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Another Casualty of Excessive Testing: Great Teachers

Teachers who object to being judged on the basis of their students' test scores are labeled as weak or unwilling to be held accountable. Their assertions that test-based evaluations are inaccurate and unreliable are countered with suggestions that there is no better alternative.
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Signs that standardized tests are overused and misused continue to emerge. State and local affiliates of Parents Across America host webinars on the ills of testing and "zombie" rallies, and parent members are opting increasing numbers of their children out of the tests. FairTest's National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has garnered over 11,000 individual and 400 organizational signatures. Those on the front lines of the testing battles, however, have had a hard time being heard. Teachers who object to being judged on the basis of their students' test scores are labeled as weak or unwilling to be held accountable. Their assertions that test-based evaluations are inaccurate and unreliable are countered with suggestions that there is no better alternative. A pattern has emerged recently, however, that makes it harder to dismiss them. Across the country, strong teachers are sacrificing their jobs -- their life's work -- to protect themselves and their students from reforms gone terribly wrong.

In April 2013, history teacher Gerald Conti publicly resigned after 27 years at Westhill High School through a letter to the District superintendent and a YouTube video in which he read the letter. Conti blames "establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian." His fellow teachers, whose work is driven by data production and devoid of creativity, have lost trust and morale. He paints a dismal picture for students, who have been robbed of diverse approaches to subject matter, and time for in-depth discussion with their teachers, and for teachers, whose collaborative planning with colleagues and independent research is no longer deemed valuable.

While perhaps the most highly publicized, Conti's is just one of the latest in a string of such resignations. Adam Kirk Edgerton, a high school English teacher, quit in September 2012 after just three years in his urban school. "I quit not because I am jaded... I quit not because of my students, who were wonderful, bright, capable, eager-to-learn, and deserving of a better educational system ... I quit teaching because I was tired of feeling powerless. Tired of watching would-be professionals treated as children, infantilized into silence. Tired of the machine that turns art into artifice for the sake of test scores."

The following month, Kris Nielsen quit his job as a Union County, North Carolina math teacher. "I refuse to watch my coworkers being treated like untrustworthy slackers through the overbearing policies of this state, although they are the hardest working and most overloaded people I know ... I'm tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don't meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills. I refuse to hear any more how important it is to differentiate our instruction as we prepare our kids for tests that are anything but differentiated. This negates our hard work and makes us look bad."

In December, Providence, Rhode Island second-grade teacher Stephen Round said "I've had it, I quit" in a resignation video that he posted to YouTube. Excessive testing and the inability tailor his teaching to his students' needs led Round to declare that ""I would rather leave my secure, $70,000 job, with benefits, and tutor in Connecticut for free than be part of a system that is diametrically opposed to everything I believe education should be."

Twenty-five year veteran teacher Abby Breaux wrote in March that "I feel that we as Teachers have really had enough, and that someone needs to finally speak up ... I have been teaching for 25 years in Lafayette Parish, yet no one [on the School Board] knows me because no one here has ever come to the schools in which I've taught and just asked me, 'What do you as a teacher think?'" Breaux is tired of being told that only ineffective teachers leave, that the others are lazy, non-professionals who work only some of year, of having new programs and reforms forced on her every year, of a system that holds teachers, but not students or parents, responsible for learning, and that tries to make all teachers the same, and uses Value-Added measures to measure that sameness, rather than prizing their individuality.

In May, Brockport, New York teacher Deborah Howard tendered her public resignation letter, expressing frustration at her inability to provide her students with the inspiring, nourishing, life-key-opening sorts of experiences that inspired her to follow in her own teachers' footsteps. "You see, over the past few years, I have seen young children filled with anxiety, not enthusiasm, over school. When I began teaching in the 1990s, educational stress in my students was virtually non-existent. Since the mid 2000s (think No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top era) a gradual shift has been taking place in the makeup of many children. It seems as if our youngest students, who were once eager to come to school, have been showing signs of depression, anxiety, fear, and humiliation" as testing has taken over.

Just last week, Albany teacher Jeremy Dudley contributed to a rally with his rap, "Stop this Madness." Foreseeing even more tests and higher stakes as Common Core rolls out, Dudley sings: I am a frontline passionate true student advocate, dedicated educator that's not having this habit w/ the testing turning states into some addicts quick, resulting in a system growing more and more inadequate.

These can no longer be considered isolated incidents, nor dismissed as weak novices or teachers who are burned-out. Let's just hope that the madness does stop before more teachers are sacrificed to the testing pyre.