Education Opinion

Luke’s Story

By Nancy Flanagan — June 10, 2011 3 min read

Annette Romano is one of my most cherished teacher-leader buddies. Annette, a first-grade teacher and professional

development specialist, lives outside Albany, New York with her wonderful family, and does groundbreaking and dedicated work to elevate the practice--and the voices--of her

The hot issue in New York--and everywhere--is how to fairly evaluate teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. Recently, by a 14-3 vote, the NY Board of Regents established regulation that mandates the use of student test scores in assessing teachers. This did not go down well with New York teachers--including eight New York State Teachers of the Year, who wrote a powerful, thoughtful and widely publicized letter explaining the folly and probable unintended consequences when utilizing test data intended to measure to student learning as a gauge of teachers’ value in the classroom.

Annette wrote a different letter--to Roger Tilles, one of the three Regents who did not support the change. The letter is heartbreaking--and I’m sharing it with the Romano family’s permission:

Good Morning Regent Tilles,

I want to thank you for your continued advocacy for students and teacher excellence in this difficult political landscape. We have met many times to discuss National Board Certification, but today I want to share a personal story.

My son, Luke has been battling leukemia for the last seven years. He has had a very difficult fight. Now he is 17 years old and completing his junior year of high school. His teachers have modified expectations while continuing to teach and inspire him.

Luke has only been in school about 50% of time as he is frequently in the hospital for chemotherapy or transfusions. The school district and staff have gone well above and beyond what might be considered “appropriate education” for Luke as many of his teachers have also personally tutored him. He has been able to take his Regents exam at the NIH and at Albany Medical Center.

I illustrate my son’s story as a way of demonstrating the evidence of the teachers’ commitment to students and their profession, which should be captured as part of their evaluation. But what will happen next year--will teachers want to teach kids like Luke-- who may reflect poorly in their student data?

There’s no way of explaining the reasons every child with difficulties isn’t scoring well, but how do we capture that he has continued to have a will to live because he is part of the social structure that is essential to a child’s life--school? I’m hoping you and others will help develop the big picture, which can’t be captured through scores.

Thank you again for your courage, advocacy, and persistence.

Annette forwarded the letter from Albany Medical, where Luke is once again undergoing chemotherapy--an all-too-familiar process that was put off for a few days, so he could attend the Junior Prom. She shared the beautiful photo--and these thoughts:

“I was thinking about what’s behind the scores--about all the stories that aren’t told, not just Luke’s: poverty, divorce, obesity, poor health, special needs, social and emotional problems, family addictions, pregnancy, lack of home support, the athlete that’s playing two sports, the student that’s already working more than 20 hours a week.”

Luke took the Regents exam because he wanted to--all juniors in New York take the Regents--and his parents wanted the information it provides, too. But test scores are just numbers.

Now you know the whole story. Courage, advocacy and persistence, indeed.

[Update: Sadly, Luke Romano lost his valiant, seven-year battle on the evening of August 29th. Our heartfelt thanks to his family for sharing his story, and our deepest condolences on their loss.]

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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