I have a medication

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My doctor prescribed this little, round, cantaloupe-colored pill as an anti-anxiety med. The pill is to be taken as needed. My last bottle lasted years. This one may take me through until spring.

I’m not very anxious. I don’t suffer from social phobias. In a professional development meeting, I never have to tell myself to speak up. I contribute to professional conversations regularly and spend at least some time telling myself to keep my mouth shut because I’ve shared enough. I’m not afraid of my classes. I get along well with my kids and I can manage them. Administration sometimes makes me feel like taking a pill, but by the time they’ve finished with me, well, they’ve finished and I no longer need the pill that I might have taken in advance if I were clairvoyant. If I were clairvoyant, I’d have resigned in August. But I’m not, so I am doing the best that I can for the sake of a group of needy kids.

The pills are slowly going away, though. I take them when I’m grading. I don’t pop one every night. I can gut my way through a small quantity of grading without assistance. When I get behind, though, or when I have given exams all day on top of daily work, I may resort to half a tablet to help me through the hours of papers on my desk.

Especially on Fridays, my grading often terrifies me. This was not true in the past. Last year, I taught the material. When I thought the students had mastered the material, I gave the test. I would give smaller quizzes before that summative test to get information on how instruction was going. I’d look at quiz results and tweak my instruction. The process was straightforward with most students producing acceptable to excellent results at the end.

Now I am giving tests written by outsiders, matched to a curriculum determined by the need to make points on the PARCC test at the end of this school year. My weekly tests are tailored to the formal grade level of the students in my classes, a level four years above the operating level of one of my classes, and only slightly less than four years above another class. These bilingual students struggle to read the tests. They are no where near understanding the subtleties of math and science that are clobbering their grades.

It’s easy to grade a good test, quick and affirming. These tests are not good tests. I wade for hours through attempts at test-taking. I try to find partial credit opportunities. I work to understand where the quizzes and tests went wrong, so that I can attack specific learning deficits in specific students. In the end, I still lack information because these tests are almost all multiple choice or fill-in. In order to keep the data consistent between teachers, we all are required to give the same tests and we can’t allow much freedom of choice in answering. An essay test would be problematic because teachers are expected to use consistent grading criteria.

I spend many hours grading due to the profusion of tests that other teachers and administrators create each week. That’s not the problem. I am used to spending many hours grading. So why do I currently want to curl up into fetal position and hide under my bed? My students don’t understand these tests. Even if I teach them the test’s content, question by question, I receive some results that are simply incoherent. In the end, students operating at a third grade level can’t do a great deal of seventh grade material without more tutoring and extra support than I am able to provide. I send students for tutoring after school, I call them into the classroom before school, and I am even meeting students in fast-food restaurants on the week-end. Some tutored students are hanging by their fingernails from the cliff face. Others are falling onto the rocks below, along with almost all the students who cannot or will not attend tutoring.

Eduhonesty: When my students are failing, I feel as if I am failing. I am failing. But I’m damned if I know what to do. I’ve been told in very threatening terms that I have to stay in sync with my fellow teachers. So I keep doing what everyone else is doing. I keep consoling the special education teacher, whose students are also failing all these tests that she is not supposed to adapt.

I hate those tests. I purely hate those tests. I completely and utterly loath those execrable excuses for assessments. I’m reaching the point where I almost can’t stand to grade them although they are easy enough to grade. I look for “C, D, B, B, A, B, C” or whatever the latest string of letters and/or numbers may be. I add up the mistakes and put the result in the grade book. As of this date, I have not a single “A” grade and very few “B” grades. Many students are failing my classes.

I’ll acknowledge that these students perhaps ought to be failing. They are lacking fundamental knowledge from elementary school. I hate to be a party to this mass retooling of expectations and requirements in its first year of implementation, though. Some of my students feel so sad and lost. I’m great at pep talks, but no pep talk exists that fixes “I know you’re failing three classes for the first time in your life despite the fact that you are working diligently and staying late for tutoring on a regular basis.”