More from the PJSTA’s Melissa McMullan, who is a participant on the New York State Standard Review Committee. Below are what she wrote up after the third and fourth days on the committee…
Fearless advocates, this is for you!
“Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”
Today was the third day of the New York State Standard Review Committee. It is late. It has been a struggle to determine what to say. I wanted to discuss the tension between going narrow and deep to support learning and going an inch deep and a mile wide to protect students and their teachers from being harmed by state assessment. Additionally, I contemplated the true root of our woes in teaching English Languages Arts – instruction that has been so decimated by ninety-one different “learning strands” and ill-conceived, grossly mismanaged assessments. I began to review the side conversations I had with teachers throughout the day and into the evening. In the hours since I sat down to write, something startling has transpired.
The work we have done over the last several years is beginning to pay off. Those of you who have given hours, weeks, months and quite possibly years of your time to fight the harmful reforms to public education need to rest assured. Your work is getting noticed. Teachers all around me here are speaking up. Teachers working on this committee are deeply passionate about teaching, and the children they teach. The vast majority I have spoken with fall into one of two camps: teachers who are fiercely advocating for their students in the open, and those who are fiercely fighting behind the scenes because they have been silenced.
To protect teachers, I do not want to get into specifics. But teachers are rising — from beginning to ask why we are doing what we are doing, saying no to administrators when what the state “wants the school to do” is on opposition with what the student needs, to advocating for their entire schools to opt out of state tests for years. It is extremely evident to many teachers that the standards and the assessments to measure student progress have nothing to do with learning. It is clear, that this understanding resonates with a great number of people.
Those of us who can speak candidly need to keep doing so with whoever will listen. We have made tremendous headway. We have a large army of teachers who are fighting every day in a myriad of ways to advocate for their students. These teachers are supported by a growing body of families who realize something is terribly wrong. Many more are open to join this fight knowing that they are not alone.
Thank you so much for standing for our children in any way you can. This is a monumental task where every piece matters.
The Elephant in the Room
“When there is an elephant in the room introduce him.”
Today was the fourth day of the New York State Standard Review Committee. I began the day, with a little tap on the knee from a fellow teacher deeply committed to ensuring her entire school refuses state assessments so her students can keep learning all year. “We don’t have time in our curriculum to stop for those” she said.
I am still not permitted to share any specifics about the committee’s work this week. What we have are incomplete recommendations that will have to be reviewed by the public, modified where necessary and approved by the Board of Regents. It has has been directed to us that we can’t get rid of the current standards. I can be honest and say that every minute has been spent contemplating how to modify the standards we have, in ways that support learning and protect children and their teachers on state assessments – the elephant in the room.
The elephant in the room is the state assessments’ impact on our children. It absolutely cannot be ignored. Each of us here, in a variety of ways, has made it very clear that state assessments have had a monumental, detrimental impact on children.
How? These are experiences teachers and parents have described this week:
- State assessment scores used by the state to threaten school teams, causing all instruction to be test-driven not student driven.
- Multiple episodes where a teacher has to sneak a developmentally appropriate text into a child’s hands because the test driven culture in his school demands that all students read texts that are deemed “at or above grade level.”
- A parent who is told that her son cannot read more complex books because he has maxed out at his grade level.
- Schools that no longer teach narrative writing because “it is not on the assessment.”
- Children with special needs who have worked hard the entire year, only to be “broken” when they have to take an assessment that contains passages whose text complexity is nowhere near where these children are in motivation, knowledge and experience.
- Situations where English Language Learners (ELL’s), in their first year in the United States, speaking no English, are required to work with grade level texts that they can make no meaning of.
We must remain steadfast in our mission. We will not rest until teaching serves children not publishers, financiers nor politicians. It is time to show the elephant where the door is and get back to teaching…