A teacher discusses publicly what it means to refuse to feed the machine.
“Good evening. My name is Dale Weiss and I teach third grade students in Milwaukee Public Schools.
Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better – you do better.”
• It is no secret that testing companies make billions of dollars yearly from standardized tests. Yet, this year alone – when Wisconsin schools are in dire need of resources to improve teaching and learning – the state agreed to an 11.1 million dollar price tag to purchase the Smarter Balance assessment, now referred to as the Badger Exam. The state knows better but is not doing better.
• The state knows that this year’s Badger Exam already has two serious flaws – one, the technology promised for an adaptive test is not working so the test is now non-adaptive. And secondly, the English Language Arts performance task was suddenly eliminated. The state knows better but is not doing better.
• Research shows a direct correlation between poverty and poor performance on standardized tests, and that the school-to-prison pipeline begins as young as third grade by tracking students’ performances on standardized measures. The state knows better but is not doing better.
Last year I took a portion of the third grade Badger Exam practice test. I found the questions to be extremely vague and the multitude of directions confusing. I left feeling frustrated and defeated.
Last week, I – along with my third grade colleagues – again took portions of the Badger Exam practice test. The experience was horrific. I found the questions to be poorly written and not developmentally appropriate. The directions were unclear and the technology continuously malfunctioned. In the end I answered 3 out of 12 questions correctly. To put things in perspective: I have a doctorate in education and scored 25% on a portion of a third grade standardized test.
This time I left feeling angry.
I got very little sleep that night. I kept thinking about my third grade students. I could not begin to fathom what the experience of taking the Badger Exam would be like for these eight and nine-year-old children.
I could not begin to fathom what the experience of high stakes tests would be like for the tens of thousands of children in MPS, across the state, and across our nation.
I could not begin to fathom the road ahead where more and more of our students will no doubt be labeled as failures and whose life opportunities will be tracked into lanes of “in need of improvement.”
I knew that there is no part of my moral fiber that in good conscience could be complicit with something I know to be so harmful for students – something I know to be so very wrong.
And then I thought – I now know better. And I will do better.
I am claiming conscientious objector status and will request reassignment on the days my students are to be tested. I will clean toilets or wash walls or run off copies or teach other classes or do whatever else is needed – as long as it does not cause harm to children.
To quote Paolo Freire, “The educator has the duty of not being neutral.” We know better. Let’s do better.
There comes a time to break the rules, and that time is now. Teachers have the power.
Parents and teachers are awake now.
More teachers refuse: