A GeekyMomma's Blog: Dear Will Richardson

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dear Will Richardson

Thank you for writing your recent . It motivated me to write this passionate post. Just so you know, I like and respect you very much and wish we had time to chat in person when we were both in D.C. Some day, I hope to sit with you and have this conversation in person. 

I hope you read this, Will, and please don't take this personally; on the hand, please take it personally.

In response to , I want to tell you that I agree with almost everything you said, but I think you (once again) lost sight of what it's like to be in the trenches. You and many other educational (motivational) speakers and PD experts would do well to take a one/two year hiatus from the awesome (yes, awesome) stuff you/they are currently doing, and spend some time in an FCAT tested grade in a public school. There are many who could use to spend a year dealing with this head-on; rather than writing or lecturing about it and making teachers feel poorly about the instructional choices they are forced to make every day. It would make you and these other folks even more awesome.

I mean it; return to the classroom. You can do it... I did. If you've been out of the classroom more than five to ten years; don't say you know how it is. It's changed that much in such a short time.

A few years ago, I willingly took a $20K hit to return to teaching, but have since returned to district administration. I left teaching because as a classroom teacher, I felt terrible about the choices I was forced to make, and after successfully teaching for 25+ years, I suddenly felt incompetent. I'm not the only one. The current environment has made too many great teachers (with experience, sharp instincts and a real passion for teaching and learning) feel like they suddenly don't know what they're doing. Listening to well-known educational experts (and so many who are in my PLN and who I respect) tell me I was doing it all wrong, didn't help. You do have a tendency to do this, Will. Whether you mean to or not.

I admire all of those teachers who CAN make it work. There are plenty who can; but not me. By returning to the classroom and (attempting to) practice what I was preaching, my perspective shifted tremendously and now I believe that new perspective makes me a more thoughtful leader where I am now. And if you and some others tried it, they just may WILL see a  shift in their perspective as well.

In all fairness, Will, you do state that you're not picking on any teachers in particular. You say, "...I am, however, picking on a culture of schooling that feels the need to pump up students for test-taking with chanting and dancing that, on some level, makes me actually shudder as a parent."

But I still can't help feeling that, although you're not calling out specific teachers, you are calling out teachers in general. That's the part where I think teachers start to feel really crumby about themselves; because there are so many who (rightly so) really value your thoughts.

I'd like to make it clear that I'm really not picking specifically on you either. I've challenged this approach before and some excellent discussion ensued in the comments. Many people pushed back in the comments (and some who actually agreed with me) and I also received many private Twitter messages and emails thanking me for writing what they were thinking (but were hesitant to express themselves publicly). 

Again, it's not only you, Will, but all of the folks who stand in judgment of others who are dealing with the pain of helping students not become victims of the testing madness.

I commend  on her comment (below) at your post and I thank her and all those teachers who help our kids get through the state testing (and the many simulations throughout the year) with less stress. A big "thank you" to those teachers who hardly mention the test but instead prepare the students to show what they know daily through sharing and collaborating and building knowledge so when students do share their knowledge it feels natural to them; to those who avoid scare-tactics, or "s" that will miraculously help kids do better on the tests: and to those who know they still have to answer to their principals and so they MAKE IT WORK. It is these teachers, like Melanie, who work in other ways to make changes, but know that overtly bucking the system (with the unintended consequence of using the students as pawns) is not the way to go.

From Melanie:
“I agree with everything you are saying, can't fault you for any of it. And as much as it saddens me to be a part of a district that is in a state where that "test" really matters (FCAT - FL) we feel the need to do spirit week, pep rallys, encouragement treats not so much so the kids will get that high score. But because we hate the fact that the kids have to take it and don't want them to have any anxiety about those testing days, so we try to make it fun. It doesn't drive what we teach, our standards do, and it just another test like all the others. We want the kids to feel loved like all the other days of the year and we want to quickly move past it to the real learning of our other school days.
I just felt the need to add my 2 cents about rallys and the things we do as educators that may seem wacky. Not a comment on this particuar rally, but just my point of view. Thanks for your article. Hope it makes others think as well.?

Due to your place in the blogosphere versus mine, this post is likely to be unpopular, but from what I've heard you say, you do encourage people to push-back. 

So here you go.


P.S. If anyone else happens to be reading this, I hope you will share your thoughts in the comments here. Although I love getting replies on Twitter, for the sake of conversation, I would appreciate your comments on this post here. (Feel free to leave only 140 characters; it that suits you.)

The topic of my P.S. is fodder for another blogpost. Another time.


This comment has been removed by the author.

Thank you for this post. I have often had the same thoughts.



Brava. Very well said. I will be "pumping up" my students (3rd grade) this week to encourage them to do their best on the test. Do I agree with testing? No. The state and my district say that I have to give the test to my students. They will do what they are going to do on this test no matter what we do to prepare. I just want them to be relaxed and not stressed. As I said in my note to the parents that I sent home on Friday...I just want my students to give me their best. It's really all that I can ask of them.


Some great thoughts here and something I have thought about as well. There are lots of so called and self-created education experts out there. Without speaking directly about anyone in particular, the list of these experts is long and varied in terms of classroom teaching experience. Yet, I am a firm believer that the moment you step out of the classroom, you lose a certain amount of credibility. The longer you are removed from that setting, the more out of touch you become. That is a just a natural thing that happens. That is not to say a negative, but just a reality of any line of work.

On the other side of the coin, the opinions that the “outsiders? have is valuable in that they have a different perspective than those in the trench. For me, I like to see as many perspectives when it comes to what is best for kids and the state of education. However, I stand behind the belief that anyone can talk about great ideas and potential change when they are not wearing the shoes of a classroom teacher. In the same way I toss stones at administrators, my opinions hold less weight as I have never been an administrator myself.

Teacher’s shoes are constantly changing and unless you put them on once in a awhile, you truly don’t know what it’s like.


I have to agree with you! I finally left the classroom after teaching special ed for 30 years. I loved teaching and I know I did a great job but I finally got tired of beating my head against the wall. At my school, it was all about numbers not the needs of the students. I was told that all of my self contained students would "have" to take the standardized tests on grade level even though some of mine could barely read. This was such a stressful time for them that it made some of my students physically ill. They faced ridicule from their peers and resentment from the faculty for hurting our AYP. I work hard all year to build up their self esteem only to have testing knock down all that I built up. That is why I pumped up my students and thankfully why their parents encouraged me and supported me!


Lee, I'll have to side with you on this one (not a big surprise I'm sure. lol). When I was teaching in middle school, I begged the administration to let us have a TCAP Pep Rally. Not as means of coercion, but simply as a means of showing students that we put as much emphasis on their academic achievements as we do on the athletic achievements of the select few who get to play sports. Alas, it was not to be.

Instead, our state has now made TCAP results count as part of the final second semester grade (15% in our district). This is our first year to do so. Watch for the giant mushroom cloud over our fair state when that first batch of report cards wind up in the hands of parents...


While I agree with what you are writing here, I have to tell you that Will and Sheryl's work lit a fire under me five years ago and made me question what I was doing teaching the same things that have been taught for years. Last year, inspired largely by Will's work, I left my job to that will (I hope) do some of the things Will writes about when he says students should be allowed and encouraged to follow their passions and find teachers all over the world.

So again, while I hear you and agree that Will's perspective could be enhanced by spending a year "in the trenches," I don't see how he could play the role he currently plays, which is to inspire folks such as myself to do things differently.

Dani said...

Lee, I have been out of the classroom for many years, and couldn't agree more! We use to do these rallies because we did want to pep the students up. Our students asked for it! And our principal use to get mints from Sonics. 1. Because having something to suck on can help with anxiety, 2. Because mint was shown to do something for helping thinking and 3. The mints said Sonics and it was another way for the students to feel supported by the community.
Great post.


Sorry, Lee, I love what you do, but I have to go with Will on this one. There is a big difference in encouraging students to put in their best effort and helping them become independent learners who will do well on any test.

Getting kids to chant "I'm not afraid, be fierce, etc" undermines any real teaching and learning that has taken place, suggesting that they need these sort of pump-up sessions, in order to be successful.

Students who are confident learners do well on standardized tests, because they expect to do so. Students who are avid readers crush standardized tests, because reading is the best teacher.

I talk about our standardized test one day only -- the day before. I tell my students that they should expect to do very well, because they are avid readers and critical thinkers. Nothing else is needed.

When the test is over, it's fine to have a rally -- to cheer the end of an insidious event.

@mk8g said...

There are some very interesting thoughts here! I commend you for expressing a different side of the pep rally "debate" and think that putting yourself on the line for your students is courageous. I am wondering if the crux of the issue is the rally. I think that the edu speakers standing up against the testing, and teachers saying that the rally is in place to support students during the stressful time of high stakes testing are essentially two sides of the same coin. We all want what is best for students: removing these tests and getting back to real learning. So keep supporting your students, work to change the system, and realize that those speaking against the system are not condemning the teachers who realize how far off the track we are, but instead being a voice of motivation to stand up for a better school, not just a better pep rally.


My feelings remain the same on this topic. I agree that we still have a long way to go in the way we instruct kids, but during my efforts of the last many years to be a part of that change I have learned that I cannot just have it my way if I want others to join me. I have to take the things that my state demands that we do and show how they can be handled differently.

My school is one of the few schools still achieving despite the Florida mandates. Instead of drilling test prep and changing our instruction we are focusing on doing our best and improving our instruction all year. Kids in our school have fun and our teachers are family. All 1250 of us "showed school spirit" and rallied for the intermediate kids this week. I know that come Monday when the state assessment is placed in front of them, they will just show what they know like they do every other day of the year but they will have less stress because of our added efforts to make it just another test.
And will I be glad when testing is over for the year? Yes!


Having stepped back into a school after taking on regional responsibilities for a number of years, I can attest to the clarity and understanding that have resulted from the move. My work with students who are the least engaged by traditional desk-based approaches to learning has only served to confirm for me that so much of what we do in school is irrelevant.

But a comment isn't enough... this conversation needs to take place in greater detail.


I don't want Will anywhere near a classroom in 2012, because I remember the days, back in 2002 when he was. It wasn't a pretty thing.


He spent a lot of his time trying to settle on a blogging platform and getting the template just right. Mostly a "bells and whistles" kind of guy, IMO. Probably didn't have parental permission for the students to be putting information about "The Secret Life of Bees" out on the web. Dude can't even complete a sentence without using a ellipsis...

/snark off

Lee, I get it. However, don't forget the 5 years, 10 months, and 14 days he put in prior to leaving. He was doing the exact same stuff that passes as "innovating use of technology" at most educational technology conferences 5 years, 10 months, and 14 days afterward.

He has a right to be frustrated. He's earned it, at least in my book, by the fact that he left it (public education) straight up and reinvented himself successfully, all the while keeping the very thing (public education) in front. Not an easy task.

I've had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time with Will, remarkable considering the fact that I really add absolutely nothing to the overall conversation. :) Inside every one of those ellipsis...I think it's the second dot...represents the part of him that knows exactly what you are calling him out on. He struggles...sympathizes...with what it means to be on the front lines. There's a very interesting world outside of education that's pushing very, very hard on education in ways that most classroom teachers will never see. That's represented in the third...dot.

I speak not to defend him. He doesn't need me. :) The reason I'm biting with my rant here is a bit self defensive. I, like Will, made that really difficult choice to leave. My intent wasn't to write books and be the rock star he is...but my drive to make the lives of teachers better is similar. Those of us on the "outside" are all here to help. We bring experiences that now go back a long way.

I'm not even sure I'm typing coherently anymore. @shareski, help me here. I'm going for a nap.

Archangelo said...

Excellent observations and, at last, a response to the "consultants" and "motivators." As I have explained to my very understanding principal during my last few annual summative meetings, "I am the most successful when I am the most insubordinate."


Hey Lee,

Just want to thank you for the thoughts and let you know I did indeed read it. I do hope we get a chance at some point to have that conversation.




Great post and some spot on comments. It is very hard to be a teacher these days with wanting to innovate on the one hand but knowing that you have the high-stakes test looming over you on the other hand. How can school leaders even say, "The heck with the test. Let's do what we know we should" when it could possibly mean the school is put on probation or something for having low test scores. Or heaven help us, the teacher's names are published in the paper for all to see. The testing and the accountability measures have definitely made teachers look after their own interests and job rather than innovate. If we want the really make the difference that all these experts like Will Richardson talks about then we need to have a larger conversion than just teachers and admins really. It needs to be a societal conversation. Thank you again for your thought-provoking post.
Angie @wyotigger


I agree with you, Lee, that education has changed a great deal in just the last few years. And those of us in the trenches, constantly fight to keep doing what is right for the kids, even as our government and administration pushes us to do otherwise. But it is people like Will who remind me often of what I need to be doing. Teaching is still a very isolated job. It is much too easy to get caught up in the cheering and Bally-hoo about testing. Will helps me keep in mind what I am really there for. And, although it is getting harder and harder each day...each year... To do what is right, I appreciate both the reminders from People like Will and the support from people like you. We are all in this together.


Lee, I have mixed feelings about all of this. I have to hope that someday our society will realize that in this moment we are experiencing temporary insanity about students and testing. There are community groups springing up in our town to support our schools and they are making banners and offering all kinds of "pep rally" type hype to encourage the kids to do well on standardized tests! What???? We are over the top out of our minds about communicating to kids what is important. On the other hand, the enemy is not the community group, the pep rally, or, especially not the teachers who are responding to governmental pressure to perform in only one arena. Until we change the attitude at the top, there is no end to this craziness. Let's not take that out on teachers who are trying to do what is best for kids while pleasing those who sign their pay checks.


Dear Lee --
Bravo -- thank you for writing this post.

If I might, I am going to offer a challenge here.

I want to encourage as many teachers who can to start SPEAKING UP of what is going on in your classroom -- both the successes and the failures -- start blogging, start sharing, start twittering, SHARE SHARE SHARE.

Just think what would happen if teachers started speaking up more -- and what would happen if the "no longer in classroom" speakers started truly listening to those still in the classroom. Not to change them....but just listen.

It would be a win win for us all.

Good post.
Thank you


Lee, and all...

I appreciate this post--I think those not in the classroom do indeed, as Jen suggested, need to listen to those of us still in schools and live our reality.

I do believe we can test more realistically and not make such a horrible deal out of it, though...here's a post I wrote in 2010 as our school testing coordinator: http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/joy-in-standardized-tests/

I also wish more parents would opt out of the darn thing! It's allowed in the state of VA (with no penalty to the student), but not publicized. Wouldn't that be awesome if parents took the system on!

Thanks for speaking up so well, as always.



I have always found going to conferences to be both inspirational and frustrating. We all go there and have aha moments and come back to our jobs all revved up and ready to make a difference and then reality sinks in and we are given so many restrictions and requirements and unless the entire school, including district administration sat in on the same workshops and speakers, it is an uphill battle. I think this is the biggest obstacle to creating drastic change in our education system, at least here in the US. I totally agree with everyone who has posted here. We just all need to stop going through the motions of day to day teaching and actually begin making a difference in our students, however way we can.


Hi Lee. In my opinion, the key here is balance. As the education (and societal) landscape continues to transform azt this mind-boggling pace, there is a place for outspoken educational reformers to share ideas and challenge the status quo. Some are doing what they do because they have a genuine concern for educational transformation while others are probably out for personal gain. It's up to each of us to take it for what it is worth. I to have thought alot about how the excellent teachers in my school are being made to feel inadequate as every reformer writes about have we are failing today's learner.
I try really hard to support my teachers in moving along the curve at their own pace and in their own way. I would like to share a couple of posts I have written about this.
Great job with this. And thanks for the follow.


I think your post is well said and important. I have confident children who are in good situations but they have been frightened to death, by our state (Texas), of all the horrors they may rain down on their school if they each don't do well. It is too much pressure for them and especially any of them who are big-hearted or feel the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Here is my soapbox: Until we quit blaming each other - teachers, admins, consultants, parents and start blaming the real problem - out of control testing phenomenon which doesn't bear any edible fruit then we will continue to go round and round in circles.

There *IS* a giant pink elephant in the room and it is time to do something about it. These state tests don't work; don't improve learning and only teach kids how to feel anxious.


I stand appalled too at the pep rallies and such, but Im not sure its because of the same reasons. Let's not forget that some student performance can be tied to a myriad of things, including access to reading materials, level of education of parents, socio-economic status, and more. But from our government down to state and local level administrators, schools have heaped on the pressure to perform, and that performance is often tied directly to so many high stakes—AYP, Public report cards, even gasp, teacher evaluation, so much so in fact, we as educators are taking ridiculous measures to ensure kids come in relaxed and optimistic for the test. It's hard to get mad at classroom teachers or even school principals who encourage such efforts. There is a much bigger picture as to why to happens. So my frustration at enduring these types of activities stems from another source. Being from a high school setting, I see first hand that students are tired of the game called standardized tests--even the good ones who generally do well.


Hi Lee,
Thanks for pushing my thinking with this post. There are so many edubloggers I have come to respect and admire over the last few years, including you and Will. Yes, sometimes their thoughts go against my grain as a classroom teacher, but for the most part I have reflected on my practices and sometimes changed the way I do things in my classroom for the better, because they made my rethink my practice.

I wonder how many of these opponents of testing have opted their children out of state testing? Do their children attend public schools, or do they attend private schools where high-stakes testing isn't a norm? Do they have respectful conversations with their child's teacher if they don't approve of her classroom rules or instructional methods? Or do they just speak about what should be done on their blogs and during their presentations. It is easy to write about what is needed to try to right public education; it is a lot harder to try and be a change agent when public education provides your pay check.

While I question the time involved in preparing for testing pep rallies, I have been there. I have also been there when the child is so nervous that she projectile vomits across her test and those of three others. I've been there when the child bursts into tears because he can't answer a test item. I've been there when a child plays connect the dots on his answer document. I’ve been there for 36 years – before high-stakes testing and since its inception. It was nice to see the smiling faces and feel the bravado of the students in the shared video.

I truly believe that everyone who is connected with education in any way needs to step back into the classroom for at least a week very couple of years. The times they are a changin’.


Losing sight of "what it's like to be in the trenches" is an obvious reality for any former teacher turned PD leader or administrator. But because a teacher is in the trenches I feel it is their duty to be current and not to sit back and whip out the same units/lessons year after year. As David Warlick professes, today's teachers must be master learners themselves and overtly model it for their students.

But neither of these points is why I wanted to comment.

I was struck by what Jen Wagner said in her comment about "truly listening to those still in the classroom." As a technology coach, I struggle with how hard to push teachers. Granted it is different for each and every teacher. But now in my fifth year serving as a tech coach, I do know that it begins with listening. If we are going to forge a partnership, which is what it takes to work together on any project for the classroom, I must first listen intently to all the concerns that my teacher has if I hope to hook them into any new learning.

As time passes and I grow more impatient I need to remind myself that even though change is not happening as fast as I would like, every teacher I help is serving the cause.


I don't care for the language of siding with you or Will. I also don't understand the criticism of him for being out of the classroom. Sometimes I understand that critique but not in this case.

I feel like progressive education needs voices for a different paradigm. There is a strong and well-monied lobby out there for standardized testing led by people like Gates, Rhee, etc. I feel like teachers who want a personalized, student-centered curriculum need a lobbyist in DC. Will Richardson is close to that role even though he is not a paid lobbyist.

Education needs dreamers who can represent a different view of education like Will and present it to important audiences. I am a classroom teacher and agree with most of what he says (but not ALL). I am fortunate to teach in a PBL public school that is not testing obsessed. We are doing many of the things he promotes. But as a classroom teacher I do not have the time, connections, or opportunity to influence like Will does. I am too busy focusing on my students.

I am thankful for voices like his, David Warlick, Scott McCleod, and others who promote learning over testing. They may not understand what it is like to teach in your individual situation, but their views are being implemented in schools around the country. This is an important voice they lend to the conversation and they are "in" schools frequently unlike the politicians who are making the decisions that are affecting us greatly.

Finally let students speak for themselves. If you have not heard "Love letter to Albuquerque Public Schools." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4A6e8Rk8Oo then you should.

I think classroom teachers sometimes also forget the big picture that is the politics that is making powerful decisions about education that effect every classroom and how much politics are being influenced by big business and people looking to get rich. We need big voices like Will's to challenge them.


I agree with you. Those standardized tests are always on the minds of teachers and administrators, along with the data produced. Things have changed so much just in the 3 years since I've been out of the classroom that I'd be scared to go back! Teachers truly respect those that have recently been in the trenches or still are. We need to allow time for the rallies, the parades, and the culture-building fun, whether directly related to standardized testing or just because they're healthy and fun for all of us.


Lee, thanks for sharing this. Like so many other commenters, I'm kind of divided on your topic. I think PD "experts" do need to be in the classroom more. But I also think you don't have to be in the classroom to understand education.

One thing I'm not divided on, however, is my stance against test prep rallies. I think I commented on the original post of Will's last year because it struck a chord with me. My daughter came home from school crying following her first test prep rally. Racked with anxiety that no 3rd grader should have to deal with, she was worried she wouldn't be able to "Beat the MEAP" (our state test). I was also troubled by the fact that my son, a kindergartener at the time, was involved in the rally as well, serving in the cheering section, even though he won't take the test for another 3 years. This kind of thing does NOT always take the stress away and make kids realize that it's "just a test." To say that it does, even if that's the intention, is completely off base.

With everything we do as educators, we have to think about the messages we're sending kids. The message a pep rally sends, when it comes to standardized testing, is that the test is important and that you need to get revved up, amped up, pepped up to take it. To liken a test to a sporting event seems like a completely backwards message. Address the test the right way, as you describe it, by making sure kids DON'T feel pressure.

I love blogging because of the conversations it starts and inspires. Thanks for challenging my thinking, and giving a forum for open discussion.


I am glad that you wrote this post. The profession of teaching is very challenging on a good day. I think the professional educational speakers have the right to keep the discussion going but until you walk a week, month, quarter...in our shoes it is too easy to make broad statements about what we are doing wrong. Each and every day the pressure mounts from all sides - parents, administration and community. Most all of us care deeply for and want our students to be thinking, creative and kind people that love to learn. We are lucky and privileged to teach. Hopefully we make a positive impact on the lives of each of them. It is not easy but it is rewarding.

Anonymous said...

Will, you said, "It's not the test that parents and kids should fear. It's the loss of real learning that these kinds of assessments cost them. To summarize my ranting TEDxNYEd talk from last month: If all we want for our kids is to pass the test, we really don't need schools any longer. Just load 'em up with a computer, an Internet connection and some test prep guides, and send them to Khan Academy or any number of other similar sites, and let them go crazy."

I get the angst over testing, but to assume that educators only play the role of facilitating "the test" is not well founded to be polite, which I am finding hard to do as I write this reply.

I am 14 years into my second career as a 5th grade math teacher, and I have never felt more driven by the test than by the benchmarks and standards that my state promotes. We are not automatons programmed to ignore teachable moments if those moments fall outside of the testing limitations.

Still, I get the fact, and it is a fact, that every child is aware of the significance of our test (FCAT). I will admit that more than a couple have been on the verge of physical illness during these tests. This awareness has escalated over the last ten years as the media does tend to see the FCAT as the Holy Grail of success in education.

If I read your piece with understanding, you are miffed, because you think that FCAT pep-rallies are a cover for a system that places "real" learning behind "test" prep. Simply put, I disagree. If you had attended any of my classes, you would have seen kids learning real concepts that will have real consequences in the very real world.

Also, I would suggest that five days of silliness prior to testing goes a long way toward eliminating the feeling of impending doom that some kids feel (including my daughter who is SLD, scored a 1 out of 5 last year in math, and just proclaimed herself stupid one day before the FCAT starts). If my wearing a wig and dancing helps others relax, then that is what I will do.

I don't like the tests. I do not think that they correlate well with real success, but I also do not believe that your supposed connection between FCAT prep, FCAT pep rallies, and other FCAT "events" correlates at all with the big picture teaching that goes on in good classrooms.

Tom Ruark AKA T-Cubed


Thank you for this post and the other side of the story that those of us in the classroom don't always have the chance to share or have heard by a wider audience.

This is my first year administering our state test, which has been scheduled for 6 weeks, so all 3-6 students can take their required tests and avoid missing large chunks of instructional time. I am sacrificing 6 weeks of my interventions as an ELL teacher for my 1-6 grade students because I have to provide the 3-6 ELL students their accommodations. Is this fair? Heck no. Is it my reality? Heck yes.

The day before we started testing, we gathered all the primary students together to make a tunnel walk for our 3-6 students and they got to see that we are all cheering them on to do their best. The younger students created cards for their buddies and posters to cheer them on. This is our reality. Does it seem strange to cheer kids on for a test? Sure, but it shows that we ALL support them and that's what my specific ELL students, and many other students in my building, need to know.

Thanks again!


When students are chanting in an assembly, they're not learning skills or information. When they're sitting in a test situation hour after hour and day after day, students are not moving forward. When class time is given over to test prep strategies, students are cheated out of authentic learning experiences.

Consultants who preach test prep are just following the money and saying what someone will pay them to hear.

Sometimes we have to do things we don't quite believe in, but we don't have to invest ourselves in those activities, and we sure don't have to lie to students, parents, or administrators about what we think of the nonsense we're forced to do for the sake of misguided accountability measures.


I think that, at the core, Lee and Will are in agreement that there is a gross over-emphasis on results of standardized tests in our education system, and that these tests do not benefit our students. Will rightfully rues the fact that schools waste potential instruction time on "pep rallies," while Lee rightly notes the immense pressure on schools for students to do well on these exams, and that getting students in the right frame of mind is in fact an essential component of their success.

Ironically, Lee's post comes almost exactly one year after an incident that, for me, drove home, more than any other incident, just how far off the right path we've gone when it comes to standardized tests.

This week in 2011 (when Will's post appeared), Patricia Edminster, a 53yo Georgia schoolteacher, died of a heart attack during one of these pep rallies, in front of the students. The exams were deferred - for ONE DAY. The principal explained there was "no way" the students could have sat for the exam that day, so they sat for it the next day instead.

Karen. A Sorensen said...

We need ESEA reform so educators can get back to creating rich learning environments. Right now, we are only creating "diet supplement" learning because of this statistically impossible law.

Joan McGettigan said...

In a perfect world we would all understand each other's perspective. I would love every adult to serve one year as a teacher, one year as a school cafeteria worker, one year as a school janitor and one year as a school administrator. I would love every non-parent teacher to serve as a parent for a year. However, it is not a perfect world and we all struggle with understanding what it is like to be in someone else's shoes so I will simply thank Lee for opening up some much needed dialogue.


There's one piece that always seems to be left out of the rants: Reality. The tests are there. Good or bad, they're a hurdle that needs to be overcome. So while some people can lobby for getting rid of them, the rest of the education world needs to make the best of the situation. And if that means pep rally's to get the kids riled up to express their learning, more power to them!

Until somebody comes up with a better system of accountability that will scale across the entire nation and allow for quantitative comparisons, testing isn't going away. It may be supplemented, it may be augmented, but it isn't going anywhere. So the question becomes, how do we prove that good teaching is a more effective way of preparing students for real life AND doing well on the tests, instead of just teaching to the test? Prove that and you're well on your way to making concrete changes in the education system.


Thank you Lee for pointing out what should seem obvious to ALL educational thought leaders including Will (and I am a big fan Will as well). The realities of what students and teachers face in the daily grind of teaching and learning in a test-focused classroom often stand in stark contrast to what folks like Will (the PD workshop facilitators, conference keynoters and even the bloggers - no offense) are promoting (student centered classrooms, project/inquiry based learning, BYOD, etc). After holding their own anti-testing pep rallies at countless professional conferences and in-services throughout the country, participating teachers often go back to their classrooms excited to try the new pedagogies they learned about only to be told to get back to the test prep script while they wait till after testing to implement their new ideas for projects and alike. This is a disservice to the teacher the presenters and most of all the students, as it exacerbates the already declining morale of public school teachers in America while making the thought leader feel out of touch and powerless to affect the kind of change he/she believes is needed for students to become productive 21st Century citzens. You are right to suggest that the thought leaders (who are no longer teaching) need to stick their heads out of the relatively narrow vacuum of the twitterverse and blogosphere they currently live in and spend some time in the "trenches" to keep their feet (and their heads) grounded in the reality of what teachers MUST do. They should do this willingly and excitingly so that they can provide the sorely needed support in making that circumstance a little bit more palpable for the student and the teacher. This would go a long way to keeping the teachers morale high enough to continue to advocate for the change they believe is necessary for their students success in the real (relatively test free) world. Ghandi said “We must become the change we want to see.? That is a tall order for a teacher whose livelihood increasingly depends on their students performing well on drive-by assessments we all know show only a sliver of what the whole child has learned in our classrooms. This is why IT IS critical that teacher and the school leaders for that matter, remain committed to their professional growth by continuing to connect to and inform the increasing important work of the thought leaders despite having to continue work in ways they might not necessarily believe in. It is folks like Will, who are and will continue to be the articulate voice students and teachers need, in order to be heard by the real culprits who have caused this difficult circumstance we find ourselves in. It is the politicians and policy makers (from both sides of the isle) who are so disconnected from the classroom that they cannot get out of their own way when it comes to legislating what teaching and learning should look like in the 21st Century. I would also suggest that they spend some time (at least one day, if not more) working as a teacher in a tested subject/grade level classroom. I am sure the change we seek would come a lot quicker if that ever happened. In the meantime, our kids future depends on us all working together.


Here's what I don't understand. Everyone says, "testing is bad; it takes away from real learning." I agree with that, but do you think teachers have a choice? Can they just not focus on a test that will make or break not just individual students but the whole school? You might say they could teach in ways that aren't "to the test" but still cover the same material. A few here have suggested that they do. But sometimes that's not an option. It's not efficient. No one's stopping to figure out the best way to teach to these tests. Instead, we resort to memorization, drilling, etc. Short-term learning.

I get that that's bad. I think 99% of teachers get that that's bad, but really, what are they going to do?

And yes, the pep rallies are silly and a little cringe worthy, but I don't know, what's the immediate alternative? Long-term, yes, we hope that education isn't just about testing. But this is where we are.


As someone who moved from the high school classroom to the university classroom I have a perspective that is different. I unschooled all of my own children while teaching in the public system. Render unto ... and all that. Will is only guilty of the cognitive biases we all have,. I include myself in that set of biased individuals. The biggest problem is what James C. Scott’s fascinating and seminal book, Seeing Like a State, points out. It is the problem of forcing 'legibility' out of the 'illegible'. In other words we are guilty of an imposed simplification. Hence the adoration of hierarchy in educational reform. If you have time I recommend this introduction to the idea: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/07/26/a-big-little-idea-called-legibility/

I know that it has caused me to re-view my standpoint on ed reform. I hope it gives both you and Will pause as well. Unless, of course, you do not read your comments ;-)


I read and appreciate all of the comments left by my readers.

Thank you (and everyone else) for your thought-provoking insight and for contributing to this conversation.

There's still much work left to be done in this realm.




I just finished teaching my first undergrad course in the College of Ed at our University. There were some fabulous future teachers in my class and they were so enthusiastic about "doing things differently". I wonder if they know how lucky they are to be teaching in Saskatchewan instead of anywhere in the U.S. (where I'm originally from). What a great post.


I can't help but wonder if http://t.co/UPog5Oxq is the logical outcome of cheerleading for policies and practices that we largely agree are harmful to children and deskill teaching?

My children did not take standardized tests. It may have been a small gesture, but that AND letters to the editor AND leafletting outside of the high school indicated what our values were as parents, educators and citizens.

It also told our three children that we valued them over the Pearson stock price or the reelection of political demagogues.

If children cannot count on their teachers or parents to protect them from the madness, who can they trust? Who will defend them?

This is not only the season when teachers and children have their time and precious resources squandered by standardized testing, but it is also the time of year when headlines appear about educators abusing children. It's not hard to understand why; the battered become batterers themselves.

Oh yeah, if these tests are so damned useful, they must be valid, right? How can a test be valid if a pep rally influences results?

Imagine if a community got together and cheered "We love our kids more than we love standardized tests that tell us nothing about learning, sap our school of scarce resources and make children ill."


Rah! Rah! Rah!

From the NY Daily News...

"Students required to take 9 hours of English and math exams and state using dummy questions
Parents fume that kids treated like guinea pigs"



Here here! We have just begun yet another round of our testing this year and it's hard not to feel that is the only goal in life for these students. We have heard from all different angles the plethora of duties and expectations put upon teachers and yet if our students don't meet the "magic number" on their tests, we have failed. Hard not to get discouraged.


There are only a few teachers who have made my life as a student bearable. And it's unfortunate that number has never escalated even if my teachers are included in it.


Hi Lee,

Thank you for leading the way and demonstrating understanding and empathy. Your suggestion that Will step back into the classroom is a powerful one.

So taking your idea one step further...

I imagine that if all stakeholders, politicians, parents, administrators, bloggers, etc. would embrace the kind of integrity that you've exhibited by returning to the classroom as a teacher/administrator, the entire nature of the debate on education would be radically transformed.

How could this be done?

I believe that professional development that requires administrators to re-enter the classroom for a month would be a step in the right direction.