For the past three years I’ve taught computer science in a North Dakota public high school.
It’s very difficult to find people who are properly trained to teach computer science and have the appropriate teaching certifications, so it’s very difficult to bring rigorous computer science to public high schools.
To combat this problem, I’m part of a nationwide program where engineers from the software industry get a crash course in teaching, and then we volunteer to teach our area of expertise in schools across the country. Typically, we lead one course, first thing in the morning, and then we head over to our normal software engineering jobs.
There is a real certified teacher in the room with us at all times, who we’re training on the subject matter as we lead the class. Our goal is to develop staff members in each school we partner with, who can take over the computer science program and teaching after a few years of partnership.
It’s a fantastic program, and I really enjoy doing it.
Except on days like yesterday.
You see, yesterday I showed up at school, started walking to my classroom, and saw some of my students walking towards me – away from our classroom.
Apparently, this week and next week, our school is doing Smarter Balanced Assessment testing. The tests being used this year are done entirely via computer, and so the precious computer lab we’ve been using for three years to teach kids computer science has been pressed into use to provide screens and keyboards to let kids take SBAC tests.
So my kids were walking out of our classroom to tell me that our computer lab had been taken over, and we had been relocated to somewhere else.
Why, the stage of the auditorium, of course. With folding tables and a few chairs. And a notable lack of computers.
The timing here is a bit unfortunate. I’m preparing my students to take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam. This is a rigorous test, and if they pass it, they will test out of an entire semester of college computer science classes. That’s a huge advantage for kids looking to study computer science at the university level, and nearly all of my students plan to.
The AP exam they are all taking happens in just two weeks, on May 3. So, it’s a bit upsetting that we found out today that the computer lab we depend on will be given over to Common Core testing for the most crucial two weeks prior to the exam we’ve been preparing for all year.
To be fair, my school is scrambling to find us extra laptops, and to try and get the software we need configured and installed properly. And luckily, some of my students have personally owned laptops that they’ve been using all year. So, we’ll probably manage somehow.
But this is just a tiny microcosm of what top-down educational mandates are like. Somebody way far away asserts that ND students are going to do SBAC tests, and an implementation partner is selected to provide those tests, and then the schools have to make it all work somehow, with the people and facilities they happen to have on hand.
Something has to give. Something always has to give.
This week, some of the brightest, most promising kids at the school – my students — are being shoved into whatever closet is available, to make way for a government mandated testing system that nobody in North Dakota seems to actually want.
Heading into the next legislative session, and the next governorship, there’s going to be a lot of momentum to make changes to how we grapple with Common Core and CC aligned tests.
If you ask me, that’s long overdue.