The Death of Creativity in the Classroom

In the mandatory training sessions we attended prior to administering the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP), we were always told to keep walking around the class. Proximity, after all, is the most effective deterrent against those who want to cheat.

I did exactly as I was told and circulated around my classroom, over and over, year after year, during these tests and I never saw a single student try to cheat.

I never saw any of them who cared enough to cheat.

Despite all of the incentives, bordering on bribery, that we offered students, despite the MAP pep rallies, which only worked as a way of getting students out of class, we were never able to convince more than a handful of students that these tests should matter to them.

On the other hand, student resentment against the tests, and more specifically, the practice tests (and the tests to practice for the practice tests) has continued to grow and will continue to do so now that the state of Missouri, in its infinite wisdom, has purchased McGraw-Hill's Acuity program for all of its schools.

But no matter how we prepare for the annual tests, when they arrive, we still have to circulate among the students. I remember one particular testing day, one of my top students, an eighth grade girl who never would have dreamed of doing less than her best work on any assignment, was clearly distracted.

Her yellow number two pencil was poised to write, but no writing was taking place. From time to time, she stared out the window, which was not easy since my classroom only had a narrow window in one corner. Most of the time she simply stared ahead.

As I strolled through an opposite corner of the classroom, I heard an audible sigh coming from the student. It was obvious something was wrong. Finally, she pulled herself together and was able to complete the test.

After the test, I discovered my student had just learned that her parents were going to divorce and that she might have to move from Joplin. This on top of another problem she had been dealing with for months -- the impending death of her beloved grandmother.

I cannot imagine she considered the MAP test to be of any importance.

Nor can I imagine that standardized tests hold much importance to those who face poverty, emotional, physical or sexual abuse or to those who are dealing with bullying, problems with friends, or boyfriend-girlfriend issues.

The only people who seem to hold standardized tests in high esteem are those who want to judge all schools, all administrators, and most prominently, all teachers, on the results of those tests, a list that includes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, more billionaires than you can shake a stick at, and politicians who are using them as a weapon in their battle against public schools and more specifically, teacher unions.

The more importance that is placed on standardized tests, the more teaching to the test we will see, including the administering of entire series of practice tests. We will see an increase in scripted, cookie-cutter lesson plans because when administrators' jobs are on the line -- they are more willing to buy some program that promises miracles than they are to rely on the skills of the classroom teachers.

The reliance on standardized tests to measure the quality of teachers not only does nothing to improve education, but according to a study released today by the American Educational Research Association, it does not work.

The study showed that some teachers did everything right, based on everything we know about good teaching, but their students did not do well, while other teachers, whose methods were more suspect, had students who fared well on the tests.

The main factor is what students are placed in those teachers' classrooms. So much for value-added.

Ironically, the study was funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The idea that everything can be measured by data is leading this nation anyway from the creativity that classroom teachers have used to inspire students to schools full of push button functionaries who stand in front of students and present scripted lesson plans devised by companies that plan to milk this new educational landscape for every cent they can get.

Inspiration, creativity -- those are just words that cannot be quantified to these people who are changing the face of public education.

Our children are the ones who will suffer the consequences.