A teacher left this thoughtful comment:

“I recently participated in professional development on the Smarter Balance test (SBAC), the newest of the assessments to measure student proficiency in competencies aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). One of my responsibilities as a language arts teacher of high school juniors is to prepare students for this high-stakes assessment. I also provide my students with SAT and ACT test-taking strategies.

“I left the workshop convinced that the classroom teacher has not had a meaningful voice in the assessment process. Let me explain: For SBAC’s multiple choice section, students must identify all possible correct answers or receive no credit. For the SATs, ACTS, and some AP multiple-choice sections, students choose the best answer. Furthermore, SBAC results seem to be tied to federal funding, high school rankings, and teacher performance. How does SBAC and related test preparation benefit my students?

“I asked the facilitator how much the state had to pay to administer this test. (Students also require computer access because the test is administered online; for schools where technology resources are limited, scheduling can be a nightmare). The facilitator did not know how much the test cost; she did advise that for schools which adopted the Common Core, federal funding was an incentive. It is my understanding that a school which opts out of adoption of the CCSS and test administration risks losing those coveted federal funds. In the corporate sector, such incentives would be considered extortion. Since when is extortion a permitted practice?

“Let me offer a portrait of the classroom from a practitioner’s standpoint. Most secondary Language Arts instructors focus on teaching critical read of texts—fiction and nonfiction—encouraging students to corroborate every statement with textual evidence. Often at the high school level, we have to push them beyond the reader-response model common in middle school where students often discuss about what the text means to them. The more advanced critical reader asks what is the author’s purpose and how does the author convey that message. We also emphasize analytic and argumentative writing. However, I have students, who at the high school level cannot write a complete sentence. When I explain to them every sentence needs a subject and a verb, too many stare blankly at me.

“I reference young people’s lack of grammatical and syntactical awareness because this deficiency is addressed in the CCSS. The foundations of our language—the parts of speech—are taught from the early grades. Nine years from now, my students should be well acquainted with the building blocks of our language. But today, especially at the secondary level, CCSS represents more of a catch-up paradigm. Education is a process that involves human beings. Even manufacturers don’t begin production in the middle of a process; why are people asking teachers to do so and then evaluating us on our success based on student performance data? Why not launch the CCSS systematically—allow the foundation to be built K-2; 3-5, and so on?

“I chose Teaching because I love language and literature; I am committed to nurturing a similar excitement in my students. I view Education as big business; many of the acronyms one encounters in the field today come straight from the corporate sector. A manufacturing model is antithetical to the process that is education. For example, when a manufacturer receives defective materials from a supplier, it returns those materials. Its final product must meet specifications. I have no control over who enters my classroom; i.e., my “materials.” Teaching cultivates; education produces. I believe the two processes conflict; and yet, it seems to me that a manufacturing/business model predominates in my profession.

“Here is the reality, at least in my classroom: sometimes, my students lack parental support or engagement; have emotional and cognitive disabilities; or are simply uninterested in academics at this juncture in their young lives. Some come from homes where providing the necessities such as food and shelter are a challenge. Finally, some young people do not connect to academics in high school; some prefer a vocational track; others blossom in college. There is no template or prototype for the student. There is no fixed path for a young person—teachers do their best to model, guide, support, and nurture intellectual and personal growth amidst a wide range of cognitive abilities, emotional maturity, and outside-school circumstances.

“When will those who have never taught acknowledge the human component in education and its inherent complexity and variability? The majority of teachers with whom I have associated are dedicated professionals who view their position in the classroom as a vocation versus a job. Of course there are some bad teachers! Our profession is not unique in that reality. There are ineffective practitioners in all professions. Welcome to humanity and the real world.

“In conclusion, can student performance on SBAC measure my success in the classroom? Will the latest curriculum design improve my instruction and relationship with my students? Can a high-school student amass eight years of prior instruction that was not in place until recently, so that he or she can master the CCSS objectives specified for grades 9-12? Are the massive amounts of money—garnered from taxpayer dollars—lining the pockets of those affiliated with the business of education, or are they merely an expensive camouflage that will, in a few years, disintegrate, leaving both teachers and students amidst the rubble of yet another pedagogy?”