By Michelle Strater Gunderson.
I worked the work of three people this week. I do not say this to be congratulated or slapped on the back. I have never been one of those people who brag about being tired because I do too much.
I say this because it is true.
This past week the students at my school were taking the PARCC exam. All of the special education teachers were pulled from servicing the children in my classroom in order to accommodate children who were testing.
I teach first grade in a neighborhood school for the Chicago Public Schools. The PARCC exam begins in the third grade, but even though my students did not take the test, their schedules and learning were still disrupted and negatively affected by the tests. There are 5 wonderful children in my classroom with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and most of these plans are quite extensive (as they should be). Our room works in a co-teaching model where an education specialist, teaching assistant, and I work together to bring everyone’s Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to life. Our speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and social worker filter in and out of the room to serve the children per their IEPs.
It works perfectly until the supports are taken away, and last week facing this work alone with my teaching assistant I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me – and so did the children.
Now, it would be wrong of me to paint the picture of my classroom last week as chaos. That was not the case. I am very good at what I do. Yet the quality of my teaching was affected, as was the amount of energy I had for each child. To a casual observer it would seem that everything was going well. The part that needs to be explained is what was missing from our classroom this past week:
- One child did not receive the occupational therapy he needs to help him with impulse control
- Another child did not receive the speech services she needs to communicate well with others
- One child who needs writing support did not have her work scribed for her
- Four children did not have their reading lessons taught by a specialist for the entire week
- Three children did not have their math lessons taught in a small group for the entire week
One of my students was so distressed by the break in her routine that she followed me around each day pulling on my sleeve every 10 minutes asking when her teacher was going to come. She then began scratching her arm until she broke the skin before I could notice.
There is no way anyone could say that these children received their Free and Appropriate Public Education this past week. And this was just one classroom in a system of more than 300,000 children.
And why did the Chicago Schools do this? Because the PARCC test is a state mandated test that supposedly aligns with the Common Core State Standards. It is a measurement instrument that by any standard of research would be considered worthless. The data is not received in a timely matter so that it is actionable, many passages of the tests are written above grade level so the test becomes a guessing game not a measure, and the test takes way too long to administer keeping children away from classroom learning.
So in other words, the learning lives of Chicago’s children were put on hold for no reason – and I would posit that harm was done.
I am writing this a week after the Chicago Teachers Union one day historic strike asking for fair funding and education justice – part of which is a reduction of standardized testing. In response to the strike both our governor and mayor stated that the Chicago teachers were interrupting the education of children, and that our actions were shameful
Mayor Emanuel and Governor Rauner, you are the grand interrupters of our children’s education.
This is what I know for certain – my classroom last week would have brought every education reformer there is begging to their knees. There is no reason to put an entire school on hold just to serve their “measure to manage” agenda, and this needs to stop.
Michelle Strater Gunderson is a 29 year teaching veteran who teaches first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. She is a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction.