the blog of Carol Burris

If you knew that nearly all of your students were opting out, what would your classrooms be like?

That is the question that Jeanette Deutermann, the founder of Long Island Opt Out asked.  The respondents were all 3-8 teachers who must give Common Core tests and are evaluated by their students’ scores.  This is how they responded.  Isn’t this how school for young children should be?

If I know in the fall that the majority of my students will be refusing the state assessments this spring….

… then it would make sense to me to develop a parallel teacher made exam to be given in class. This exam would be of age appropriate length and truly reflect what was taught and learned over the year so that both student and teacher could really understand the progress that was made.

I would re-engage my creative talents to tailor this year’s goals in the most appropriate manner for each of my students … and to once again make school a place of adventure, warmth and consistency.

Listen longer to the children and let them tell their stories of life.

I will do more hands on projects they will really remember when they get older!

I would do more music, poetry and plays

Get back to creative teaching and allowing my students to enjoy learning!

I would teach content that mattered without being shackled by convergent reasoning.

I can teach based on their learning needs and styles!

I would focus on cross-curricular connections between my subject and others. Allow students to engage in deeper discussions when questions arise without worrying about getting all the “content” in. Listen more to students sharing thoughts and ideas which in turn allows them to feel the discovery of learning instead of the “teacher teaches at them.”

Focus on reading and writing for life instead of reading and writing “for the test”.

I would try to inspire a love of learning. How would I do that you ask? I would use the Common Core Standards to guide my instruction and I would not spend endless instructional hours on test prep. My lessons would be developmentally appropriate to my students abilities.

I will be able to reinforce concepts they struggle with instead of trying to finish everything by April! I can differentiate and individualize my instruction.

Allow my students the time they need to grasp difficult concepts by going deep into each skill set rather than a quick overview to keep pace with the requirements. I also agree with the educators who want to help create projects that students will remember for a lifetime.

…,this knowledge would increase student life long learning because their affective filter will be lowered and the content of my lessons would be more meaningful.

I would be able to slow down the math curriculum and not shove it down their throats!

…teach what matters, help them sharpen their critical thinking skills, develop their curiosity, heighten their awareness of justice in their world, really teach mathematics, and perhaps help them to learn to LOVE a good book.

I would enjoy the journey I would be allowed to take with my unique class.

Simply put; I can allow my class to be the kids that they are.

Morning and afternoon meetings w Responsive Classroom and Olweus to make the stress of demanded curriculum, and test prep take a back seat to what is really needed. Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Just Let Me Teach!

Take more risks, do more creative studies and keep our common core test practice books on the shelf to gather dust.

I will continue to teach my students literature, writing, and effective communication the same way I have been doing it for the past twenty years. I refuse…to teach to a test.

I can meet them where they are and teach from that point. I don’t have to skip skills that are missing because the pace must be kept to cover curriculum. I can take more time and not feel like I’m constantly pushing because the clock is weighing on me. ( I am a reading teacher in a title 1 school. Most of my students are Ells, many have disabilities)

I would be able to teach children, not the test material.

I will bring back author studies, show and tell, creative writing and projects!

I would teach measurement by cooking. I would teach fractions with pizza. I would teach multiplication and division with Cuissinaire Rods. I would use magic rulers to measure the desks, notebooks, textbooks, the classroom, the hallway, the school. I would go on a field trip to the fruit market and learn about money………………

I will be thrilled and be sure to find a way to let their parents know I’m on their side completely.

I would be overwhelmed with joy and let parents know that I support them and would NEVER teach to a test. Do what I do best, LOVE, NURTURE, GUIDE, and EXPLORE.

I will teach what I know they need and build their confidence

I would read more fiction and focus on the lessons of humanity they offer. I would do more projects so students could use their strengths (multiple intelligences) to show what they have learned. I would focus more on basic grammar (spelling, punctuation, etc.) than trying to get kids to figure out why an author put certain information in one section rather than another.

The pressure would be off. And even though I truly work hard to ignore it and just be the best teacher I can, it’s like the elephant in the room. My students all learn at different rates and I work to let them set the pace, not the test… But it’s looming presence is in the background.

I’d teach math the way I learned it!!!

I could go back to the project-based, interest based teaching I did twenty years ago.

Allow my special education students to explore their interests and talents.

I would allow my students the freedom to explore their interests and develop at their own pace as children their age should.

Go on more field trips which allow for more “real world” learning and connections.

I will be able to teach them a wide range of curriculum, in a creative, non threatening environment… While taking the time to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of all learners. A TRUE vision of no child being left behind!

I would feel a tremendous reduction in the anxiety I sometimes get overwhelmed with when I question my decision to REFUSE to teach to the test. Prior to the testing mania, I refused as well, but never felt anxiety about that decision because my job/livelihood were not relying on how my students did on these tests. I know the tremendous way my students grow in a creative, hands on, and a literature rich environment. Knowing the majority of my students would be refusing in September would also give me even more hope that the craziness may end sooner rather than later. Elia might not even bother wasting our time & taxpayers’ money with her “toolkit” to help “educate” what she must think are dumb NY parents.
I would teach higher order thinking skills through exploration and hands on activities that are memorable.

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20 Responses to “If you knew that nearly all of your students were opting out, what would your classrooms be like?”

  1. theoofnetwork

    Thank you for this, Jeanette Deutermann and Carol Burris. I read this post with my eleven year old daughter.

    She had this to say, “I agree with all of it. School isn’t like that at all. I wish it could be. Maybe I’ll ask my teacher why school can’t be more like that. I wonder what she’ll say when I tell her I’m opting out…”

    Sandy Stenoff
    The Opt Out Florida Network

    Reply
  2. marilyn sweeney

    My Master degree was “Integrating the Arts into the Curriculum” and even while teaching in a charter arts school, my teaching was constantly impacted and interrupted by the tests for which I had to prepare my students, I simply had to give up most of what I learned in my master’s program.

    This article expressed my sentiments to a “T”. Every item in it spoke to the frustration of a creative teacher and the loss to her students that this sort of testing brings. The questions on the test mostly tested a student’s ability to figure out what was being asked and generally it took the brightest of your students to figure it out. Testing of this sort is demoralizing at best to both student and teacher.

    This is a must read for all educators.

    Reply
  3. cat

    oh yes, the voices of reason!!so thankful for your words and commitment to our future’s education. when will policy makers and administration join the nontesting education of our cchildren?!

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Bonin

    “I’d teach math the way I learned it!!!”

    …You mean, teach math in a way that makes half the populous HATE math? A way in which far too many students learn math by rote, and have no idea why it works — and thus don’t know how to apply it in real life? A way which creates tons of adults who PROUDLY proclaim “I really don’t get math” or “I’m not a math person” and think that’s OKAY? Why on Earth would you want to do that?

    I despise “teaching to the test” — largely because it’s unnecessary and doesn’t work to make kids learn more. But I’m also a 35-year-old engineer who looks around and realizes that “the way we learned it” didn’t actually teach much math to most students, beyond about 4th grade. So you’ll excuse me for being less than excited about some of the lines in this article. I recall far too many of my own elementary school teachers, who were unable to help a math-lover like myself understand why some problems were solved as they were. Fortunately, my dad could explain what I was curious about to me. Unfortunately, not all kids’ dads can. I fail to see why it’s a good thing to teach math in the same way, when that way doesn’t work… and when too many of the teachers teaching it didn’t really understand what they were teaching to begin with!

    Reply
  5. Jerome Waldemar

    I am against Common Core. I am against federal or state oversight of schools. I am in favor of local school boards operating schools. I am in favor of vouchers to encourage competition between schools with parental choice including private schools. All that said, I found about 2 of the teacher’s comments above made good sense.

    Reply
  6. eatingon1

    Seattle won some help. Moms and teachers are together on this.We’ve lost one generation already in Florida. But there is now this- Hope, We will overcome.

    Reply
  7. Tracy Beekman

    Sounds like before these tests we had great teachers all doing wonderful work and NO problems with our schools. Thank god we can soon go back to those wonderful times.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Bonin

      🙂 I’m assuming there’s a touch of sarcasm here. Since I sure remember my incompetent 5th grade teacher, who repeatedly demonstrated that she didn’t know history or math, and couldn’t keep control of her class either. Yet when the parents and principal tried to can her for blatant inability, they were unable to because of the power of the local teacher’s association. And I remember my 8th grade science teacher and 12th grade physics teacher, both of whom were great at classroom organization, but neither of whom knew as much as I did about their subjects when I was a teen in their classes!

      Of course, to counter those examples, I also had some AWESOME teachers. Don’t misunderstand me; I came from a good school district and overall got a good education. But my point is (as I hope yours was!) that there was surely plenty of room for improvement. And that one of the reasons that standardized tests got put into place to start with is because teachers weren’t plucking out their bad apples. In fact, they were making it impossible for parents and even principals to pick them out. I think it’s important to remember that one of the ORIGINAL goals of testing was to allow some firm metric to separate out the majority of decent teachers from the minority of awful ones. I would have a lot more respect for teachers and teachers’ groups if they said they wanted to eliminate (or better, reduce) standardized tests if they were also willing to give a replacement plan to retrain or eliminate the bad teachers, too.

      Reply
      • Lauren

        Standardized test scores are a bad way to get rid of bad teachers. They are inaccurate (there are great teachers whose students score poorly), and they force the good teachers to teach badly by making them focus on preparing for the standardized test rather than actually teaching.

      • Jennifer Bonin

        Standardized tests BY THEMSELVES are a bad way to pick out the worst teachers, I agree. However, if you took them at the end of every year, the difference in scores between one year and the next, averaged over all students and compared to other teachers with similar students, is a reasonable bit of evidence to CONFIRM that a teacher is lousy. And especially in places where there are strong teachers’ unions, having concrete evidence of incompetence is critical if you want to can a teacher.

        Also, there is absolutely no reason why having an end-of-the-year test should require teachers to “teach to the test”. At least, not any more than merely making sure they cover the subjects to be tested on and probably give the kids a single practice test to make sure they’re comfortable with the test format. Every one of my better teachers AVOIDED “teaching to the test” like the plague — and we students came out the better for it. The whole idea that to get kids to pass a standardized test, you have to teach differently is just false.

  8. Jeanette Ackerman

    How do you start an opt out movement? I taught for 13 years and have a son with autism. Trying to force him to learn common core objectives of doing literary analysis and empathy in the seventh grade, when his brain isn’t wired that way, has plummeted not only his grades, but his love for school along with them. He was a straight “A” student until common core. Advanced MAP scores in multiple subjects. I have even contemplated pulling him out of public school. This is a nightmare!

    Reply
  9. Nathan Slotnick

    As a student in high school, I find that I learn much more fluently under the circumstances that Ms. Deutermann wishes to have. I have chosen to use and cite this article for my english class, to dissect the argument that she makes. I would like to publicly thank Ms. Deutermann, who seems very passionate and I’m sure is a fantastic educator, as well as Carol Burris for spreading awareness of this issue. I would also like to thank the Washington Post for directing me to this blog. I wish the best of luck to all of you in your mission, I, as well as millions of others my age, are rooting for you!

    Reply
  10. ciedie aech

    For years I taught with little to no thought given to a Big Brother testing. I so enjoyed my work that I got better and better at actually effecting the very difficult task of reaching into, and inspiring, the minds of multi-cultural teenagers. Then, Test-Score-Accountability came along and suddenly our very-low-scoring (almost all non-White) school was bombarded with “do-gooder” test reformers and my ability to actually reach my students dwindled…slowly falling to lower and lower levels. In recent years, the punitive invasions of a chaotically shifting, blame seeking reform have simply sucked a creatively effective teaching, and thus any true learning, out of the classroom.

    Reply
  11. claire.s

    Its sad to see that these teachers feel that they are inhibited from pursuing all of these wonderful and creative teaching practices because of high stakes testing. I’ve been wondering a lot recently if there is a balance that can be found between ensuring that all students learn the material necessary to succeed and giving teachers the freedom to be creative in their profession. One of the most troubling things is the amount of time that teachers have to spend teaching their students HOW to take standardized tests. A teacher told me the other day that every Friday for the rest of the year, until testing, his entire school has to do silent reading activities for increasingly longer periods of time to develop their students’ “stamina” for test taking. This seems like such a waste of time to me! If only teachers were able to use this time to do creative projects like the ones mentioned above to get students engaged and excited about learning! And/or to give extra help to struggling students. The teacher said that the “stamina Friday” activities he gives to his class must be “on grade level”, so even if a student is reading at a kindergarten grade level he has to give them 3rd grade material that they will not understand and be discouraged by. There has got be a way to make sure that all students across the country are learning the material that they need to without these restrictive and time wasting policies!

    Reply

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