My Child is not a Number

I slumped out of school Monday at 5:30, feeling discouraged. The warning was still in my ears, “If a kid is walking down the hall, and I stop and ask him his current MAP scores in reading, language, and math, he better know them, or the teacher will answer why she hasn’t discussed the scores with her students.”

As I read these words recently on a middle school teacher’s blog  I found myself feeling profoundly sad and very angry.  I was sad that this is how far some of the people in charge of our childrens’ education have drifted from caring about kids instead of numbers.  I was angry at the thought that this “educator” was actually THREATENING teachers with consequences if they didn’t follow in his or her same misguided footsteps.  Most importantly, I was ticked at the idea that somebody would treat my child as a number.

Middle school is one of the worst times in anybody’s life. In fact, I tend to immediately distrust anybody who says that they actually liked middle school, because I taught middle school, and I saw the angst and confusion of early adolescence on a daily basis.

So imagine how AWESOME it would be one day to throw up on the bus, have your girlfriend Shauna Wenger break up with you for the 4th time, and lose your new sunglasses, only to have a school administrator stalk up to you and demand to know your numbers.   All of those things happened to me once, except for the last one because in 1987 we hadn’t lost our damn minds yet in pursuit of just one more point.  I wasn’t just a number.

Last week I wrote about DATA WALLS, an unfortunate example of how the number-obsessed mindset has managed to infiltrate the ranks of teachers in some places.  These walls not only tell our children they are numbers, they stick it right in front of their faces so they can be reminded every time they look up from their test preparation worksheet.  They’re all numbers.

Earlier this week I met with a parent who told me that her child was not going to be allowed to enter an advanced math class because he didn’t score well on a timed exam, despite the fact that the school recognizes that he didn’t score well because he is a deliberate worker who checks and rechecks his work to avoid mistakes.  They commended the ability he demonstrates in class, exceptional coursework, and very high scores on classroom tests, but have decided instead to allow this one test score to define him as a math student.  He’s a number.

The other day, this message from a teacher popped up in my inbox:

Since our scores didn’t improve enough, all teachers are going to a meeting for a whole day to discuss what we will do to improve scores… I had one kid with an absurdly high score for a 7th grader, he’s in the 99th percentile, who went down a few points.  Despite the fact that he’s still in the 99th percentile and on a college level in everything as a 7th grader, I have to set a growth plan with him… He struggles socially, and I need to focus on his social emotional growth, not more literary analysis. We’ve had a 2.5 hour staff meeting on reading the data, individual meetings with facilitators about scores, and department meetings about scores. Next step is goal setting and growth plans with kids… I’m scared of what it’s going to look like in the next couple years.

And it is OUR kids who are being affected.  Some of it is fairly harmless, like my son’s friend who was over the other day showing me the house he built using the Minecraft app on his iPad.  As he gave me the tour, we eventually arrived at the “libeary” which he had built complete with bookshelves and books – all organized by Accelerated Reading (AR) level.  He proceeded to tell me about the 2.4’s, 2.5’s, and 2.6’s that he hoped to read soon.  This sounded really familiar as my own son has had his struggles with being defined by an AR score in the past.

These are all anecdotal stories of course, and the Lords of Accountability such as Secretary of Education Bill Gates and his assistant Arne Duncan would tell you that we are the exception and not the rule.

But I don’t think that’s the case.  When stories pop up all over the country of kids pooping their pants and puking because of CCSS tests  and pictures show up on Twitter of kids crying because of test preparation for CCSS, one feels the humanity of education slip further and further from our grasp.

In fact, I bet that every person reading this post has a very similar story they can share about their child or a child they know who is being treated like a number instead of a person.  I encourage you to share one if you have it in the comments section below.

What can we do about it?  For starters, the Network for Public Education (of which EduSanity is a proud member) has recently called for congressional hearings into standardized testing.   Let your congressperson know that this issue matters to you.

Secondly, you can make it clear to your child’s school that you don’t IMG_0983give a damn what their numbers are, because you trust their teachers to evaluate their progress without a standardized test.  Ironically, “educators” who have sold their souls to the Gods of Testing are actually helping to make their jobs obsolete.  Why bother with teachers if all we need are numbers?

We also plan to make this issue a central theme in upcoming EduSanity posts, so please stay tuned.

And as for the “educator” referenced at the beginning of this post, if my child is ever stopped in the hallway and asked what his test score numbers are, I’ve told him to respond, “My name is Jackson Endacott and I’m not a number.”  If he doesn’t like that answer, he can take it up with me.

By EduSanity (Jason Endacott, Ph.D. & Christian Goering, Ph.D.)


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