Academic journal article English Education

"My Black Kids Are Not Sub-Pops": Reflecting on the Impact of Standardized Testing in English Education

Academic journal article English Education

"My Black Kids Are Not Sub-Pops": Reflecting on the Impact of Standardized Testing in English Education

Article excerpt

This provocateur piece recounts the story of Francis from teacher preparation to her decision to exit the profession after five years. I seek to provide a space for English educators to step back and think about how we prepare and support ELA teachers. Francis was prepared and able to celebrate the diversity of her students and her classrooms were spaces of equity and respect. And yet, she is leaving the profession. Why? What can we do to keep this from happening?

I first met Francis (pseudonym) in fall of 2007 in my English education course, Perspectives on the English Language; I quickly found her deeply committed to social justice. Her first assignment, a theory reflection paper, began with a poem on the linguistic construction of her own Whiteness and how language evolution parallels identity development, reflecting on paper the attitude and voice she presented in class. The poem ended with this warning to those who would stamp out "non-standard" versions of language:

I warn you.

Muzzle her howls and rants!

Keep her silent

-while chained.-

And she will serve you well.

She discussed in class how academic discussions of poverty did not necessarily reflect her own experience growing up poor.

A year later, I invited Francis to participate in a dialogue circle around issues of race and racism. I hoped to further develop and support the social justice dispositions Francis had displayed in class, dispositions that promoted "agency and simultaneously [strove] to disrupt current practices that reproduce social, cultural, moral, economic, gendered, intellectual, and physical injustices" (Alsup & Miller, 2014, p. 205). We worked together for a year before she went out into the field as a licensed secondary English teacher. I formally interviewed her two and five years later, in addition to maintaining regular informal contact, to develop the possibility for a longitudinal case study.

Upon graduation from her preparation program, Francis was ready to engage the classroom as a site for social change. At two years in the field, Francis was fighting the system and supporting her students. At five years in the field, Francis was weary in the face of overwhelming standardized testing.

As a teacher educator directly involved in Francis's preparation, I failed Francis: I didn't prepare and support her to battle the soul-crushing weight of standardized testing. Granted, she graduated a year before Race to the Top and three years before Common Core, but her story is a synecdoche for all the teachers we cannot afford to lose and what English educators are not doing to support all the Francises out there.

I tell an abridged version of Francis's story here to create a space for English educators to step back and think about how we prepare and support ELA teachers. Beginning with a biographical sketch of the development of her social justice dispositions, I then recount her battle with standardized testing as her reason for ultimately leaving the profession. In a description of how to reclaim English education for social justice, Alsup and Miller (2014) claim, "To be successful, preservice teachers must be prepared for the diversity of students they will encounter and be comfortable modeling and encouraging fairness, equity, and respect" (p. 195). Francis represented all this, as her story reveals: She celebrated and engaged the diversity of her students and her classrooms were spaces of fairness, equity, and respect. And yet, she is leaving the profession after five years. Why? What can we do to keep this from happening?

Francis's Story

Francis talked fast, her clothes were more about comfort than following trends, and she did not shy away from controversy. She was born in California to a family steeped in the traditions of working-class White sharecroppers from Tennessee; "My dad was from Lauderdale County [Tennessee], which is like the poorest county in the state, I believe. …

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