Kids Just Wanna Learn

It has been almost 10 years since I became a teacher.  I didn’t have many expectations when I began. All I knew was that I wanted to provide the tools students needed to change their life because education had done just that for me.

A poor black girl from inner-city Chicago, I was bused to a gifted center from 3rd grade to 8th grade, where I was one of seven black kids in the entire grade. It was there I learned what I needed to excel, not just in the classroom but in life. Even though we were in a gifted school with students from all over Chicago, we still took the state tests. I recall those being the worst days of the school year.

I didn’t loathe taking the state assessments because they were hard; I hated them because those were the days that I felt like we didn’t learn anything – where we had to spend hours taking a test to tell us what we already knew.

I remembered that as I read about state legislators from Nashville and Memphis for are calling for an “indefinite pause of the state’s embattled test”. (Read more here.)

When I first heard of this, I was discouraged and angry.  Yes, the last few years have been a mess in Memphis and I assume the rest of Tennessee with the state tests.  From software problems to connectivity and a plethora of other issues, the past couple of years led to it not being counted against students or teachers. As an educator who not only sets high expectations for my students but also myself, I first saw this as an excuse for sub-par educators to continue to fail our students, specifically black and brown students in the inner-city.

I say this because, even though the state test didn’t “count”, I still received a report those years for my daughter, who scored “Proficient” in all of the tested categories.  I must also say that we don’t reside in a neighborhood with a track record of failing. Thus, whether the tests counted or not, learning still happened.

I straddled the fence on this topic, seeing both sides of the argument and leaning one way or another depending on what adult I spoke to.  Many parents and educators I spoke to want the test to be halted simply because it hasn’t’ been executed correctly. There are questions about the standards and alignment and how to adequately prepare. In those conversations, my biased ears heard “I want to be able to teach to the test.”

Another individual I spoke to questioned how halting the test would lead to achievement.  Many times, in failing schools and even districts, the buzz words are “growth” and not “achievement,” because there are so few students who are at grade level. Since the deficits are vast in some areas and schools, it’s important to also note growth, as the levels of achievement are seemingly non-existent. (Read more about growth vs. achievement here.) She feared that halting the test would lead to a lower percentage of growth (and achievement) as the years went by.

I wonder if the legislators realized these points when they stood in agreement to halt such an important measurement. Did they think of the long-term effects of a decision such as this? How it not only impacts education but the growth of the city and state? Would parents, professionals and others desire to live in a city/state where there is no defined measurement of academic achievement?

I’m usually very clear about where I stand, yet in this case, I still waver, so I asked my 10-year old daughter for her input.

“I mean, what’s the point of taking the tests if they don’t show how smart I really am. I thought they were easy but also a waste because I just wanted to learn.”

When she spoke, I smiled. Because the desire of all kids is learning, whether they are in a gifted school or not. I wonder if we focused more on teaching and giving the love of learning to students, if we would even be in this situation?