Home > Uncategorized > Virginia Teacher’s Embeds an Explanation of the Root Cause of Our Teacher Shortage… Our Obsession with Tests

Virginia Teacher’s Embeds an Explanation of the Root Cause of Our Teacher Shortage… Our Obsession with Tests

June 23, 2019

A recent Economic Policy Institute blog post by Fredericksburg VA Middle School teacher Joy Kirk provides a spot on explanation for the persistent teacher shortage we face today. The opening section of the post describes how her state’s decision to mandate that education degrees be offered only at the graduate level resulted in increased debt for students, a predictable obstacle given the low salaries many teachers in her state encounter when they apply for jobs. But the mid-section of the post gets into the real problem: teaching is no longer the profession it once was:

Many teachers who enter the field quickly leave. The number of teachers leaving the field with less than five years of experience keeps growing. Why? Everyone has their own reasons but some of the reasons cut across schools, school divisions, states, and our nation. Teachers do not feel supported and the role and responsibilities of teachers just keep increasing. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s my teachers taught us, supported us, disciplined us, attended a few meetings and our testing was a nationally normed standardized test that was given a few times throughout my K-12 education.

Today, teachers teach, discipline, support, remediate, attend countless trainings, prepare students for dozens of evaluations at the local and state level and are told to do more with less. This mantra grew louder during the recession and continues today. During the recession our responsibilities and accountability grew while our support and financial assistance shrunk. It is time that those making laws and regulations that impact educators and students start having conversations with those teachers and students.

Ms. Kirk’s post focused on compensation and professionalism, but the root cause of the de-professionalization of teaching and the centerpiece of policy-makers discussions about compensation is testing. The contrast between the testing protocols of the 70s and 80s and those in place since NCLB is stark. The impact of the testing protocols, though, is subtle, persistent, and demoralizing. Increasingly, teachers in “failing schools” are subjected to “countless trainings” on how to prepare students for tests. Test preparation strategies have replaced curriculum development workshops and teachers who have unique ideas and specialized interests are pushed to the sidelines as school districts adopt highly focussed packages developed to prepare children for tests. Ms. Kirk closes her post with this lament about staff development:

…We need to find a way to show educators that they make a difference and acknowledge their skills and trainings.

Our school divisions need to get creative. Some… are making professional development more meaningful by letting individual teachers determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective. Some are making mentoring programs more effective so our young teachers feel supported and stay in the field of teaching. Still others provide work from home days instead of requiring teachers to make an appearance on a teacher work day. There is still more that could be done.

There IS still more to be done… but the first step in showing educators they make a difference and acknowledging their skills and trainings is to abandon the notion that standardized tests are the ultimate measure of learning. Truly creative and innovative individuals will never be drawn to a job that requires them to act as humanoid robots, following a prescribed curriculum designed to ensure that more children pass a one-size-fits-all test. A truly creative and innovative teachers wants some degree of autonomy and the chance to “...determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective”… and they DON’T want effectiveness to be defined by their students’ test scores.

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