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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Library Closed Because We Must Test

This sign has been on our library door since last Monday, Jan. 17
Our students have not had access to the library since January 14th. That is 8 days and counting so far due to the high stakes testing that the district, along with the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and the federal Department of Education (DoE), deem necessary for our children.  The students who are taking these tests are the ones who have not passed the End of Instruction (EOI) tests that some of them need in order to graduate from high school.  

In addition to taking make-up exams, students take 3 mandated "Benchmark"  exams on their core subjects that are designed to measure the progress they are making throughout the school year. Like the EOIs, these tests must be taken on-line.  Our school has a limited number of available computers with internet access.  In addition to the 35 or so we have in the library, some of which break down at the most inopportune moments, we have two sets of "Computers on Wheels" (COWs) that have 30 or so laptops each and the computers in our Career Technology classrooms, whose students must be displaced whenever we are testing in those classrooms.  This is all we have to test the over 600 students who attend Centennial Middle/High School.

And we do a lot of testing. There are 7 EOI exams covering Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, English II, ACE English III, Biology I, and U.S. History. In addition to the high school tests, of which students are required to pass English II, Algebra I and two others in order to graduate, our school also gives tests to our 7th and 8th grade middle school students known as the Criterion Reference Tests (CRT), which include Grade 7 Reading, Mathematics, and Geography and Grade 8 Reading and Mathematics. The main EOI exams for high school students and CRTs for middle school students begin April 10th and go through May 10th, 4 weeks during which the library is "off limits" for any other use other than testing.

This means that when we give all these tests, the library is off limits to students who want to check out books or use technology for assignments. They are off limits to teachers who want their students to do research assignments.  The library, the heart of any educational institution, is off limits to students and teachers for about 7-9 weeks during the school year due to all the tests that students must take, during which, of course, they are out of their classrooms and in the testing room.

In our zeal to hold public education accountable for real, measurable results in teaching, we have created a seemingly unstoppable force that is strangling what we used to see as the primary purpose of the school library: to encourage literacy, to foster research, and to explore the world of knowledge. 

It is time we demand better for our children.

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