What’s Better for Students: Dynamic Teachers or Diagnostic Testing?

This summer has not been kind to California educators with increased deductions from their paychecks to pay for the pension fund, and tenure and job protection ruled illegal by a Superior Court judge.

So it was refreshing to hear good things said about teachers at last week’s district kickoff meeting from keynote speaker Rebecca Mieliwocki, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year who still teaches 7th grade English teacher at Luther Burbank Middle School.

Ms. Mieliwocki spoke about her experiences traveling around the world as the U.S. teacher ambassador. Since so much attention in recent years has centered on how students from other nations score higher on tests than American children, she wanted to find what magic was being performed in other countries’ classrooms.

Ironically, Ms. Mieliwocki discovered that it was the American teachers who “were the envy of every teacher I met.”   The foreign instructors queried her about the methods of her homeland colleagues.

She went on to tell stories about the importance of teachers accepting students for who they are.  

One young girl in her class always wore the same cowboy boots with flowers on them every day to school.   Some students wondered why she didn’t have another pair of shoes to wear.   It turned out that her father had passed away and the boots were the last item they had bought together. When she wore the boots, she felt close to her dad.

Once her powerful message had been delivered, and teachers were inspired, on came the next speaker, a representative from a testing company called i-Ready.   Too bad the district didn’t seem ready to properly unroll this new program of testing all K-12 students three times a year beginning in a couple of weeks.

When Rebecca spoke, she had the full attention of the teacher throng. When the spokesperson for the new i-Ready testing program presented, a sea of LED lanterns erupted as teachers got out their phones, quickly feeling disconnected including one male teacher sitting in front of me shopping for a thong.

I had to go to i-Ready’s website to get basic information of what was behind the new diagnostic testing: “i-Ready provides data-driven insights and support for successful implementation of the new standards.”  

On top of new Common Core standards that teachers are still adjusting to, now we have this intrusive testing schedule that will devour at least 2 hours for each test.

It’s sad, really, that the district folks don’t get it.   Teachers don’t need more information on kids because we are not provided the necessary time to analyze the data we already have. Students march in and out of classrooms day after day.   Except for an hour long meeting here and there, teachers have no regularly scheduled full work days to examine data with their colleagues.

The kickoff meeting was a clash of two conflicting approaches to education: the inspiration of a dynamic teacher versus the top-down implementation of mandatory testing. The latter presentation quashed the excitement of the one that preceded it.

If only the district brass had the foresight to end the all-staff meeting immediately following Ms. Mieliwocki’s speech, releasing them to use the rest of the day to set up their classrooms for the students.

It reminds one of Charles Dickens’ powerful opening to A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

As Ms. Mieliwocki said, people “have to be brave to take on the work of an educator.”

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