Tonight I taught–weirdly–one of my favorite workshops to my LMS students. It’s test prep for the New York State Teacher exam in the content area of school librarianship, or the CST for LMS.
(A little nostalgia: my first job in NYC was teaching SAT prep for the Princeton Review. I enjoyed telling my students that the SAT wasn’t a test of intelligence; rather, it was a test of how well they could take the test. That same year, The Big Test by Nicholas Lemann came out, which inspired even more question of testing among me and my 17 year old pupils.)
The CST for LMS is more of the same. It’s not a test that tests how well you can manage a library program in New York City, or, I would argue, most public schools anywhere in the US. It’s a test of how well you understand a very particular school library context that only exists for most of my New York City teachers-to-be on the CST.
This context is the domain of the Disney LMS. I picture her humming a happy tune, checking out books at a pristine and uncluttered circulation desk with a bird perched on her finger. We closely read of the Frameworks, or study guides, for clues about this LMS and generate key words that describe her and her work: partner, collaborator, intellectual freedom, research skills, supportive, student-centered, etc.
It’s not that any of these are bad qualities for school librarians, or for any teachers to have. It’s just that the Disney LMS can be a bit of a doormat. She never has any opinions. She stands up for the theoretical right of that challenged book to exist in the collection, but does not advocate for the students who need that book because it tells their life stories. My students often say of the right answer, “But my cooperating teacher/I would never do that!” to which I reply, “This test isn’t about you. It’s about that LMS with the bird on her finger.”
Ok, so no standardized test can evoke the project-based methods and critical strategies we actually teach our LMS students. Still, what is disturbing to me is the amount of cognitive dissonance my students must recruit to do well on this test. Student teachers who work in libraries that serve five “campuses” within one building, juggling five budgets and five populations; students who teach children reading far below grade level; students whose children live in homeless shelters: these pupils are not in the Disney library, and yet, this exam only validates that experience. Thus, a large portion of my test prep is designed to help my students take the exam from a different context.
What does this say about how the educational community views school library work? How should LMS’s view their own practice? I hope that the new assessments address the real skills our school library candidates need in order to thrive in real schools: resilience, critical thinking, compassion, and a collaborative spirit.