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Teachers Are Test Experts

Friday, January 25, 2013 - 03:00 PM

It seems I can’t be trusted. I suspect this because recently I was asked to not go to my place of work but, instead, travel to Bayside High School where I would grade the tests of kids I don’t know. I have to believe the assumption behind the temporary assignment is I was not able to grade my own students fairly.

After all, I might want them to pass. But how terrible is that? I’d be delighted to see the students do well. And I would be sad if kids I care about don’t do well. But would I cheat for them? No, I would not.

I’m more than a little upset that I, along with tens of thousands of my colleagues, have been deemed unfit to grade tests. It strikes me as unfair stereotyping and just another example of the distrust some people in power feel towards teachers.

But here’s the thing: if I can’t be trusted to design tests and I further can’t be trusted to grade them, I ought not to be teaching. If the state feels that we teachers are so incompetent and untrustworthy it ought to fire us all en masse.

Any professional has to be able to balance emotion with their obligations. Should firefighters be prohibited from fighting fires in their district? Should cops who arrest people take them to another precinct so they’ll be processed fairly? Should Mayor Bloomberg’s PEP be restricted to making decisions about Podunk, Iowa?

Here’s the more basic and important issue: I am a teacher. A large part of my job entails assessing the progress and motivation of my students. And I do, in fact, write tests. I’d argue that my tests are far better than those designed by the city or state. This is at least partially because I cater my tests to the needs and abilities of my students and give them as my students need them, not on wholly arbitrary dates determined by the Board of Regents.

As one small example, I gave a test last Tuesday. My students bombed. I was horrified. Perhaps if I were a true and objective professional I wouldn’t care at all. I shared my feelings with the kids. I reviewed not only the test but also additional materials covering every aspect of it. I wrote a new test, which I gave them on Friday, and they improved quite a bit. Were it a Regents exam, they’d be stuck waiting until June.

Standardized tests exist largely because the state feels I’m not equipped to write them, and now I can’t even be trusted with grading them. Yet I am certain I could do better on both counts than those in charge are doing now.

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