This week is the first week of standardized testing for my 10th graders. As I teach in Massachusetts, my students take the MCAS tests. In 10th grade, the MCAS span 3 days for ELA, and two for Math.
I am a special education teacher. That means that the students I work with need a specialized education, and any one-size-fits-all assessment or approach is literally the opposite of what my students actually need. It’s called “special” education for a reason; the students I work with are unique. While their reading and math skills might be a little bit off for their age group, I’ve got amazing artists, actors, public organizers, and communicators in my caseload. I make sure that their education is customized to their individual strengths and areas of weakness. And they ALL have different strengths and weaknesses, because no two students are truly alike. But you know what’s always the same?
There’s always a passage from a novel no gen-Z kid has ever read. Then there’s an article about some kind of marine biological phenomena that inland students have no chance of conceptualizing. There’s a lame, poorly explained essay question. There are random accommodations for special education students that seem to have nothing to do with their actual disabilities…or abilities.
And then there’s me.
My current school in my current district doesn’t use standardized test data to assess teacher effectiveness. But my previous schools did. And as a special educator, that stung. I once helped a 7th grade student climb from a mid-2nd grade reading level to a 5th grade reading level in one year. But English was their second language, and that in combination with a reading disability and significant anxiety made our end of year standardized testing a huge challenge. And in the end, not only was my student sad to learn they’d earned a failing score; I was chastised for my special education students not performing as well as their general-education peers.
And can we circle back to the anxiety for a second? Testing weeks… oh my goodness. My students are nervous. They have to pass this week’s test in order to be granted a diploma. They’re crammed into a room all day for days on end, asked to fill in bubble sheet after bubble sheet, told time after time that THIS IS IMPORTANT. They always take a step back behaviorally, and I barely blame them.
And I am nervous. All I have to do is be nervous, after all; for five days I am expected to walk around a silent room filled with test-taking kids, watching them, waiting for something to happen… it gets to your head!
I work pretty hard to make sure the needs of the neediest students are being met as often as possible. It’d be nice if the system did literally anything to help me do my job in the best way possible.