What If? (Part 2)

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Web/Tech

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Each year, when the AIMS test comes around, my colleagues and I sit in our required proctoring training session and wonder why our professional time is used to read aloud pre-printed scripts and keep time. This year, our school got creative and found a way to keep more teachers in their classrooms, teaching, during the main 10th grade AIMS sessions. The schedule disrupted some people’s instruction, but not the whole school’s, and many teachers continued teaching uninterrupted. Whew. Thanks to our AIMS coordinator for thinking outside the box.

But AIMS isn’t the only time that we are asked to carry out policy. An ongoing question that has been whittling away at my attention span is whether I am “the man” or whether my job is to teach students to “stick it to the man.” In other words, am I essentially an administrator of policy, particularly well-trained in the policies and curriculum that get students to do what they have to do to graduate and be a successful member of society? Am I a glorified bureaucrat? Or am I a revolutionary, a progressive facilitator of thought, helping students to transcend the boundaries of their daily lives and use their minds and imaginations to take them where they dream to go? Obviously, I favor the latter description, though clearly it is a lifetime ideal, and I celebrate when I see even glimpses toward that. However, if my goal is to be a progressive facilitator of thought, then I can’t help but be skeptical when I find myself using my professional time to pretty much babysit.

Remember, the game here is “What if?” A game of possibilities, not a game of finding reasons why not. In honor of assessment season, I ask: What if testing corporations provided trained proctors to administer standardized assessments that are imposed upon schools from without? Although standardized testing is taking a well-deserved beating, I can’t imagine that states and the feds will stop wanting to see the results of our educational systems in easily-digestible terms any time soon. Standardized assessments in one form or another will be around for a while. What if the companies who profit from these assessments sent personnel in to administer the tests? Why not? Alternately, what if students could take their standardized assessments, or even teacher-designed assessments for classes, in a school-provided testing center, a place where staff was paid or technology was used to proctor tests?

With the time that teachers would normally use to administer tests or quizzes (which consists of walking around, making sure electronic devices and notes are put away, etc.) we could be having writing conferences with individual students, guiding groups through collaborative projects, leading book discussions with small groups, or developing unit plans collaboratively with colleagues. Or perhaps we could use the time to better connect with families about their childrens’ goals, successes, and challenges. Maybe we could even read a few papers, or perhaps strategize with students about individual learning needs.

Technology is already being developed to administer various forms of assessmentsfor the newly popular MOOC’s, which some high schools are even offering for credit as independent study options (ask Eric Scheninger in New Milford, NJ about this). I believe that at his high school, students report out on their learning publicly, and authentic exhibitions of learning are more desirable than typical paper and pencil tests, but there are still moments when tests and quizzes provide an efficient way to get important data about students’ understanding of material. If there were a place on campus where exams could be securely proctored, then perhaps more students could use MOOC’s or other alternate forms of independent study to achieve high school elective credit, or even core credit, and discover areas of learning I never would have dreamt of as a teenager.

I suppose much of this is encompassed in the “flipped classroom” conversation already. In many ways, this conversation is tied to issues of teacher professionalism and teacher pay. Someone tweeted one day about how much time teachers spend fixing the copy machine. Proctoring standardized tests is similar: it doesn’t capitalize on our professional knowlege, really. It’s pretty mechanical. It doesn’t really help the students learn more or do better. But the bottom line is that right now, our time is so cheap, that our time is not honored. I highly doubt that most medical doctors or lawyers would be expected to check patients’ ID, run their insurance cards, process payment, or stand over their clients and patients as they fill out their paperwork. Their time is too valuable. Why isn’t ours?

On the other hand, I can see where the use of technology might in fact lead to more bureaucratization of teachers… especially if we are using our precious time to teach to flawed assessments.  Some of this might depend on what we do with standardized test results. Is there any hope that one day they might be seen as a snippet of a skewed snapshot of student learning? One potentially useful bit of data in a sea of critical and imaginative output? Part of the reason we become “the man” is the way our compliance is used against us, the way data is transformed into the portrait of a teacher and a group of children.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

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