When I saw this poster it made me laugh out loud, partly because it's true and partly because when I face where we are as public educators I can laugh or cry.
Here's where we are: there is a clear, definable line between students who are successful on tests and students who are not, and that line divides children not only on the basis of academic achievement but of economic status and race. Poor children don't do as well. Do I want to cry because the injustice of a broken system feels bigger than me, or do I want to cry because the dirty secret is out?
When I read Kathryn Juric's piece, My View: 10 Reasons the SAT Matters, I thought of my students and how far they'll need to go to rock the SAT. I thought of their spring state assessment scores, and how every single one of them is below the standards expected of their grade level. Like earning an International Baccalaureate Diploma or passing Advanced Placement exams, doing well on the SAT is evidence of your academic skill set. It makes the reputation of your high school less significant than your ability. It makes your place of birth, the education of your parents, and whether you or the state bought your lunch inconsequential. It's a test, and it levels the playing field.
My high school didn't make any "Top 100 High School" lists. In 1988, like today, public education wasn't fully funded. What wasn't dusty was rusty. Our lockers had wooden doors that I believe were made in shop class. Every other week, it seemed, Immigration did a raid on the apartments next door and there was an exodus of kids from campus as they fled to find out if their families were safe, were even still there. We didn't have a great band. No one relocated his family to get his children into my school (except, of course, those who were terrified the INS would find them), but in my graduating class there were students who scored perfect scores on the SAT. We were prepared for and pressured to take AP exams. We passed them. We graduated with honors, then went to four-year universities and Ivy League schools. We thought that's what public schools helped kids do.
Did I become a teacher to help kids pass a standardized test? No. I became a teacher because Dr. Melinda Hennessey saved my life with her Things Fall Apart unit when I was in ninth grade. Luckily, she saved my life right before I was expelled, or I might not be here. I almost certainly wouldn't have graduated with honors. Sometimes, teachers need to step up and do what families can't.
I didn't become a teacher for standardized tests and all their thrilling glory, but now that I'm a teacher and the data shows my students who live in poverty are failing tests affluent students easily and consistently pass, I feel compelled to do something about it. Dr. Hennessey chose to teach in one of the most expensive schools in the country. She didn't have to deal with kids who lived in poverty. I have chosen to, and because many of my colleagues feel education can improve lives, they also choose to work with children who live in poverty.
Now I see my graduating class of 1988 with 2012 eyes. I see that most of us who did well were White, Asian or Filipino. The kids whose families stayed invisible to avoid immigration? I don't know how those kids did on the SAT. Probably not so well. I and the kids in my advanced English class were doing okay, and I assumed all the other kids were, too.
Now, I see how those kids are doing. We all do. I see their scores. And because those children are sitting in my classroom, I once again see their faces. I may not like having my worth as a teacher measured by something like a test score, but it's better than hiding a dirty secret and pretending everything's okay. While I didn't go into teaching to help my students pass a test, I think I can do that and also try to save a life. My high school's changed a lot. It's now an International Baccalaureate school. And the SAT? It's changed too. Even a teacher's job description has changed. And hairstyles, they've changed, thank god. But equality still matters, even on tests.