Case Study: Teacher Leadership & Testing, Part 2 of 2

When I last reported from my school, the testing schedule had come out and was causing real problems for teachers (scheduling mostly) and potential problems for students who faced the prospect of writing two text-based essays over three continuous hours, a challenge that had shown significant drops in test scores last year from the first to the second test.

Adding to the burden was the fact that every ass was covered--the county had failed the administration, the state had failed the county, the legislature had failed the state DOE, etc. Everyone had done their jobs.

What was needed was someone to do more than their job to get this problem solved.

That's where I jumped in.

My first overture to the administrator in charge of scheduling the tests was denied. Categorically. He showed me the obstacles to multi-day testing. He showed how few resources he had to test every student on the computer.

The next day, I pushed on him a little more. His response was firm, but he gave me an opening. "What have you got?"

I realized that the first thing I had was principles.

  1. Testing should not uproot the entire school schedule.
  2. Students should be tested in conditions tailored to their success

I took the schedule the administrator had sent out and set it up on a Google Spreadsheet. This is how it looked:

The classes were bunched together into two blocks at the beginning of the day, across four classrooms, two of which would upend business classes that were using the computers for seven days (the other two rooms were the library and the school's only computer-only "lab" which has a mere 20 computers).

Using Principle 1, I made a second schedule, testing only during the existing blocks (represented as a number after the teachers' names in the image above).

What quickly became apparent was the fact that fewer computers would be needed per class period with teachers testing during the four, regular blocks. Concerns by administrators that there wouldn't be enough Internet bandwidth to handle all the computers were also addressed by this new system. We had gone from using four rooms down to two. All the students would fit in the library and the computer lab. No other teachers would be inconvenienced.

Here's the second schedule

There was only one day where three teachers would be testing--and one of them was me. I would be able to test my students in my classrooms on computers that they used every single day. No hassle.

The new schedule wasn't approved right away. The administrator had concerns about lunch scheduling (the old paradigm of hundreds of kids testing at once--instead of 60--was still with him). He didn't have any other staff to allocate to overflow locations, should the testing centers be too full.

While he and I negotiated these details, I shared the new testing schedule with the other ELA teachers and encouraged them to contact him. One day, as I was going to lunch to share the latest news, our principal was standing just outside the door. I brought him into the workroom, and all of us got a chance to share our concerns with him.

A few days later, we got this revised testing schedule from the testing administrator:

Look familiar? It was less colorful than mine, but it was exactly what we needed.

I've heard the term "teacher leadership" bandied around a lot lately. When I hear it, I think of teachers testifying before the legislature, demonstrating ideas for legislators, leading out in professional development.

What this experience taught me was that there are many more jobs in schools and districts that teachers can do better than administrators or bureaucrats. Why? Because we're closest to the experience of the students. Because we're most aware of their needs.

It also made me grateful to have administrators who were willing to put up with my persistence. I have worked with administrators in the class who were quite rigid. My principal and the testing administrator weren't pushovers, but they gave me enough of an opening to try out my ideas and make them work.

Finally, this showed how important groups of teachers are to "teacher leadership." I could not have brought about change by myself. Getting my colleagues on board was the key to success. Their voice took this from being seen as 'one teacher's problem' to being 'our school's problem,' which is one thing that my administrators are pretty good at solving.