I Won’t Give Up, but I Feel Like It Today

Today, I am extremely tired, discouraged, and somewhat defeated.  Today, I’m sad. Today, I feel like I let down some of the most important people in the world to me: my students.

What’s the cause of this tumult of emotions? Assessment results.

I have never been one to measure myself by standardized test results and yet, I’ve consistently, as a student, teacher and professor performed above the mean.  My philosophy is that if you teach to the highest level of instruction, if you teach what’s truly important to know as a new teacher, if you meet students where they are at, and build upon that knowledge, that these skills will show up on the assessment.  I don’t teach to tests or tasks. I teach to what I think my students need in the world outside of school, the professional world, the educational world, in life.

Today, I faced some really discouraging numbers in terms of student pass rates on an assessment for which I felt I had done my best to prepare students.  They were confident entering the assessment and had worked extremely hard over the semester to prepare for it.  I was confident in their skills, but beyond that, I was confident in their dispositions, their emergent professional identities, and their developing self-efficacy.

I am not upset that the scores were low.  I am upset because I just don’t understand how they are reflective of who my students are.  I should not be surprised.  This is not the first time that a student hasn’t passed a test I thought they should have, but it is hard nonetheless.  I feel apologetic to my students and I feel doubtful of myself.

I find myself questioning, just as they are surely questioning: What went wrong? What could I have done better? What is the assessment really measuring and how can I do better for them in the future?

I share in my students’ inevitable frustration.  I know that part of the purpose of assessment is self-reflection, self-examination and revision of curriculum, but in a system where feedback is not given to students or instructors, it’s hard to know where the gap was.  A number doesn’t tell you where you need to improve.

I share in perhaps some of their anger at what is left out of the “comprehensive” assessment.  The tests scores don’t reflect the 100s of hours spent completing assignments, giving feedback, working on discussion posts, developing professional skills, considering student needs, reading about various learning styles.  It doesn’t show the dispositions towards students that have changed, the development of comprehensive theory based classroom management plans, their ability to design complex problem-based learning assessments.

I wonder why I (who have spent 45+ hours with them and countless more hours with their work) have less of a say over the credentialing process than a number on an assessment.  I wonder if they question what I have told them all semester about their skills, preparedness, and promise because of that number.

I question if the measure of real “success” in teacher education is not developing reflective practitioners, but developing skilled technocrats, modeling “teaching to the test” and the “right way” to critically think instead of promoting divergent thinking.

In the midst of my anger and these unanswered questions, there are two bright spots that remind me why I care so deeply: one is a short comment from a dear student that I had nearly 10 years ago in middle school who reminds me that I’m still one of her favorite teachers; the second is a comment from my son, who simply says, “I love you, Mom.” My student reminds me that test scores are not the measure of our impact on students–that good teaching, caring about students, and helping them learn, extends far beyond a number.  My son reminds me why working with future educators is important, why it makes a difference, and why I must continue this fight.

So, I won’t give up, despite really feeling like it today. I will, instead, in the face of days like today, strengthen my resolve to teach teachers.  I will practice what I preach, revising my curriculum, but staying true to my convictions.  I will remind my students that no assessment is a measure of your worth.  Together, we will face and meet the challenges necessary to best serve our future students.