People don’t want honesty from teachers

The New York Post went nuts over the fact that my friend Lisa, who is the director of digital literacy and citizenship in the NYC Department of Education and makes $170K a year, is advocating that parents opt out of standardized testing.  Here’s the article.

On her blog, The Innovative Educator, Lisa tells parents to let the kids go to museums. Or sleep late. That’s fun.  She says anything is better than sitting through standardized tests.

Lisa is merely stating the obvious. Because a third of the principals in New York state signed a letter saying they think standardized test waste students’ time. The teacher’s union has said testing is an ineffective measure of teacher and student performance. Across the nation parents and educators are speaking up and opting out.

Since the New York City Department of Education has no policy preventing a parent from opting out of testing, Lisa is not violating policy.  She is just done staying quiet. She is speaking out publicly and saying what everyone else says in safely enclosed spaces: that teachers believe kids should not go to school when school is stupid.

The problem is that we do not accept this discussion coming from the very administrators who are supposed to be teaching our children. No one wants to hear the teachers talk smack about the classroom because then we really have to stop trying to convince ourselves that it’s okay to send the kids to school every day.

Imagine if your kid’s teacher said, ‘This classroom is so boring for your son. You should keep him at home.” That would be incredibly honest and helpful and genuine. But you can bet the parent would have a fit and say the teacher’s not doing her job.

But it’s the teacher’s job to tell the parents when the child is not flourishing in school. It’s the teacher’s job to say, “Your daughter needs a better learning environment than what she has here.”

That’s what Lisa is saying, for just one, single, day, and people are up in arms.

14 replies
  1. Mary Kathryn
    Mary Kathryn says:

    I think all kids, when they test at the 10th grade level for any subject on those tests, should never have to take that particular subject on the the test again. My daughter would have been done with most standardized testing years ago. Ugh. Why bother, when she’s been reading at a 12th grade level since she was about 10?

  2. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I’ve just visited Lisa’s website and feel like I’ve found my educational doppelganger. Thank you, Penelope, for this article!

    You and Lisa are right – behind closed doors, teachers are lamenting the very points in this post – we went into education because at our very core, we love learning, and we love to provide children with opportunities to do so. I speak for myself, though, when I say that over the last ten years, systematic education and standardized testing has squelched that passion. Like Lisa, I no longer believe that government education will bring children on a path of learning…anything, really. I’m sad that it took me 20 years as a public school educator to remove the veil of hope that I’d been clinging to, but new beginnings are never too late.

  3. Mel
    Mel says:

    This isn’t an issue for me since we homeschool, but it seems that even if your kid opts out of the test, they still have to sit through the rest of the school year while the teacher teaches to the test.

  4. Jana
    Jana says:

    Go Lisa!!! I hear it all the time in the teacher’s lounge. The teacher’s feel like their hands are tied. I love it that someone is speaking out!

  5. Julie
    Julie says:

    We did the standardized testing this year after homeschooling for two years. It was the ITBS. We started homeschooling in seventh grade and my daughter took the test that year at school. Two years later her scores were better, not a lot, because they were pretty high in the first place, but still there was improvement.

    We are not unschoolers, but she has a lot of flexibility in how she covers each subject (blogging counts for language arts for example). She doesn’t spend more than four hours a day on “school” and that includes practicing her instrument. So she has a lot of time to pursue her own interests and activiites compared to high school students. So if I have not been teaching to the test, how did her scores go up? I am not familiar with all the different standardized tests because out district has always used the ITBS, which is the same thing I took in school a long, long time ago. It just seems if the test is good, accurate in assessing basic skills, nobody should have to teach to it.

    I expected her math scores to go down, but they didn’t. Her math computation went up six percentiles. We switched curricula several times, we were going back and forth and skipping around. I thought I had messed it up big time. But I guess that is what she needed to do to learn it and that never would have been an option in public school.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think this publicity Lisa is getting from the NY Post article and subsequent press will further strengthen her cause. And it will get the word out that this standardized testing is onerous, detrimental to students and teachers, fiscally irresponsible, and yet best of all optional.
    I read all the links in this post. I’m disgusted with the government bureaucrats that are imposing these tests which are known to be inaccurate and yet are being used to make critical decisions that affect the teacher and the student.
    Thanks Penelope for writing this post and thanks Lisa for all that you do and publicly say in an honest and straight-forward manner for the NYC students. The NY Post article encouraged me to do my own research and visit Lisa’s blog. I hope that article encourages more people to do the same and learn a few things beyond what they had to learn outside of the classroom.

  7. Heather
    Heather says:

    Is it the really the testing or the standardized curriculum you object to?

    I don’t mind the testing. It’s a measure. Most teachers don’t know enough about testing and measurements to have an informed opinion about either.

    If you really want to be upset, go read your state’s standard curriculum and ponder how that affects the classroom environment. They may as well port the entire mess to a computer, hire cheap aides to offer individual help and be done with it.

    • Lisa Nielsen
      Lisa Nielsen says:

      Testing and standards are two different issues both of which present different concerns. I am not a fan of standardized testing, because it is a poor measure of student or teacher success for many reasons. For example, 41% of public school children where I work are English Language Learners. Many of them have not acquired the language to even understand what the test is asking and so they inappropriately are left back or labeled as special needs.

      Another reason is that teachers ARE trained to do assessments, and if they are not, then we should address that. However, where I work the tests are conducted at the end of the year. The teachers are not using the standardized tests to inform or drive instruction. If they had a decent professional development and/or teacher training program they would be familiar with the assessment measures that are more effective than testing. Here are 9

      If you’re interested you can read a dozen reasons why I don’t think standardized tests are best for children or teachers here

  8. Judy
    Judy says:

    Penelope says: “But it’s the teacher’s job to tell the parents when the child is not flourishing in school.”

    While a logical assumption, it is apparently NOT a teacher’s job to say anything negative to a parent without teacher committe and administrative level approval, which will at all times be denied.

    I have a friend who teaches in a good school district. When she had the audacity to notify a parent that her child would likely fail the course, she was repremanded. Seems she not only notified the parent of the child’s academic status, but also suggested that the parent use various resources – individual testing, school tutor, summer school – to help the child catch up so that perhaps she could catch up and move on with her class by the following fall. My friend was clear that she would not be able to pass the child to the next grade at that point so intervention was critical.

    Not only was my friend repremanded for reaching out to the parent on her own, but she was told that in any event, the administration would not have allowed her to hold the child back.

    It turned out fine for the child in the end because the parent agreed that the child was not ready to move on, followed my friend’s suggestions and ultimately made the decision to hold the child back but in a different education environment. The parent was grateful because no teacher had ever been honest with her. Unfortunately, my friend has a reprimand on her personnel record because of all of this. The administrator would have passed this child on to middle school, regardless of the child’s academic performance.

    The point is, of course no one wants to listen to the teacher. There is a big debate going on now about inclusion and social promotion and the like, but as always, education policies are handed down by people far removed from the classroom, with advanced degrees on theory. They get paid top dollar for creating grand schemes base on their theories. Naturally they don’t want to hear from the people who actually do the job and who actually know what’s going on in the classroom.

  9. victoria
    victoria says:

    Have you heard about the teachers’ boycott of standardized tests in a couple of Seattle high schools?

    I’d love to see this kind of collective action spread, and I think it has to come from the teachers and/or administrations if any good is going to come of it. (A good friend is organizing a parent-led boycott at her kids’ school, and the administration has been reasonably supportive of this, but I wonder if the main result won’t just be the scores going down and our county/state using that as justification to slash school budgets further. I don’t see how a parent-led boycott will change the curriculum.)

  10. Rebecca English
    Rebecca English says:

    Here, in Austalia, we have this asanine NAPLAN (National Assessment Plan Literacy And Numeracy) test. Nobody shows up to do it, well, kids do but my pre-service teachers all have coniptions about how few kids turn up. I tell parents to fill in the conscientious objectors’ forms. I wish more people did, rather than chucking a sickie and taking their kids to the beach, because it would tell Education bureaucrats, and Education Ministers that the general public think these tests are a waste of time. A year is spent in some schools preparing kids to take a test that tells government how kids are performing on literacy and numeracy. If anyone thinks it yields accurate data, they are either on mind-altering drugs, asleep at the wheel or an idiot.

  11. Jani
    Jani says:

    “Imagine if your kid’s teacher said, ‘This classroom is so boring for your son. You should keep him at home.” That would be incredibly honest and helpful and genuine. But you can bet the parent would have a fit and say the teacher’s not doing her job.”

    I’m a piano teacher and essentially had this conversation with the mom of one of my students. The student is smart and talented and the only thing he’s interested in sitting still long enough to do is draw (which, at seven years old, he is incredibly, incredibly talented at). After a particularly rough lesson in which he didn’t want to pay attention and would constantly talk back (understandably so – he was frustrated at being forced to do something so boring), I had a conversation with the mom and told her point blank that piano was not the best thing for him and that she should enroll him in art and drawing classes instead. Her response was that she was still holding out hope that he would be a piano player one day.

    This idea, perpetuated by our current education system, that kids should be ignoring their interests for the sake of completing some other agenda, is setting them back and stifling their growth. Natural curiosity is, hands down, the most important thing one can nurture because learning to listen to yourself is vital to finding the relationships and careers that suit you best.

    The only school program I have ever attended that actually nurtured curiosity and ones internal voice was the Fiction Writing program at Columbia College Chicago, where I got my BA in Fiction Writing. Instead of students handing in papers and getting them back the next week with red ink comments and criticisms, students were given no comments from the teacher, and instead, were taught to listen to what other people remembered most about their stories – what scenes, characters, etc. stuck with them. By listening to what was remembered, and by paying attention to what stood out in your mind about other people’s works, you were taught to follow your own instincts in story writing. By far, this was one of the most helpful skills I have ever learned and it is a shame more people aren’t taught it.

  12. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    An honest, open letter from a recently retired high school teacher to college professors. The effects of testing from hell, bureaucrats driving education policies, and “the wealthy corporations that profit from the policies they help define and the think tanks and activist organizations that have learned how to manipulate the levers of power, often to their own financial or ideological advantage” are described here –

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