Special Education

Teachers, It’s Time for Us to Raise Our Voices to the Dept of Education Today

While teachers and students are back at school, statewide testing regulations are being created that will impact an entire generation of students. So, even though teachers like me are up to our necks in back-to-school procedure setting, we should also be sweating the recommendations for federal regulations on testing which are due today, September 9. Last December, Congress passed regulations on testing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and based on comments submitted today to the U.S. Department of Education, they will create rules that specify how states need to enact the legislation.

Why You Should Care

Education policy is not far removed from kids and teachers, so it shouldn’t be abstract and wonky work done by "D.C. insiders." The fact is that regulations on testing in schools will impact our classrooms and our careers in real, concrete ways, and that’s why teachers should be part of this public dialogue. While no one understands my students in the same way that I do—their ever-changing likes and dislikes, how to motivate them and which academic benchmarks they are meeting—I do not intuitively know if I am truly providing them with the education they need unless there's a standard set across schools in the state and nation.

What Jasmine Taught Me About Assessments

No one inspired this thinking more than a student of mine, whom I’ll call Jasmine. She is why I believe teachers must get involved in ESSA regulations discussions now. A few years ago, I would have told you that Jasmine was at the top of my class. She was diligent with her work, thrived with challenges and meticulously spent hours on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA). Yet, in Jasmine’s six years as an elementary student, between math, reading and science, she cumulatively passed only three standardized exams. As an English-language learner (ELL), she was not alone. According to the 2016 Minnesota Report Card, only 23 percent of ELLs were proficient in math, and only 17 percent of ELLs were proficient in reading. Non-ELL students were, respectively, 60 percent for both math and reading. I feel bewilderment when I think of Jasmine, and while I could craft a thousand and one excuses explaining why Jasmine, and other students like her, have yet to do well on standardized assessments, it comes down to this: Without the right assessments and the right data, I may never know. For a long time, I did not believe that tests mattered, and that belief kept me out of important discussions. But, whether I like it or not, as a teacher, I rely on tests. But I also know that we should test less and test better.

The Time Is Ripe For Teachers to Talk About Tests

I need an assessment that can show me how my students apply our classroom learning to new situations in comparison to other students across the district, state and country; that can provide data I can interpret and use within a reasonable amount of time; and that I can trust regardless of whether or not my students are labeled as ELL or a recipient of special education. The time is ripe for these kinds of discussions because test types, ELL and special education accommodations, alternative assessment measures and the ways in which we can use the data we collect are all up for debate—and policymakers are looking for our thoughts. Policy decisions should be done with teachers, rather than to teachers, which means we should take advantage of the space ESSA guarantees for developing unique and innovative assessments guided by teacher voice. This is our chance as teachers to stand up for our students and get the data we need to best support them. Before 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight, you can submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education website, submit letters like the one created by a team of teacher leaders at Educators 4 Excellence, and share the importance of this pivotal moment with educators across the nation. Assessments, Title I funding stipulations…it’s all on a cusp, waiting. What will you say for your students?
An original version of this post appeared on the Educators4Excellence blog as Sweating the Test: Why Teachers Should Care About U.S. Dept. of Ed. Regulations.
Maya Kruger is a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Aurora Charter School in Minneapolis, Minnesota and a member of Educators 4 Excellence-Minnesota.

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