I am angry. I know that it is unseemly for a teacher to be angry. But as I tell my students, it is the measure of a man, how he acts on that anger. I am choosing to voice mine.
Recently, I went to work at my second job and was approached by a number of people with the same question, “Did they fire you?” The next comment was, “Wow, your school must be in pretty bad shape.”
I am angry that my school’s reputation has been slandered; that my students are considered stupid; and that the staff at our school is considered so poor that we should be fired. I say we were slandered and the following is why.
I teach at a small, rural high school that was designated in 2007 by U.S. News and World Report as a bronze medal winner in their assessment of U.S. high schools. We were one of only eight high schools in the state of Maine to earn this honor, meaning that we were in the top 1,591 high schools out of more than 18,000 in the country to be examined. It made our students feel good about themselves, and local politicians could point to the article and say, “See, we must be doing something right.”
Two-and-a-half years later, the state of Maine designated Carrabec High School as a low performing school based solely on SAT scores. We’ve had the Maine Educational Assessments, which our school incorporated into our curriculum, local assessments (I have a file drawer full of tested assessments), and finally three years ago the state chose to test our juniors using the SAT. By that point the staff considered it the “flavor of the day.” Many considered the SAT a poor indicator of student improvement. I didn’t take it seriously. I wasn’t being arrogant, just informed.
The SAT is designed to test juniors and seniors who are on track to attend a four-year college. In 1994, the math portion of the SAT was changed to cover math through Algebra 2. Out of the 60 or so juniors who took the test last year, there were many who hadn’t completed Geometry, let alone Algebra 2.
The ridiculous part of that observation is that some of them will never be required to take that class. Was someone in the commissioner’s office thinking: “What can we replace the MEA with? Ah, yes, the SAT. I took it, shouldn’t everyone?” The answer to that is NO.
In Maine, all juniors are required to take the SAT. On a designated Saturday we feed them, give them prizes and a day off school if they all show up as a way of enticing them into taking the test.
There are no consequences for not performing well. Unlike the Massachusetts tests, which students are required to pass to graduate, our students have a stake in this test only if they plan to attend a four-year college. We’ve had students create Christmas trees out of the answer form.
I am sympathetic to those students who don’t need a good result to be an electrician. I can’t say that it should be important to them. But, I better unless I want to lose my job.
Commissioner Susan Gendron owes us an apology. The last few months she has logged hundreds of hours traveling to Washington to bring this money to Maine. Did she ever realize how hurtful her unscientific, arbitrary decision on low-performing schools would hurt those communities? In our society, we value higher education until we need a plumber or a welder. Our school produces a mix of plumbers, welders, doctors and nurses. We are proud of the mix of our clientele.
Six years ago we welcomed a new principal who made many changes. We are saddened that this arbitrary label will result in losing this valued colleague. The following are a list of a few of those changes:
• Created a Teacher Leadership Team
• Implemented the use of NWEA Testing allowing us to align our curriculum to better serve our students.
• Provided classes on differentiated instruction.
• Expanded math, language arts and science class time and provided additional support classes.
• Instituted an Afterschool Learning Center.
• Rearranged the schedule, providing collaborative time for content area teachers.
• Instituted an Alternative Education Program.
• Instituted student-led conferences.
• Instituted an advisory program, including a community service component.
• Took part in the Great Maine Schools project.
• Increased freshman reading and math levels approximately two years by the end of the first year.
• Earned the respect of the teaching staff.
There is a reason we were a bronze school! And a reason why I am angry.
Rita Wakefield is a teacher and a resident of Carrabassett Valley.