A Didactic Tale to Illustrate Just How Much the Teacher Rating System Pisses Me Off, a True Story

Once upon a time, a very smart girl was taking her 4th grade ELA test (that's English Language Arts for those of you who have escaped the horror). The girl loved to read, and everyone thought she would perform outstandingly well, just as she had on the ELA test she'd been subjected to in 3rd grade.

What no one knew was that the very smart girl had been fuming for weeks about her curtailed reading time, and her shortened read alouds—all in the name of test prep.

But, the Board of Education insisted on test prep. And so the teachers reluctantly did test prep. They were beginning to worry that their careers might depend on these tests results. They were right to worry.

The day of the test came, and the children lined up in neat silent rows. And the teacher handed out the test. The children dutifully lowered their heads and began to work. They filled in oval after oval, they read stupid passage after stupid passage. And then the smart little girl got to the stupidest passage of all. And she just…stopped. She looked at the passage, a story about a squirrel, and something in her rebelled. The passage was insipid. The questions were foolish. She wanted only one thing—to read. And so she reached into her desk and pulled out a book and she read.

Of course, all hell broke loose. The child on the other side said, "Hey! You're not allowed to read!" The teacher strode towards the little girl, plucked the book from her hand, put it back in the desk and turned the desk around so the child couldn't do it again. But not before the state test proctor, who'd been passing by in the hallway, darted in.

Hissed whispers between the teacher and the proctor. The proctor insisted that the child be reported for cheating. The teacher, who knew the little girl, promised that it was not a case of cheating. Back and forth they went, until somehow the teacher prevailed. The child was told to resume the test.

But she refused.

The teacher, knowing the importance the middle schools would place on this test, tried with her eyes to convince the child to resume the test. She wasn't allowed to speak, of course, because that would have been cheating.

The child refused.

Instead she crossed her arms in front of her. And she just sat there. Eventually it started to snow, and she gazed outside at the giant flakes and watched them fall.

And she didn't do a single other question on the test.

When the test was over, the children filed out, all except for the girl. The teacher asked her to stay. "Why did you do that?"

The child set her jaw. She hunkered down. "That test was an insult to my intelligence."

The teacher sighed. She'd read the passage. It was, indeed, an insult to the intelligence of all the children who had taken it. But that wasn't the point. "I realize you don't like the tests. But there are going to be lots of things in this world that you don't like, and sometimes you just have to suck it up. You're smart, but you still have to do what you have to do. It's part of life." And the little girl grudgingly nodded.

That year the little girl did worse on her ELA test than she had the year before, no doubt giving her teacher a terrible rating in the moronic New York City teacher ratings, currently posted for the world to see in New York Times. Because those ratings are based on how the child does on these tests from one year to the next. And they are a textbook exercise in stupidity and wastefulness.

That one-on-one talk the teacher had with that little girl about how sometimes you have to suck it up and just do what you need to do? There was more good teaching in that one moment than in all the years of test prep the little girl has been subject to, before and since. And that teacher is the same one who instilled in her students a love of reading so strong and deep that there were many moments of absolute enthralled silence in that classroom.

Now, class, I have a few questions for you about the passage you just read:

Does anyone know how much it costs to write these tests? Print them? Administer them? Grade them? Millions, right? And can anyone tell me why the hell is that money going to this crap instead of to my kids foreign language program (may it rest in peace)? My children's art programs (RIP)? My children's libraries?



27 thoughts on “A Didactic Tale to Illustrate Just How Much the Teacher Rating System Pisses Me Off, a True Story

  1. Standing up and clapping. I may even be Woo!-ing. I can’t whistle, or that would also be a part of this. Can I just say that I am so glad this little girl rebelled? I think we should ALL follow her lead.


  2. I’m with Megsie. I am also a teacher. I say hooray for the little girl, and I feel for the teacher, who dealt with it as best she could under a set of very, very stupid limitations. I have known teachers who would have been right there with the state inspector, rot them. I wish that whoever it is– and I do not know who to blame but I want somebody to blame– would trust that teachers can, on the whole, teach, and let them do it. And I wish they would let girls (and boys) read when they want to. It’s wonderful to see when it happens and anything that discourages it is just plain wrong.


  3. I say hooray too. Honestly, and most cynically, that would make a great college entrance essay.
    Her insubordination and tenacity will get her far in life, regardless of whether she ever “passes” an exam like that.


  4. As you might know, NYS changed the testing dates of the ELA this year so that the results can be returned in time for teacher evaluations. Our district scheduled Spring Break during the week of the new test dates. So our district changed our Spring break week. We had already made plans to go away during the original week…and you know what…we are still going. Hooray for that little girl! We will be reading while away enjoying every single word and not worrying about a passage that insults our childrens’ intelligence!


  5. Hooray, Diamond and smart, former 4th grader.
    For those of you in NYC who want to delve further into the questions that end Diamond’s heartfelt post:
    I am one of a group of parents and teachers at my school who are teaming up with our counterparts at a neighboring school to host a moderated discussion on High-Stakes Testing. Panelists will include Deputy Chancellor of the DOE Shael Polakow-Suransky, Sean Feeney (one of the principals who started the NY State Principals’ Letter arguing against the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, signed by 1000+ principals so far), and former NYC principal Elijah Hawkes.
    Let us not sit idly amid these outrages!
    Monday March 19 | 6:30-8:30
    Brooklyn New School auditorium
    610 Henry St (F to Carroll St., exit 2nd Place, walk west on 2nd Place to Henry, then turn left)
    Childcare and pizza (for kids) available for a suggested donation of $5


  6. I 100% agree! WHY are we spending millions of dollars on “high-stakes tests,” while foreign language programs, art, music, and other programs are being CUT?
    I think you should submit this to NYT or HuffPo or something, along with the information that @kk provided.


  7. Thanks, MissRed and kk. And MissRed, I appreciate your faith in its publishability (not a word I think?) but I think it’s too much of a story. It was the only way I knew how to talk about it. I tried to write a thought-out post with facts and reality, but the only way I could approach it is with a story of one person. Statistically insignificant, to be sure. Which is how I like ’em.


  8. This confirmed everything I have always thought about these sorts of tests, which have recently been introduced in Australia. Our school encourages parents to exempt their children from the test, – about 98% do this – because it doesn’t believe they are useful in any way and believes that tests like this inevitably lead to teaching for the test, rather than just teaching. This means that our school is ‘ranked’ on a national school website, based on the results of a handful of children who sit the test each year. So far it hasn’t effected funding but there are moves to link teacher pay to ‘performance’. Sinister stuff.


  9. Our government in New Zealand is considering similar testing and appraisal of teacher performance despite the fact that experts say it doesn’t work. It’s just part of the standard neo-liberal agenda. Whether it works or not is irrelevant to these clowns. I do have to ask though: is this story true or more like a “parable”?


  10. Judging by this piece and the comments, we should make political and social decisions based upon anecdotes. Ooookay…


  11. I agree standardized testing can be a little frustrating but if you want to have an educational system where people are rewarded for being good teachers you have to measure it somehow.
    This might inconvenience people like the girl in this story, but what about a girl who has a terrible teacher that doesn’t do her job. Her parents don’t care enough to make a fuss or aren’t around to do so. Her administrators don’t care enough to put pressure on her to do better. So all of her students pay the price.
    Are these tests perfect? No, of course not. But just letting teachers teach and not holding them to any standard results in wildly mixed results. Sometimes that works out better, sometimes not.


  12. Hey Joe (where you going with that gun in your hand).
    Wait, no that’s not what I meant.
    What I meant was:
    I haven’t deleted anyone’s comments. If your comment is gone, I am at a loss to explain how.
    And Jeff, I am not suggesting that people make decisions based on anecdote, but I am not a policy writer, I write stories, and this was the way I could say what I wanted to say about this.
    Chris: I know that there are bad teachers, but it doesn’t follow that judging teachers based on testing is going to eliminate them, unfortunately.


  13. And the fact that you think intelligent, satisfactory, and self-driven reading is “pudding” while standardized testing is “meat” says everything.


  14. My kids have gone through this. Teachers place so much importance on these tests that the kids stress out, even though nothing will change for the kids no matter how they do. But once you point that out to the kids and they relax, the teacher’s job is suddenly in danger. What kind of stupid system is that?


  15. ::Sadly, “sometimes you have to suck it up” is what we’re teaching kids and what we’re internalizing.::
    ‘Sadly’?? Do you even live in the real world? “Suck it up and carry on” is how the real world operates. Everything else is a fantasy – and one that will lead to both a sense of entitlement (it’s not supposed to be this hard) and guaranteed failure.
    It isn’t ‘sadly’ that we need to teach this. We need to teach “This is how the real world operates. Sometime it’s fun and often it’s not and you need to keep going anyway.” with an open mind and a realization that this isn’t the happiest news that kids are going to get – but it’s some of the best advice we can give them. There’s no ‘Sadly’ about it.


  16. @Ted, I got the Pink Floyd reference there… @Rose, he’s in agreement with the story. Loved the article, don’t love the environment that brought it about.


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