Over the weekend, I caught the world premiere of Portland playwright Susan Mach's A Noble Failure at Third Rail Repertory. I can't say I cared for the show much: The performances were great, but it's a heavy-handed, issue-driven script about a struggling contemporary high school, featuring a wild-haired lady-teacher in love with language, a troubled yet-precocious student, a well-intentioned principal who doesn't resist corporate influence until it's too late... etc.
There were a ton of teachers in the crowd who quite liked it, though, based on audience reaction and much positive bathroom chatter. (Also lots of that pre-applause "unh" noise that audiences make to indicate they've just witness something profound.) I don't mean to suggest that teachers have bad taste: To the contrary, I think it must've been extremely gratifying to see the unglamorous business of being a teacher dramatized. For all its flaws, A Noble Failure focuses on authentic-feeling issues like test-based teacher assessments, layoffs of librarians and janitors, and the difficulties of issuing standardized tests to a distinctly un-standardized student body.
Over the weekend, the Christian Science Monitor reported on what appears to be "the first group of teachers nationally to defy district edicts concerning a standardized test": 19 teachers teachers at Seattle's Garfield High refused to administer the standardized MAP (Measures of Academic Progress), which aims to evaluate progress in reading and math.
“Our teachers have come together and agreed that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress,” said Kris McBride, academic dean and testing coordinator at Garfield High. “Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks and weeks the test is administered.”
It's a quote that could've come right out of A Noble Failure—and, perhaps, a note of optimism to combat that play's pessimistic conclusion.
A Noble Failure, Third Rail Rep at the Winningstad (1111 SW Broadway), Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Feb 3, $22-43, thirdrailrep.org