This school year has been a challenge—a challenge for many reasons that I was not expecting. I have been working tirelessly throughout the past 2 years to create an educational experience in the math classroom that was different than any other. With the help of my co-teacher and coach, we created a math class that was focused on the application of math. We wanted to show students how they might use mathematics to make sense of the world around them. In many ways, we have been successful. In my years of teaching math, I have never seen so many students who stick with problems and have the desire to solve challenging problems. I have never witnessed so many students who have taken stake of their learning and have worked on their understanding so that they could move to the next level. On the MAPs assessment, all students have made significant gains. In all of the ways that one would look to see gains in students, the immeasurable such as students excitement for learning and the measureable in the use of the MAPs test, our students have grown.
We have succeeded in all ways but one— our state assessment, the PSSA’s. I could argue that the test has changed in a way that makes it a poor measure of student success— I believe that it has. However, the fact remains that this is a test that we use to measure the success of our educational institutions in our state. For the past few years, our school overall has underperformed on the mathematics tests. That includes my class. As a charter school, these are numbers that cannot be ignored as they are something that could be used by our chartering district as an excuse to shut us down. They could do this despite the fact that their scores are no better.
How can we create a balance between school reform and innovation and the use of traditional measures such as state-testing? A school and a teacher can be as innovative and visionary as they like, but we are still held by the system that sustains but continues to constrain the level of reform that we can provide. If you are truly a force of change and innovation, the path is never easy— your work will constantly be critiqued and criticized. The very nature of innovation leads to resistance. It is often uncomfortable, uncertain and destructive. It is the work that leads the system to break and give way to new and better systems.
My commitment to educational reform and changing our current system in favor of an educational system that will provide opportunity for all students no matter their zip code, race or economic status is steadfast. In order to achieve my long-term goals for education, I intend place a higher focus on readying my students for the PSSA. Although I teach the content on the test, test prep is not something that I have ever concerned myself with. I have created a classroom culture that values doing Math for its utility in understanding the world around them. Students are able to apply math to situations that are far more complex than the questions on the test. I am still committed to this outcome. However, I am willing to sacrifice the depth of understanding to cover more material.
Far more important are the things that I will not do. I will not allow the test to become more important than the young people that it is testing. I value and care about the students in my classroom too much to allow the test to become more important than their emotional well-being. They deserve to be seen, heard and valued for who they are as people. I will not create a classroom culture where there is no room for dialogue and discussion that does directly pertain to math. We are living in a crazy world that seems to produce difficult circumstances on a near daily basis. I will continue to acknowledge the needs of the learners in my classroom classroom and that includes their need to think about things that are happening in their personal world and in the larger world. I will not allow my classroom to become a place where equity is not the focus. Every learner deserves to see themselves show up in the classroom and in the way that we teach.
Being an innovator means that it isn’t just likely that things will get tough it’s a certainty. When they do, you better be sure that you have your compass and your road map to see you through. We need to ensure that we have a solid set of values and visions for what we can and cannot accept. Without these things, the changes that you sought to create will soon become a distant memory and your visions will never be realized. Although the change in the way that my school looks at the state assessment has altered my path, I will continue to work towards the same vision of an educational system that I know to be the best path for our students.