Georgia teacher: Who loses most from start of testing this week? My students.

Earlier this year, Coweta County teacher Susan Barber garnered a lot of attention for a letter she wrote Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods about how much time testing stole away from teaching.

In response, Woods invited Barber to serve on his Teachers Advisory Council to provide feedback on how state rules and policy impact Georgia classrooms. Barber chairs the English department at Northgate High School in Newnan.

Today, Barber again tackles high-stakes testing as she prepares to administer the Georgia Milestones End of Course Tests to students on block schedules.

This essay is from Barber’s Teach with Class blog, which is worth adding to your bookmarks.

By Susan Barber

The Georgia Milestones begin today in my school, and I am reminded once again of how today’s education system is being driven by money and political agendas. I consider myself to be a positive person – the glass is always more than half full, the sun will come out tomorrow, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade – but there is no positive spin to put on the amount of standardized testing that today’s student must complete.

testartI want to be on record saying that I love teaching. The best way I can describe teaching is like how Sam Baldwin in “Sleepless in Seattle” describes falling in love with his wife: to him meeting her was “like coming home” and “it was like magic.” I know some readers think comparing a job to falling in love is absurd, but teachers wired like me are nodding their heads just thinking about being at home in their classroom with the magic happening. Standardized testing, however, makes me and my students feel like aliens far from home in a place without magic. Some days this makes me sad. Other days this makes me mad. Most days it makes me both.

If testing only took away the actual testing time, that would be enough cause for concern, but our students are robbed in so many other ways. Testing robs students of their teachers’ time as we go to countless (and this is no hyperbole) mandatory test training meetings — hour after hour, semester after semester, year after year of time wasted. In addition to training, the administration of tests costs time. I will spend 4.5 hours over the next few days testing and proctoring students who I don’t even teach. In 4.5 hours, I could offer feedback on approximately four class sets of essays and plan a week’s worth of lessons for the two sections I teach. I doubt anyone would argue what would be more beneficial to students.

In addition to wasted teacher time, testing also robs administrators and counselors as well as county and state level employees from the ability to contribute meaningful work in education. I work with smart people who are passionate about students and education yet devote weeks to making test schedules, counting tests, and showing state PowerPoint presentations on test administration. None of these people sat in their graduate courses dreaming of doing such mundane tasks.

Just think what could be accomplished if these people were devoting weeks of time to solving problems in our schools, helping teachers implement research-based instructional strategies, or developing school-wide curriculum plans. This is the equivalent of the Braves having Freddie Freeman sell concessions during a game which would never be allowed to happen, but it happens every day in our schools. What a waste of manpower hours, mental ability, and passion for the next generation. Once again, what’s best for students loses out to testing.

The biggest losers, however, are our students. Not only are students robbed of teachers, administrators, and counselors who cannot fully focus on them, but they are also robbed of resources. All of our computers and media center will be devoted to testing over the next couple of weeks. The standards, which I am required to teach, expect students to use digital platforms, create digital presentations, and research on a regular basis, but the resources allocated for this are off-limit to students during testing season.

And computer labs are not just affected on testing days. Labs are tested ahead of time to make sure they can handle WiFi demands, and while we do not teach to the test, test prep must be done with students during class time so they are familiar with the format of the test and have the ability to use the digital tools within the test. The amount of money spent on testing is a discussion all by itself as testing has become big business. Once again, nonsense wins out in education at the expense of what is best for our students.

I want my blog to be a positive voice in today’s society; however, I cannot advocate for students without addressing standardized testing. Parents, as well as teachers, must make their voices known on this issue at the state and federal level. Let teachers be teachers, not testers and let students be learners, not a test score.

 

Reader Comments 0

50 comments
jerryeads
jerryeads

Among many good ones, one of the best from others you've posted, Maureen. Wonderfully written, Susan. This will be one of the pieces I share with my 'kids.'

Independent ED
Independent ED

My favorite part is counting out sheets of scratch paper by the hundreds, then counting them again as they're handed to the teachers, and then counting them a third time as they hand them back.  No sheet left behind!  (Except the pile of sheet dropped on me when it's testing time)

lrga
lrga

Standardized tests can be important benchmarks for comparing across the state/nation, but there at too many tests. Who is using all this data? It’s overload. CCRPI is too complex, lacks transparency, and shouldn’t be used to evaluate teachers. Two or three state tests prior to high school (3rd, 5th, 8th grades) provides enough data to guard against grade inflation and target achievement gaps. In high school, students taking AP tests should not take Milestones also. Instead of Milestones, SAT, ACT, and/or ACT Workkeys could provide data to determine if our students were college and career ready.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"college and career ready. " - oh, how I hate that "and" - one of the big reasons I don't like Common Core. You can be "career ready" without going to college. It should be the goal of high schools to graduate students who are college OR career ready.  Right now I would just be happy if all students graduated able to read, write, and do simple arithmetic.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Have to love how Maureen is now behind the paywall - ensuring that this blog is a liberal echo chamber.  Too funny, if it wasn't so sad.  


And yet the voters keep electing republicans - to the SHOCK of the liberal educrats on this blog.


Meanwhile, Ga will continue to move to actual parental/student choice (with movement of funding), since most normal people realize consumer choice is what drives real positive change in every institution we deal with in our lives..


And because you only want liberal supporters in here, it will continue to come as a shock to you all.  Because as Pauline Kael of the New Yorker once famously said, "I only know one person who voted for President Nixon.  Where they are now, I don't know"


You guys enjoy preaching to the choir in here.  As usual, it will get smaller and smaller until pretty much everyone agrees with the small minded failing ideas promoted here (more money, and stay out because you aren't a teacher).


Gotta love those tolerant liberals...:)

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@dcdcdc For the last five years, I have helped with letters to the editor, requiring I read through all the letters submitted. And there are hundreds each week. 

If you believe that AJC subscribers are all liberals, you ought to spend a week reading our letter submissions. There is an incredible range of readers. Closer to a cacophony than choir. 

redweather
redweather

@dcdcdc So conservatives can't or won't post here anymore because it isn't free?  Oh, the irony.    

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@dcdcdc 

So you're saying that conservatives are too poor to subscribe? Won't put their money where their mouths are?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@dcdcdc Are you saying "conservatives" don't care enough about education to pay to get behind the wall and discuss issues?  Okay, you said it.

redweather
redweather

I sympathize with teachers. Way too much of their time goes to test prep, etc., and not enough to actual instruction, but I don't see that changing any time soon. Too much money to be made by the purveyors of these testing products, and too many people sold on the "business model" approach to education. It is, unfortunately, what it is. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather 

Unfortunately, those who believe unconditionally in the "business model" are rarely able to understand the folly of their thinking as that model applies to the education of human beings.

class80olddog
class80olddog

A business that runs on poor business principals is doomed to fail.  Like a hospital that does not take enough paying customers will eventually close.  Your PC idea may be to give free health care to everyone, but unless you have a rich donor backing you, that is unsustainable.  Schools get away (for a while) with putting out inferior product, but soon, parents who care will move out of the district and the schools will eventually fail.

RambleOn84
RambleOn84

@class80olddog

I think you meant "principles," not "principals."


I'm sure that somewhere along the way a teacher taught you how to spell that word, but you either weren't willing or smart enough to learn it and retain it.


But that's the school's fault, right?


You make all this "PC" talk, but you are the one who is taking the easy road here and choosing to blame the schools and teachers, when it is the parents and politicians who are failing.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

@RambleOn84 @class80olddog I apologize for using the wrong "principle" - yes, I was taught better than that.  I blame the parents and the students and the administrators (who might as well be politicians) more than I blame the teachers.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog


The school business model that you describe above is that of the private school system. Our public schools are there to serve all and don't get to decide who walks through their doors. They teach every child no matter their background or how much money they have. You are confusing the two.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I hate to disappoint some bloggers here, but schools ARE businesses.  Just like non-profit hospitals are businesses and UGA Football is a business.  Schools sell a service: education for parents' children.  Unfortunately, they are a near total monopoly and buying is a requirement, but there is a small amount of choice.  And parents who can are exercising their choice.  When failing schools deliver an inferior service due to their PC policies (don't discipline the troublemakers, allow unlimited social promotion, lump everyone into the same classes together), then parents eventually get tired and FLEE to better schools (if they can).  The ones I grieve for are the parents TRAPPED in failing schools, who do not have the financial wherewithal to escape.  Traditional public schools are trying every trick in the book to deny these parents any choice.  Luckily, they are fighting a losing battle.  Rather than fight to maintain the status quo, why do schools get rid of PC and actually try to improve their product?

Travelfish
Travelfish

Teachers' unions generating opposition to accountability and choice have only ever been interested in union revenues. Not education.

dg417s
dg417s

@Travelfish I'm just curious about your statement. Have you ever read any official documentation from the union that supports this? If so, please provide a direct link. Thank you

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog @sneakpeakintoeducation But, unlike a business, hospitals and public schools cannot "send back" the inputs that do not work (the patients, the students).  That is a huge difference.


In a business, I can set my goals, or change my goals, or change how I work to reach my goals,without interference(other than the law). In education, we are told what to do and how to do it, but frequently have to accept materials that are not only defective,or out of date, but materials that actively seek to undermine our efforts.  In an office setting,that might be like the Xerox refusing to work,and convincing the FAX machine, the computers, and the telephone system to walkout, leaving you with pencils, paper, and staplers (but no staples,as there was "no money" for them this year.)

class80olddog
class80olddog

@sneakpeakintoeducation  Businesses do not have to generate a profit to be a business - see example of a non-profit hospital.  Non-profit hospitals also exist to provide a public service for the public good, but they are still bound by business requirements. 

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog @sneakpeakintoeducation

Are our libraries businesses? Are our parks businesses? Is your local police department a business? Is your local fire station a business? The answer to all the above is no and it is the same for our public schools. Economics 101.


sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Our schools are not a bus8ness, they provode a public service for the public good and their motive is not to generate a profit.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Ah, if only teachers' grades were truly reflective of the level of mastery of the subject, then we would not have needed standardized testing. You reap what you sow.

oh Pleese
oh Pleese

@class80olddog You make a good point old dog.  But please take into consideration that teachers are often pressured by administrators to make sure that all students are "successful", whether they merit that success or not.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@oh Pleese @class80olddog Oh, I understand that perfectly.  Just like the APS teachers were pressured to change test answers.  Unfortunately, those teachers went to jail anyway.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Teachers and administrators have no business being involved in testing whose results will be used to determine these professionals' effectiveness. Why not Saturday (or Test Day- a school holiday) testing run by disinterested proctors with no relationship to public schools much as ETS does with the administration of the SAT?

heyteacher
heyteacher

There used to be one test that students took that was considered "high stakes" at the high school level given junior year - I'm curious to know if there any studies on how much classroom time we've given up to give a test in almost every subject across grade levels. While I do think that the Milestone test is more comprehensive than the previous graduation tests, do we really need to give so many? 

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

The teachers' unions and their media outlets just will not accept that parents want accountability. Failing public schools are no longer ignored, and excuses aren't accepted.

Our kids' future depends on it.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@dg417s Schoolhouses cannot fail. They are brick and mortar. Schools are our kids and the people who are working to help them learn.

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

There are many more parents than there are union shills or malcontents ill-suited to the teaching profession.

Whatever present company chooses to think.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @Bitcoined  Yes, it is too bad that they do not use the results of these tests to determine if a student is promoted to the next grade.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s  You should read what Robert Pirsig says about schools in his book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".  The "school" is not the building and chairs and computers - it is the collection of administrators, teachers, students, and parents - and so, yes, a "school" can be failing.

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog @dg417s Again, the "collection of administrators, teachers, students, and parents" are people. The "school" is not. You don't want to say I am failing as a parent because my child won't do his homework. My neighbor who is a teacher is failing because her students are going to school not having a meal since school lunch the afternoon before and they can't focus on learning. No.... schools are the brick and mortar. It is the people who "fail" but you don't want to say you, your children, or your neighbors are failures.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @class80olddog Ok - it is the administrators, teachers, but mostly the students and their parents that are failing.  Happy now?  It is all semantics! Just like the people who object to using the term "illegal immigrants" under the premise that a person cannot be illegal, only actions of a person.  So they would rather you say "an immigrant who has entered or stayed in this country illegally" - eleven words that convey the exact same meaning as the two earlier!  It is all PC!

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s @class80olddog And yes, if you are not making your child do his/her homework - you are a failure of a parent! If a parent sends a kid to school not adequately fed - they are a failure of a parent and their children should be removed from their home and they should be prosecuted.

dg417s
dg417s

Just remember.... schools cannot fail. They are brick and mortar, light bulbs, floor tiles, windows, etc. Saying that schools are failing dehumanizes the problem because you don't want to say the people in your community or your own children are struggling. Saying that standardized tests are the only valid measure of accountability and a convoluted formula that was created to predict cattle reproduction and not student growth is how we hold teachers accountable is the problem. The business model reformers' agenda has to go away. Education is not "business" and cannot be treated as though it were. Human beings aren't bicycles, shoes, or carpet. Stop treating your children and those who are trying so hard to educate them as though they were.

Falcaints
Falcaints

Teachers union, blah, blah, blah. Why don't we hold parents and students accountable for homework, desire, preparedness. Only so much can be done in 52 minutes per day.

oh Pleese
oh Pleese

@class80olddog @redweather @Bitcoined Students and parents have been relieved of their accountability in the situation.  If the EOCTs were pass/fail they would be more meaningful and would get the parents' and students' more serious consideration and effort.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@oh Pleese @class80olddog @redweather @Bitcoined Yes, the Milestones should have a cut score, below which you cannot progress into regular classrooms in the next grade level.  Either you would be retained and repeat the grade, or you should go into a "remedial" class.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog @dg417s


Unfortunately your narrow view of thinking is limiting your ability to understand that there are circumstances beyond even the parent's control that can affect the child's ability to learn. You want to punish, punish, punish instead of looking for ways to help ensure that the child's parents can provide a meal. Maybe ensuring a living wage and providing help to those who don't qualify for medicaid or medical subsidies. The list is endless. Your solution is to prosecute. Very sad. 

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@class80olddog @Just curious. The cut score for the Milestones is 474.  Your child makes a 474 and mine makes a 475.  I make the decision to retain your child.  Can you tell me what my child knows that yours does not?

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog @dg417s Words do matter, though. It is easier to come up with solutions to fix an inanimate object, but when you make sure that you understand the people behind the problems, solutions no longer are so black and white. When we deal with what is going on in the world of public education in the 21st century, we need to be able to see the shades of gray.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@elementary-pal @class80olddog You could make that point all the way down to zero.  You have to have some cut-off. If 474 is the bare minimum and your child makes a 475 - he is still at the bottom of the barrel.  Probably your child needs remediation.  The same is true for a test where passing is set at 60 - so if you make a 61 you pass - but it still is a very low score.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Bitcoined I want accountability,too!  Just from more of the "participants" than teachers (i.e. parents, students, administrators, local, state, and federal leaders).

Your Teacher
Your Teacher

Amen. Tomorrow, the first part of my lesson plan consists of teaching the students how to use the the tools and the different functions of the McGraw-Hill software because they take a Milestone for the next two class days. 

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Ramzzz86 This should be done outside instructional time by paid proctors with no ties to GaPubEd.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Ramzzz86


The same McGraw-Hill who make a nice profit and contribute handsomely to the politicians to keep the shenanigans going.