Clarke County Schools: Projecting and Producing Failure - Where is Success?

An Essay from the Teaching Georgia Writing Collective in Athens, Ga.


The end of the CRCT marks the time of the school year that teachers look forward to most. It’s the time when teachers have more freedom and flexibility to teach in student-centered, inquiry-based, and curiosity-driven ways. It’s the time of the year when tensions subside and mandates are over. Well, at least that’s what we used to look forward to. However, this year after the CRCT is over there is a new district mandate in Clarke County to which third and fifth grade teachers must adhere. It's called the “Blitz.”

Third and fifth grade teachers across the district have been asked to compile a list of students “projected to fail” the CRCT. Teachers were forced to use previous standardized assessments to determine this list of students. And if the lists weren’t long enough, teachers were told to add more, just in case.

Students on the “projected to fail” list will be involved in a “Blitz” session immediately following the conclusion of the CRCT - before test results are even known. Students will be re-rostered - that is, the students will be grouped with new students and different teachers so all the “projected failures” will be in one class receiving “intense remediation” while the remaining students will experience “acceleration and enrichment.”

This means that while some students are investigating how tornadoes are formed, creating inventions to fix a problem they see in their community, or making informational videos using iPads, the "projected to fail" students will be sitting in a computer lab staring at a screen and listening through headphones to practice skill and drill reading assignments for an hour every day. This is on top of the hour and a half of direct reading instruction they will receive.

When does the torture end? Why aren’t all students given the opportunity to learn in creative and inspired ways? Why are students who may struggle with reading constantly given boring and uninspiring things they must read while other students have choice and learn to read through creative projects? Don’t all students need an enriching and encouraging environment surrounded by friends and teachers that know them best?

“Struggling” students are constantly on the losing end of every battle - and now they lose even before their test results are known.

If students aren’t successful on a high-stakes standardized test in reading, the blame is aimed at the student who is labeled defective and in need of fixing. But what if the student isn’t what needs fixing? What if the way school policies and mandates are created is what needs fixing? What if the budget is what’s broken? What if we stop blaming the students, their parents, and the teachers and instead look at the conditions of schooling that produce failure?

We dream of a school system in which students aren’t projected to fail and schools don’t produce failure. That school system would encourage teachers to slow down and learn about a student who is struggling and design instruction to make that student successful. We teachers don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs, we need time to teach our students in the way that is best for them. And students don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs either.They need a less stressful and anxiety-ridden environment and more time in creative, supportive classrooms where they know they are valued and projected to succeed. They need student-centered inquiries back in their school lives, and teachers who do engaging projects with them for which they ask questions and find answers.

School systems’ fear of failure has created the conditions for more failure to emerge. We might all be surprised if we stopped making decisions out of fear of failure and started making decisions based on hope and seeing our students as possibility. Let’s change the definition of “success” to include more than one test score and project success for all our students. 

We might begin with a different kind of "Blitz" - which is defined as an intense campaign for something, even if most definitions refer specifically to military campaigns. Let's use the end of the school year for a "School is a place I want to be" Blitz to motivate students to make deep connections to school and inspire them to look forward to the fall. Keeping them in their classrooms with teachers and students they have come to know and trust all year is one place to start, and engaging them with challenging and creative projects is another. If we don't, this "Blitz" for the CRCT - even after the CRCT is over - will likely backfire on us all.

The Teaching Georgia Writing Collective is a group of educators, parents, and concerned citizens who engage in public writing and public teaching about education in Georgia. Some goals of the collective include: 1) empowering educators to reclaim their workplace and professionalism, 2) empowering families to stand up for their children and shape the institutions their children attend each day, 3) empowering children and youth to have control over their education, and 4) enhancing the education of all Georgians.

Concerned Citizen April 30, 2012 at 02:32 PM
When are the parents going to start helping their children achieve success? School systems and the teachers of these systems are held accountable for students who have NO help at home, whose parents only show up the last four weeks of school when they realize that their child may fail the grade in which they are in. It is time to place some blame on the parents and the behavior of the students. Students have to be taught at an early age that school comes first, do your work, and behave. I have watched the downfall of the education of the students in this country, especially in the south, and it goes to parents not being part of the solution but part of the problem.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 30, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Dear Concerned, I'm not sure if it does any good to blame parents who are not motivated to change their behaviors. it's too bad the programs that did effect change, when children were infants, have not continued to be funded. I truly believe many detached parents simply have no clue how to participate in their child's education. I've been at events during which a parent said there's a TV in every room of the house, including the children's bedrooms. She had no idea this arrangement wasn't doing her children any good until a teacher told her. Many parents need to be taught how to be parents.
Monise Seward April 30, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I would also add that many parents, including myself, have become disillusioned with the public education system. I hold three degrees, yet my opinion and input are not valued by the school/district. People only take notice when you start kicking-up sand or decide to take your kids, i.e., the district's funding, away. We cannot paint all parents with the same broad stroke; the same goes for teachers. When you continue to tell people they do not matter, at some point they will start to believe you and shut down on you.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 30, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Dear Monise, I'm sorry you've had the experience of no one listening to you. Did you try to go through your school board representative? Maybe that would work better? or, as my mother used to say, if the front door is locked, go around to the side. I have found that large organizations don't respond until there is a crisis. Did you end up taking your child or children out of the Clarke County School District?
Greg Jordan May 01, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Some parents are not supportive, some students suffer due to lack of parent involvement. Teachers and the education system still have to find innovative ways to teach students that are in trouble of failure. Students and teachers cannot change all parents and convince them to get involved. As students progress to high school, they know by now what they have to do to succeed. Success comes from teacher and students working relationships and nurturing the learning thingy what ever it is. Lack of parental support makes it more difficult but not impossible. Retired teacher from Cedar Shoals.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) May 01, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Thanks for posting, Greg. Our teachers are amazing, I have found.
Sara Baker May 01, 2012 at 07:42 PM
I think the Georgia Writing Collective makes an excellent point, that all children need and deserve creative, nurturing, stimulating learning experiences. Ironically, labeling a child as a "failure" certainly doesn't encourage a child to feel safe enough to explore. And children internalize how they are labeled, so that they come to expect themselves to be failures. Furthermore, the writers raise the important issue of child-centered vs. data driven schools. Herding students through standardized tests to meet goals which do not take into account different learning styles teaches students that they have to fit into the system, and their differences are not OK. I agree that Clarke County has terrific teachers; it is the system that stinks.


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