The worst, or the best? A school teacher’s tale

Test scores: A teacher’s tale

5 minute read
With children and their families, some things can't be measured.
With children and their families, some things can't be measured.
When I arrived at school on Friday, I found a reminder in my box that I'd forgotten to add health and art grades for some of my students. I don't teach health or art, nor am I certified to do so. However, our principal has required us to give grades for these two subjects. Apparently, it has something to do with making AYP (Annual Yearly Progress).

I do it, even though doing so makes me feel guilty. You see, I'm afraid the principal will write me up for insubordination.

At 8 a.m., I get a call from the office, telling me that I'll be getting a substitute teacher at 8:30 because the principal wants to see me. I know why. Our preliminary PSSA scores have come out, and my class did terribly, and so I am to blame. With Annual Yearly Progress, it doesn't matter if your kids have learning issues or attendance issues. All that matters is their scores.

"'Breathe constantly'

As soon as the sub arrived, I made my way down to the office. Luckily, I bumped into my favorite colleague, the one who constantly reduces my anger level down to a calm.

"Where are your kids?" she asked.

"In the room with a sub" I said.

"You going to talk to her?"


"Remember, Miss Kean. Breathe constantly and just keep agreeing with her, even if you know she is wrong. OK?"


"'Worst in the school'

I went to the office and sat down.

"So, how are you?" the principal asked.

"Oh, just fine, Ms. Tharpe. Just ducky!"

"Good. Well, the preliminary PSSA scores are in and you did a terrible job. In fact, it was the worst in the school. Now, if the school's scores are correct, we made AYP, but if we didn't, it's all your fault."

"Oh," I said sadly, hearing my colleague's voice in the background, reminding me to breathe.

"You see, Miss Kean, you fought me. You fought me every inch of the way. You wouldn't straighten up your room. You wouldn't set your folders up the way you were supposed to."

"Yes, well, setting up your folders and having a messy desk are two very good reasons why my kids didn't do well," I concurred.

Clean your desk!

"Miss Kean, you pushed me away. Each time I gave you a suggestion, like when it came to your desk and your folders, you pushed me away. So now I am asking you to embrace me. Clean your desk! Make sure the student folders are in order! This, along with the additional help I'm going to give you, will guarantee that your scores will go up. You'll be co-teaching next year. I have given you a class with low test scores, so you have nowhere to go but up!"

I agreed with the principal outwardly, while exploding inside.

"Now, Miss Kean, I want you to think really hard over the summer. What will you do to work on yourself this summer?"

Once again, I was prepared. "Well, I have the school action plan here and…"

"You do?" Ms. Tharpe asked.

"Oh, yes and I plan to study it over vacation!"

"That's great!" the principal exclaimed. "So, you really are committed! Perhaps I have underestimated you."

She paused for a moment. "Now, Miss Kean, although you did a terrible job this year, I don't want to leave you feeling badly. After all, summer vacation starts next week. I don't want you to go away with a bad taste in your mouth."

Too bad, I think. Damage done.

"Did you see Ms. Act's scores?" she asked. "Aren't they good?"

"Yes, they are so good!" I enthused. "She's my idol. I want to be just like her! Great scores! Loved by everyone!"

The principal ate up my sarcasm. "That's great, Miss Kean! What a great attitude!"

A parent's letter

I left her office in a fury. As I passed through the anteroom I saw a note in my box. Great, I thought to myself. Here it is, the last day with students and I have a complaint by a parent.

I picked up the note and read:

"Dear Miss Kean:

I just want to let you know how much I appreciate you being the best of fifth grade (sic). And Miss Kean, you were a great teacher to my daughter and I thank you."

I recalled how difficult this child had been in September: When I called on her, knowing she had the answer, she would refuse to talk. In math, she had refused because, she said, "I'm stupid. I can't do math." I just kept telling her she could do it, but she had to first give it a try.

As I finished the letter, the tears began falling from my eyes.

The politicians and administrators who dreamed up No Child Left Behind and its successors just don't get it. They've been away from the classroom too long to understand the price of imposing national or statewide standards for measuring achievement or progress.

Ultimately, scores don't matter. Children and their families matter. It's whose life have you touched today? Into whom have you inculcated the love of learning today? These questions are impossible to quantify.

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