On Friday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released information on a new Texas Rating system. It's a very simplified rating system that gives every school and district in Texas ratings on a A-F scale. Even though this system will not officially go into effect until August of 2018 (yes, 2018), the state released preliminary ratings to the public at large on Friday.
If you've been following the news at all lately you've seen the outcry for educators and districts alike at the disdain for this new system. For the first time in all my years in education, I see districts rising up with one voice to stand against this injustice.
What's the injustice you might ask?
In my opinion, the injustice is the misunderstanding of education.
There has been much research released lately that discusses the simple fact that schools that have higher minority and poverty stricken families, score lower than their counterparts. That if you remove the standardized testing from the equation completely, you would be able to figure out school ratings based on minority groups and socioeconomic status alone.
And that's the problem. The people who are making decisions concerning our schools and our students have often never stepped foot into a public education classroom since they themselves were students.
So how does this happen? It's partly because of us. Of educators. We haven't stood up or spoke up. We haven't stood TOGETHER to speak out against injustice. Not enough of us have called legislatures, written letters, marched to Austin, wrote about it, or spoke about it. We complain at our schools. We say they just don't get it. But I'm tired of doing just that. I'm ready. I'm going to use my voice this year and I'm going to speak up.
But why is it important to speak up now?
Because our schools are so much more than a A-F rating. Out of 4 domains, my campus (Webb Elementary) received three "F" ratings and a "C" ratings. How does that make a parent or community member feel? How does that make our kids feel?
I know for me, even though I know the great work we do, the "F" ratings hurt, and cut deep. I know they're not reflective of the work we ARE doing at our school, but still I know the scores are out there in the public conversation.
What does this rating system not take into account?
It doesn't measure the progress we've made in connecting with families. It doesn't measure that we had over 350 families come to our Hot Dog Cookout at a local apartment complex every semester.
It doesn't measure that we had over 580 MEN come to or our Dinner with a Gentleman with their child.
It doesn't show how excited our students are to come to school.
It doesn't measure those children we have connected with and helped find success in an area for the first time in their life.
It doesn't measure the fact that our nurse has spent over $500 of her own money this year to buy students deodorant, toothpaste, or even clothes because they couldn't afford it themselves and were too embarrassed to ask for it.
It doesn't show the excitement our students have for our new "house system" (from the Ron Clark Academy) that has brought everyone together, taught about teamwork, and is helping kids learn character traits and grow into better citizens.
It doesn't measure the child who spent the entire day in her kindergarten classroom for the first time this year, because she's been working with her teacher on self-control and finally went a day without hitting another child.
It doesn't measure the little boy who's crying in the office, because he doesn't want to go home this weekend and is begging to stay with one of us. As we consol him and teach him how to live through difficult things.
It doesn't measure that many of our teachers spend HOURS a week attending Little League football, baseball, soccer, and T-Ball games. Or the dance recitals. Or the kickboxing competitions. Or the cheer and gymnastics events.
It doesn't measure that we've decreased our ISS and OSS rates by over 90% in less than a year because we've been teaching students how to manage their emotions and react in different situations with respect.
It doesn't measure that we've built a love of reading in our students where teachers are advertising what they're reading, students are sharing book recommendations on campus, checking out library books at unprecdented rates, and reading in during dismissal and arrival (because they WANT to).
It doesn't measure that our Counselor worked with many different families this Christmas season to surprise them with groceries or Christmas gifts so that way they could actually celebrate the season with a little less stress.,
It doesn't measure the countless CPS calls, parent counseling, drug and alcohol lessons/counseling, or sexual abuse that we help kids and families work through.
It doesn't celebrate our innovate teachers who are trying flexible seating, classroom transformations, cross grade-level collaborations, lessons with Olympic Athletes, Skype with classes from across the world, and so much more.
No, what the system judges us on is one test. One day for some kids.
Does it take into consideration that maybe that morning two of our students were dealing with their father being shot the night before in a fight over drugs and they are having trouble focusing? No.
Does it take into consideration that despite the work we've done to teach them otherwise, a group of 3rd graders are overwhelmed by the pressure put on them by the state to preform for their underperforming school? No.
Does it take into consideration the immense stress our teachers feel to get out of "Improvement Required" or "F" ratings, even though deep down we know we are more than that and we ARE providing a good education? No.
What this system does is create environments that are demeaning to teachers and families. Teachers who are fearful of their jobs because they are doing everything they can to improve scores, but fighting the poverty and emotional battle is just as important.
The system adds extra pressure on school boards and Superintendent to "fix" schools.
How do I convince my teachers that they are working their butts of and doing a great job of filling in gaps and raising up children, when the state just told them their school is failing?
How do I convince my parents that the school their sending their children too is a school that is truly changing lives AND educating their children at higher ways than we have every done before, when the state just told them their school is failing?
How do I convince my students that they are NOT the cause of our low test scores. That they are not failures. That instead they are inquisitive, bright, energetic, world-changing kids who despite their home challenges still come to school every day ready to learn, even though the state just told them their school is failing?
It's a battle. A battle every day to not define the work our school is doing because of a standardized exam. An exam that doesn't truly measure the work we do.
But fight on I will. And fight on WE must.
We have to speak up and share the greatness that goes on in behind our school walls, even when the state says we're a failure.
We have to rise up and show up every day to give our kids and parents the best education they could ever dream or hope for.
When you work in an environment that is overcome by poverty, you realize what these ratings do to a community.
And I will not be silent. I will not complain behind school walls or in small groups of educators.
What I will do is I will shout from the rooftops and in every forum I can find, about the INCREDIBLE work my team does on a daily basis.
What I will do is write my state legislatures. I will call them. I will march to Austin if I have to.
What I will do remind my students that they are wonderful. That they are more than ANY test score will ever tell them they are.
What I will do is tell my team, as often as I can, the wonderful work they do and that the countless hours they put in are not wasted.
What I will do is continually share with our parents how hard their children, and the staff at our school, are working, in a broken system, to give their children the best education possible.
My question is though, will you join me?