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Aparna Vashisht Headshot

Standardized Testing and Its Power

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I'm not one to brag about my credentials (pun intended), but for the case of this post, I feel I have no choice. In recent years, I have won Teacher of the Year for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). I then went on to become a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year. Subsequently and most recently, my time and dedication to my students and school community brought me the Bank of America Community Hero Award (and a $5,000) prize.

I have had no less than four letters to the editor (about education) published in major U.S. periodicals and newspapers, and a story about me was published this past year in Los Angeles Times. I have written, for this blog, posts about Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere, two documentary profiles about the state of education in America, with the latter emphasizing how the pressure of tests and homework is a detriment to a child's education. I have four different teaching credentials, and a master's degree in Public Policy (emphasis in education policy) from the University of Southern California. Additionally, I've taught grades six through eight for 12 years, for LAUSD, at a tough, inner-city middle school.

Today, I received my formal Stull Evaluation -- the standard for public school teachers in California. No, I didn't receive an unsatisfactory rating, but the comments to me by the principal are the sole basis for this post. Before sharing what I was told by the principal, I wish to share a bit about how I do things in my social studies classes.

I tend to avoid the text, bring in supplemental materials (tailored to my students needs and learning modalities) and create all my own assessments (form handouts to exams). My focus is a curriculum that emphasizes the how and why, rather than the who, what and when. I like critical thinking skills, and try to impart these upon my students.

During my formal Stull meeting with the principal, he kept mentioning "standards-based instruction" and because I wasn't following the District's blue print, cookie-cutter pacing guide (he called it a curriculum; I disagree), I wasn't covering what needed to be covered. I pointed out my emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving, and the fact that diversity in teaching styles is a main reason middle school students have multiple teachers. I was told to stick to "the plan" and that my "custom" work wasn't necessary.

He's correct. It isn't necessary. But that depends on your definition of necessary. If necessary means preparing for standardized tests (and only that), then the principal may have a point. If preparation for something beyond a multiple choice test is necessary, then I believe in my style, so to speak.

"You're working too hard," said the principal. I was insulted. He intended it as a compliment. That's nice, if we wish to create robots for whom the definition of success is passing a fill-in-the bubbles test. I intend to continue to "work too hard." I believe in it, and I disagree with the principal. I won't be upset if my students don't score brilliantly on the state tests. Indeed, I may be proud of it.

The post written by Steve Franklin first appeared on Parentella's blog here.