My High School Students Aren’t Learning. I Blame Middle School Teachers.

>>middle school teacher student classroomBY JENNIFER BRICK

In a curriculum meeting the other day, my principal told me (a teacher) that only 4% of eighth grade students entering high school who did not score at the proficient level on the Explore test (an assessment test students take to predict how well they will do on the ACT) then meet proficiency by 11th grade when they do take the ACT. We were pretty depressed after that. All of the hard work we teachers do with our students in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades apparently only helps a small of a percentage of students reach proficiency if they weren’t before!

It would be easy to blame the middle schools. Surely students should be at grade level when they enter high school. I’m sure the middle school teachers who work hard with the students each year know the path of least resistance would be to blame elementary school teachers. And those poor elementary school teachers? Who do they blame when students come to them lacking the skills they should have developed in previous years? I can’t even imagine teaching a kindergarten class where some students can read chapter books and other students don’t know the alphabet.

Sometimes it seems like politicians think the answer to this dilemma is testing: more and more of it every year. The testing is high stakes, too. North Carolina’s >>Read to Achieve program requires that students pass a test in the third grade to determine whether or not the student is at grade level and can be promoted to the fourth grade. This testing, conceivably, assesses how well the students and teachers are doing.

Data is necessary and can be helpful, but too often gathering the data is the only focus. Without giving state-assigned diagnostic tests, I can tell which of my students are reading and writing at grade level and which are not. I can tell where their strengths and weaknesses are and I would love to spend more time working with them to help them improve. I’m not a third grade teacher, but I’d assume the same is true for them.

Yet, those teachers (and many others) preparing their students for the end of the year are forced to give their students these diagnostic tests throughout the year to determine who is making growth.

Currently, the NC General Assembly is trying to help by debating >>a bill that would allow local board of educations to select from one of  three “valid, reliable, formative, and diagnostic reading assessment instruments” for use in kindergarten, first, second, and third grades. I’m trying not to be jaded. I’m trying to think that this bill is good. It will take the burden off of teachers to find ways to chart student growth.

But my optimism is failing. I’m bitter because the government who mandates this testing as the determining factor in whether a child is promoted to the fourth grade spends time and energy on a bill like this instead of on finding and allocating resources to make classrooms smaller, giving teachers better training, providing valuable after school remediation or pre-kindergarten resources to help bring the children up to grade level before third grade.

>>Cropped Jennifer BrickJennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.

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