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Joanna Montagna Torreano: Teachers trying to do what’s best for children

An upsetting conversation I had with a 5-year-old prompted me to write. I asked, “Are you excited to be going back to school?” She answered, “No, it’s too hard.”

Here’s my educational journey. My first day as a teacher started with sweaty palms, heart beating and my head full of doubt. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It happened 38 years ago. Outside stood 36 children waiting to come into their classroom. I remember promising myself that the day I consider going to “work” was the day I think about retiring. It happened, year 38.

As I reminisce, I am filled with joy. Kids learned through discovery and their own curiosity. We had educational centers every afternoon. Parents came in to help me organize these small learning stations. Students helped each other. It was cooperative learning at its best. I would hear, “How do I make a square from these cut-up papers?” I also overheard, “Oh, I get it now. Multiplying is like adding a number over and over again,” as the child moved jellybeans around. Those were the days.

By year 38, I was going to “work.” What changed? The government telling educators what needs to be taught and tested. Teachers’ jobs are on the line if they are rated ineffective. Children are being tested and their imaginations discouraged. If there’s no student growth, teachers face dismissal.

Let’s take a kindergarten student from 38 years ago. Bright-eyed, eager and hesitant at the same time, this child walked into the classroom, met some friends, played a little and learned academic skills appropriate for her developmental level. Fast forward to now. That same student enters, finds a seat, picks up a pencil or is handed a computer to take a state-approved test to determine a year’s growth.

The numbers I’m using are for demonstration. Keep in mind individual starting academic skills vary. Let’s suppose a child scores 100 on the state test that is taken and scored on a computer. To show a full year’s growth, this child needs a score of 500. The student accomplishes the 500. However, due to the low starting score, the child did not reach the unrealistic benchmark of 900 set for kindergarten. Did this child progress? Is the child ready for first grade?

Let’s follow this child to third grade, where the English language arts test is given. This child is behind. Did the child grow from a score of 500? Absolutely. Did the child make a full year’s growth? Yes. But can this child pass a third-grade ELA test? Probably not. Why? Individual starting points are different and the benchmark is too high. Did the teacher accomplish anything with this child? Yes. What will happen to this dedicated teacher? Most likely she will be rated, “ineffective,” which means possible dismissal.

Do we learn at the same pace? Are teachers told to individualize instruction? If so, why is the test the same? Please get involved with the educational movements that you hear about on TV and read about in newspapers. Common Core standards and their implications are more of a rotten apple. Teachers are trying to do what is right for each child with hands tied behind their backs.

Yep, year 38, I went to work. Time to move on and use my knowledge to help children grow into the people they are supposed to be. Not the people they will be forced to become due to these developmentally inappropriate standardized tests.