Sacrificing to the Test

I spent about 15 hours last week proctoring the state proficiency exams we are required to give to our students. It is an awful week for everyone. By Friday, the students were so burned out that they could barely think.

My responsibility as a proctor was to stare at them for two and a half hours, occasionally walking up and down the rows and looking over their shoulders. It occurred to me as I was sitting there that I didn’t know the etymology of ‘proctor.’ Obviously Latin, but I couldn’t think of what word it came from.

I couldn’t abandon my staring duties to go find a Latin dictionary, so I just forgot about it until a few minutes ago.

‘Proctor’ is a medieval shortening of ‘procurator.’ We think of procurators as people working in museums, but it originally meant a steward or treasurer. ‘Procuro,’ the verb it derives from, means ‘to look after, administer, have charge of.’ Interestingly, it also has the meaning, ‘to avert by sacrifice, to expiate.’

Etymology yields such interesting ironies. Who are we sacrificing with these tests? What sins are we forcing our children to expiate? More

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Algebra, Pigs and Freedom

Accountability sounds like a good idea. If it’s my job to teach children, and I fail to do that, I am responsible.

But teaching and learning are not the same thing.

I am more than willing to be held accountable for whether I prepare lessons, show up for class, and work with students to help them understand and use the information and skills I am teaching them.

But am I responsible for what students learn?

Are parents responsible for their children’s success in life? If my sixteen-year-old son hangs out with the wrong crowd and gets in trouble, or my fifteen-year-old daughter gets pregnant, what is my job as a parent? What should I have done differently? Am I a bad parent?

Because I talk with parents of children like this a lot, I would say that parents have a lot of responsibility, but at some point their control over their child ends. I have seen good, concerned, caring parents despair over their son’s or daughter’s refusal to do homework, their truancy, their inability to resist peer-pressure. I don’t know how to assign blame for a child’s failure, but I’m sure it’s not just one person’s fault. It’s not as simple as taking away the cell phone or banning rap music.

And teachers – are they responsible for their students’ success? If a student will not do any work, sleeps during class, cuts class, disrupts class, responds to no motivational strategies, what is my job as a teacher? What should I do differently?

I am a parent of a hundred kids – for fifty minutes a day. More

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