If Secretary of Education Arne Duncan steps into my eighth grade classroom Thursday when he visits tornado-stricken Joplin, he will have an opportunity to see a man-made disaster that he helped make possible.
Duncan and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are scheduled to be in the city and a trip to at least one of our makeshift school buildings is on the agenda. Most likely, it will be our high school at Northpark Mall where juniors and seniors will attend classes for the next three years until the new high school is built.
If Duncan were to visit East Middle School, he would have a chance to see me sacrificing my English classes for a second straight day to give the first of seven Acuity tests.
Acuity, as I have written before, is McGraw-Hill's way of milking every last cent out of schools that are looking for any advantage they can get to stay afloat in these days of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
And believe me, McGraw-Hill rakes in the dollars. The company does not have to spend much for the tests. It simply recycles the same ones over and over. During the years my fellow teachers and I have given this test, I have noticed that not only do the tests not change much from year to year (they have used the same stories in the reading test every year), but they use the stories multiple times with the same students each year, simply changing the constructed response questions at the end of the stories.
My students naturally hate the Acuity tests (as do their teachers), but we realize we have been forced into it by people who want public school students to be inundated with standardized tests (while making sure their own children are safely ensconced in schools that do not have to make testing the heart of their existence).
When Arne Duncan has his photo-ops during his visit to Joplin on Thursday, the story will be, as it should be, our school district's remarkable recovery from the May 22 tornado.
The success stories are everywhere. Against all odds, district officials were able to open our school year on time only 87 days after a third of the city was ripped apart by the forces of nature.
High school students, for the first time, have their own school-provided laptops, thanks to the generosity of the United Arab Emirates.
Joplin business interests made it possible for the students at my school to attend classes in a refurbished warehouse in an industrial park.
People from Joplin and around the world have contributed enough time and educational items that our students' education has not suffered.
Those kinds of stories will be the emphasis when our Secretary of Education comes to this city Thursday. I don't expect to see him or his entourage anywhere near my classroom or the classrooms of other communication arts (English) teachers who are administering the Acuity test that day.
Students reading poorly written stories and bubbling in answers is not the kind of photo that makes the evening news.
When the day is done and Arne Duncan is on his way back to Washington, the Acuity tests will also be completed. We will only have to give them six more times on 12 days.
Living in a community that has bounced back from the deadliest tornado to hit this country in six decades, it would be easy to overlook what is more and more becoming an accepted and reluctantly tolerated aspect of public education.
Ignoring this epidemic of testing would be a disservice to teachers and students alike.
I would love to see Arne Duncan and have a chat with him Thursday, but sadly, that won't be possible.
We're testing that day.
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