No Child Should Be Labeled UNSATISFACTORY!

I hope you have had a chance to view the wonderfully creative animated video, “The Testing Camera,” from Peter H. Reynolds. It is a “must see” for every parent and educator.

As Reynolds shares in his preface: “This is my gift to educators to remind them to follow their instincts and remember why they got into teaching in the first place: to see the potential in every child, to nurture those emerging gifts and talents, and to change lives.”

Take three minutes to watch the video, whether for the first time or the tenth. I’ll meet you on the other side.

I want to continue my discussion from a few days ago about the stress that many of our children have already had or are about to have inflicted upon them as a result of big, high-stakes testing gone horribly wrong.

Which is being labeled with the word “UNSATISFACTORY.”

We are familiar with labels. They are EVERYWHERE.

Labels are affixed to our clothing and glued to the sides of our food packages. They are displayed on the front of buildings, in our online profiles, and on our driver’s licenses.

They separate you from me, and us from them. They train us to see opposite genders, different cultures, and various backgrounds as separate and apart, desirable or undesirable, dangerous or safe.

In all of these labels, we frequently are so busy staring at what we think are different species of trees that we miss the unified forest we form together in our shared humanness.

Beneath all those labels, underneath all of our individual surface differences, what we will universally find is a single human being deep inside each of us – a human being who feels, thinks, fears, cries, loves and dreams right alongside ourselves. This is especially relevant when we are speaking about developing young children.

Because of our society’s labels, we unfairly and maliciously rank and sort our children into categories of smart/dumb; athletic/awkward; cool/nerdy; thin/fat; attractive/ugly; lovable/unlovable; and apparently now proficient/unsatisfactory.

As I shared in Friday’s post, “The New World of Learning,” thousands of Oklahoma students are about to be given a label of UNSATISFACTORY or LIMITED KNOWLEDGE immediately upon completion of their their online state math and reading tests or high school end-of-instruction (EOI) assessments.

This prompted me to post the following tweet:

In my post, I used the example of a child suffering from dyslexia as one type of child who would likely be crushed by being “reminded” that she was UNSATISFACTORY within seconds of completing her online sixth grade reading test.

What has me on fire today are the many comments that people have posted below the blog—ones that share true stories of what has already happened across our state in the first week of testing this year. Here is a sampling.

From Kristen:

This could have been our story. I am the proud mother of a smart and beautiful 6th grade daughter who is also dyslexic. I am also a member of Decoding Dyslexia Ok. I debated this year whether or not to opt her out of the state test. (Before I knew she could possibly see the results immediately) Thank God I chose to opt her out. Since being diagnosed last April she has worked hours and hours on intervention (not provided by the school) and has made huge progress. I’m not sure how she would score but I AM sure that she would be devastated if she received an unsatisfactory. I’m not sure that I would ever be able to undo that damage.

From Lisa:

Thank you so much for calling attention to this issue. I have witnessed repeated examples of this with both 6th and 8th graders this week on the Reading and Math tests. Some of the 8th graders worked, and I don’t mean sat and stared at the screen, ALL DAY on the reading test, which seemed to include more passages than in years past, only to be rewarded with the bold letters of Unsatisfactory or Limited Knowledge on the screen. But that wasn’t the worst. Watching a 6th grade student who had spent 4 hours on the reading test the day before cry silently into her hands for several minutes because she was afraid to push the turn in button and see her score. Thank goodness her wonderful teacher was there and talked her through it, but this is something I hope to never witness again as a public educator.

From Cindi:

I recently spent my day off proctoring for testing. My afternoon session was a group of ELL students taking an on-line Reading Exam. They worked so hard! I watched as one by one they finished, hit the Turn-in button and the results flashed on the screen “You have scored Unsatisfactory!” Only one student in the room passed this exam. I wanted to cry at their deflated, defeated expressions. I can only imagine the grief they feel.

From Randy:

Unfortunately, there is no need to imagine. This story played out at our school just as described. The student at our school, who has received modifications to meet his needs in classroom based on his Individual Education Plan, took that almighty regular education assessment, thank goodness his IEP is written to allow him to test individually to limit distractions because the tears that flowed following the display of those dark, bold letters telling him he, despite the extreme effort and time he had just poured into this holy test, was UNSATISFACTORY….just not good enough! After the test he spent a great deal of time with our counselor, continuing to sob. Since that day we have convinced him, he is good enough….he trusts us, he knows WE know him BETTER than any test.

I am sure there are some out there who believe this practice is just hunky-dory.

That we need to be honest with kids and tell them when they fall below the standards we have set for them.

That the real world has winners and losers and these children just need to develop a little grit and resiliency.  Toughen them up, right?  In essence, if they don’t want to be labeled UNSATISFACTORY, maybe they should just work a little harder.

(Uh oh. . . I feel a rant coming on, so I best stop typing. Must. Go. Now. Like Bruce Banner . . .the shirt’s ripping, I’m turning green . . .)

Oops, too late!

.  .  .  And these people can just go to hell!

People, what are we doing to our children? Why does anyone think that any practice of telling a beautiful, unique, special, developing young human being that he or she is UNSATISFACTORY on ANYTHING is a good idea?!

Shame on THEM!

Shame on the politicians and lawmakers, the so-called Ed-Reformers, along with the corporate plunderers who seek to dismantle our public education system for profits and power.

They view these children as standardized widgets who they simply want fed through an assembly line called public school to prepare them for a standardized life of compliance on their corporate assembly lines.

They do this on the backs of our children, particularly our most needy. The children with special needs, our English language learners, the children from broken and dysfunctional homes just trying to survive. The dyslexic, the downtrodden, the depressed, and the desperate.

How dare they label our children with these hurtful and belittling words.

Then .  .  . Shame on US!

Shame on the school administrators and teachers who have allowed these insidious practices to infiltrate our institutions of learning. Places that are meant to be safe and secure. Places where children are supposed to be valued and loved. Places where no child should be told they are UNSATISFACTORY!

We waited too long to speak up, to fight back. And now the kids we’ve been entrusted to protect are suffering.

Over the next few weeks, we will dutifully schedule these children for their tests, knowing full well that as many as one out of every three (or more) will leave the testing session with a Scarlet U firmly emblazoned on their chest and on their fragile psyche.

And many will remember the experience forever!

But we will do it because we have to. As distasteful and repugnant as we find this practice, it is the law, and we don’t have a choice.

As a school principal, I must either follow the laws of the state and require all students in my school to participate in this onerous state mandated testing, or I must resign or be fired.

In the past few years, many educators have already made this decision. They have left the classroom rather than participate in the continued emotional abuse of children. They have retired or taken jobs in other professions. They have made a choice and I respect their right to make that choice.

Many of us are not in a position to make this same choice. I’m certainly not there yet, but I sense I am getting closer.

What keeps me in the “game” is the sense that I can still make a difference. Through my words and actions, maybe I can be part of the rising tide that will help push these damaging ideas back into the Sea of Stupidity.

Parents, you on the other hand, can make a choice on behalf of your children.

A choice that over 175,000 New York parents have already made this spring. A choice that parents of nearly 40% of children in Montclair, New Jersey recently made. A choice being made by hundreds of thousands of parents in Illinois, Florida, Colorado, Washington, Texas and California.

It really is a simple question. Are you okay with your child or any other being labeled UNSATISFACTORY?

label kid

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14 thoughts on “No Child Should Be Labeled UNSATISFACTORY!

  1. I’m behind on my blog reading, so just getting to this one. Perhaps I was meant to read it today because we just had contest yesterday, and I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable with the way we “rate” students. Every year I spend time convincing students that if we don’t come home with a plaque with the word “Superior” emblazoned across it, that doesn’t mean we failed. In fact, I’m a little uncomfortable with the word “Superior” used in the rating system.

  2. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you are sharing these stories. Thank you for helping raise awareness. When you are the parent/student going through this you begin to feel like you are the only one. The more we talk about this and be open the more comfortable other parents/students will feel and the 1 in 5 will be revealed.

  3. I say we do a public service television show, with the Governor and the entire legislature taking the 3rd grade test. Wonder how many Unsatusfactories we’d see? Then, we could put together a team to determine their futures, etc.

    • You have the right. Just make sure the child has passed four needed for graduation or met other alternatives. Have to pass Alg I, English II, and two others.

  4. Rob you have done a good job of covering this but I want to add a couple more.
    1. Stop pretending that the legislators we have elected in our state house and senate that are dead set against public schools and are following other outside group agendas like ALEC are going to see the light and take care of public education. It will not happen and we must make sure that they are not reelected.
    2. Stop pretending that taking the standardized tests are going to help our public schools. Too much evidence shows that they have no relevance but are a tool used to batter our schools and our educators. The only way to let these legislators know that we are tired of the abuse of our children and educators is through opting out of testing.
    Thanks.

  5. It makes me sick to my stomach to think of any child seeing those words Pop up on the screen. My next emotion is anger… that such an emphasis has been placed on test scores. Now back to that sick feeling thinking of some of my students that struggle in school for a variety of reasons, and wonder what the word “”Unsat.” do to them.

  6. Every student who took these tests needs a stronger message to see. Post a video message to them with a message that they matter, they are enough and end with a big, bold, emblazoned phrase, like, “YOU ARE AMAZING, or “YOU MATTER” or “PROUD OF YOU”.

  7. I find it so hypocritical that we are told to challenge a student on his/her learning level, until testing day. And, on that day, those children will miraculously work on grade level! Again, teachers are being held responsible for actions of legislators and testing companies. Different topic: I think the main reason that teachers cannot read the tests is because we would find so many errors. Who is holding the test companies accountable?

  8. You brought tears to my eyes as I read your blog today. With each reply from your readers, I could see my former students in each of their examples. I taught those ELL students, the ones that have been in our country for less than two years, are learning to not only speak English, but to also read English. Yet, they are having to take the same Reading test as students that have been born in the United States and have attended US schools since at least 5 years of age. I marvel at their hard work ethic and ability to overcome the many obstacles, yet know, that if they saw that UNSATISFACTORY on their screen, that same spirit would be broken. I think of the special needs students I have taught, that work three times as hard as their regular education peers to acomplish a passing grade. When I assess them with other means then a test, they are more than capable of showing me they can meet the standards and have higher level thinking skills. Yet, these same extremely intelligent students, can not read and comprehend as well as they can listen and understand. To give them the same reading test, not allow them to talk through it or hear the questions and choices read to them, is wrong. They are proficient and advanced when given a test in a manner that meets their needs, yet the standardized test will label them as unsatisfactory.
    Thank goodness that the EOI for United States History does not have a “cut score” yet. I was able to smile at each student that turned in their testing form, many of them students that I described above, and tell them they did a great job and it was evident they did their best. They would ask me what the passing score was, and I could honestly say, it has not been determined yet. In two weeks, I will be administering the Algebra I test at one of my sites, and I dread the pain I will share with those students, some of them my former students, when they see that slap in the face.

  9. How do we go about opting our middle school students out of testing? What are the ramifications for the schools, teachers, and students?

  10. Most kids who have a difficult time with school already think of themselves as “unsatisfactory” no matter how encouraging their parents and teachers are, and seeing it on a computer screen just proves it to them. Why even try to do better if you are labeled that way? Why not quit and forget about trying to learn anything? It is ridiculous to treat our school children this way just because they don’t get enough questions correct on a test.

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