I was happy to hear Mr. Dworetzky and Dr. Hite talk about the idea of teachers having a more direct voice in curriculum development and making sure we are not just teaching to the test.
Good evening and thank you for allowing all of our voices be heard tonight. My name is Brian Cohen and I am a concerned high school math teacher at the Academy at Palumbo. I am now in my fourth year in the School District of Philadelphia and my concern grows every day for the sad statistics that I hear and how they might influence me and my students. According to the Richard Ingersoll’s studies, half of all teachers leave by their fifth year - which means people like me have only one year to go.
I have many concerns about how the District and schools are run: lacking in transparency, lacking in true community engagement, lacking in foresight, and more. But tonight I want to talk about one that might cause me to join the statistics I just mentioned: testing. More specifically, the movement across the region, state, and country for people like me to tailor my instruction to these assessments. In layman’s terms, I am being forced to teach to the test.
I thought a specific example from my content area would exemplify the problem. I am an Algebra teacher at my school and, as such, am responsible for laying the foundation for solid understanding of abstract representation of numbers. What I mean is, I need to train my students to use monomials, binomials, and polynomials. I need to inform them of their meaning, purpose, and interpretation so that they can build and manipulate for themselves.
For those who do not remember such technical terms - think back to Greek prefixes. Mono is one; bi is two; poly is many. It is my task to ensure students have a strong grasp of one before moving on to the next. If they don’t know what x means, they can’t understand y = mx + b let alone y = x^2 + 2x + 1.
With that in mind, during the first quarter of instruction I teach content related to variables, altering them through the order of operations, and building up to patterns and tables so that students can understand what a line is and how it works as y = mx + b. With this knowledge, students can predict the future of graphs in order to make an argument - something the Common Core standards demand.
Much to my chagrin, instead of providing time to study and analyze the monomial the current Planning and Scheduling Timeline has me at this moment jumping ahead to polynomials. The exact phrasing of the eligible content to be tested is “add, subtract, and/or multiply, polynomial expressions.” To any math teacher I have talked to this seems like a completely out-of-place demand, yet we are forced to follow it. Why? Because it might show up on the Benchmark test at the end of November.
My purpose in speaking today was not to teach a math lesson - although it seems like we could all use some more math in our lives. Instead, I want to inform you of what is happening on the ground in your schools so that you can make better decisions for the future of this city. Do you want students who know how to complete standardized tests at proficient levels or do you want students who know how to think and interpret? At this moment, it seems that we are getting more of the former.
If you want me and teachers like me to stay in this job long term - change something so that I feel my voice is heard and so that my students develop true understanding. Stop me from teaching to the test.