and to be totally honest, I’m not sure that things could ever run so smoothly at the elementary or middle school levels. What’s more, I am not so foolish as to think that learning virtually is as effective as in-person instruction.
However, we are not living in a world right now where this option is completely safe, even though some of the most highly informed medical experts and politicians say otherwise. It is for this reason that I am more than a little angry and concerned over the requirement that all state mandated testing must occur in the actual classroom.
Is Biology More Important Than Breathing?
Due to this mandate, students and teachers who have been relatively safe all semester will now be forced to attend some end of course examinations, and in my humble opinion as a twenty-three year veteran teacher, this fact is an ugly reflection on those officials who are in charge of our educational system.
For one, these tests will be administered in the middle of December when COVID infection rates continue to skyrocket, not to mention the fact that we are in the middle of the holiday season. And let’s not forget the mounting evidence which shows carriers of COVID are asymptomatic and pass the virus on unknowingly.
The bottom line? This mandate is insane.
My daughter has been schooled completely online due to my individual choice to keep her at home. Though my high school is completely virtual, the middle schools in our county are on a staggered schedule where students have the option to attend in person learning for two days or remain completely virtual.
So why do I choose to keep my daughter at home, besides the fact that many of my family members are in high risk categories for being particularly affected by this virus?
For the simple fact that no knowledge of Biology, no mathematical knowledge or proficiency in reading and writing is worth her life or one of the lives of my family members.
She can recover from these academic losses, but not from the possible damage that contracting this virus may present, and certainly not from the loss of her life or the trauma of knowing she may have indirectly caused sickness or death to the people she loves most.
Yet our wise leaders have decided that they simply must know whether or not she is meeting the required milestones for learning in certain subject areas. And if I’m honest, they’re dying to know whether I’ve done my job as a teacher, which they’re always doubting regardless.
Forgive my candidness, but at this point in our world, I could give a damn about her test scores. I also could give a damn about what those scores say about me as a teacher. To be honest, I’ve never thought these scores were accurate to begin with. Which presents another problem.
Will These State Mandated Exams Even Be Accurate?
We already know that young people are suffering emotional, social, and psychological backlash from the effects of a world that has been completely turned upside down. And as a teacher, I also know the truth that some of my students log into our virtual meets and go take a shower or play on their phone while the lesson is presented.
As I said before, I know that learning is still going on, but I also said that virtual instruction is never as effective as in-person instruction. So if you want test results, I can give them to you. For free.
They’ll be down. Dramatically.
And not only for the fact that these children have been traumatized by this pandemic and not only for the fact that many of these children have been virtually schooled both this school year and half of the year before.
They will be coming into a classroom they have never seen before in a situation that they have come to understand is possibly dangerous. They will be subjected to tests that are two hours or longer. They will feel even more test anxiety than they normally do, and this is saying a lot. Before this virus, I have seen children cry in fear before these tests. I have also had students cry in shame at their scores afterwards, even if they excelled in the subject all semester.
The Bottom Line:
To all those who want to know, these test results are not going to be pretty. It’s not the students’ faults. They’ve done the best they can with no authority figures around to force them to focus or to put their phones away. It’s not the teachers’ faults, who’ve spent hours learning virtual programs and yet know they’re still not fully proficient. It’s this damn virus’s fault.
It’s taken a bit of our progress away, and you can bet these scores will show it. And yet some educational officials will hold firm to the numbers or percentages that these tests reveal and will determine a a student’s worth and a teacher’s worth based on one day of testing in the middle of a whole world in shambles.
To those in charge, save the money. Give them the tests when this virus subsides, and administer them not to measure student achievement or my achievement as a teacher. Give them to determine a starting point for instruction for when life goes back to normal, so teachers can “meet students where they are” and work to repair the damage this pandemic has caused both in their learning and in their hearts.
Then and only then will these tests be useful.