Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Standardized Testing

It seems I have a bit to say lately and that's ok.  I'm now a parent AND a teacher.  I now see how the other half lives.

Cavett came home today with his "binder signed."  This usually means that he misbehaved, did something disrespectful, didn't follow rules, etc.  He has learned how a 3rd grader should behave and might have the binder signed once or twice a 9 weeks.   This normally wouldn't be a huge deal, except, it is the beginning of the 4th 9 weeks and he has had his binder signed 4 times now.  I'm not saying the teacher is wrong by any means!  I expect him to be RESPECTFUL in any situation and that includes sitting on his hands staring out the window while others finish taking tests or whatever it is, then by all means.  But his comment was "she has become more strict since we have been practice testing."

Here's the deal.  Practice testing has now been going on in his classroom for a full 2 weeks with 3 more days to go.  He's tired of it and bored.  After answering and checking, he wants to get to what he would rather do: expanding his mind and imagination by reading.  Oh, for shame!  The teacher, I get it.  She is tired too. Stressed, yes.  And, I'm sure she hates it as much as the kids.

I know.  Remember I am a former teacher, too.

However, my son is stressed as well.  When you continually practice test you are putting entirely too much emphasis on the wrong thing, taking away perfectly good teaching time and opportunities.  We are teaching our kids how to be lab rats and push the right button.  For the past two weeks, I have been trying to temper his comments by returning them with, "They just want to see what you have learned."  "There is no reason to be worried, just do the best and don't care about the rest."  But, I'm at the end of my rope.

Here is the analogy I gave him, of course.  This is good!

Think about when you sing or play an instrument in an ensemble.  The conductor can teach you the right notes, how to hold your instrument, show you the fingerings, teach you the rhythm, show you how to sit, practice putting it all together with others, add in crescendos and decrescendos and musicality, and check practice reports everyday, etc.   When it comes down to concert time, the conductor has to let go.  If a member makes the wrong sound or note, is it because the conductor didn't do his job?  No.  That is a reflection on the member, not the group or the conductor.  The concert is a test.  But there isn't 2-3 weeks worth of dress rehearsals or practice concerts, (maybe just 1 and there again it is usually do to the space they are performing in.  It literally sounds different).

Texas Public Schools will spend one of every five days or nearly 20% of the school year conducting tests. According to the Texas Education Agency, Texas public schools will spend 34 out of the 185 day long year conducting tests mandated by the state government. This does not include the regular testing in schools such as six-weeks tests, quizzes, and final exams.  Ridiculous!  Test them once at the end and be done.
Testing has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.  What used to "see where the child is and what he has learned" has turned into partially determining teacher's pay, superintendent bonuses and even home values.  The No Child Left Behind Law has affected the schools and the children negatively and placed too much emphasis on standardized testing.   They should be tested on what they are taught and what they have learned from that teaching and it shouldn't be tied to anything else.  There is no collective here.  It is each child and did they improve.

Take my Mom's work with low income, poverty students who can hardly read and have major disabilities. She is a phenomenal teacher and it is truly the gift God gave to her to use to spread His light in the world. She can teach that child until she is blue in the face, and maybe that child improves a little bit.  Great!   But can you really say that she is a bad teacher because he still can't do XYZ?  And, if you have a whole school of that type of kid, can you say that about the entire school?

I don't mean to sound like every one should be given excuses and exceptions.  On the contrary, I just want every child to be met where they are and taught from there, whether that is at a high or a low level and then test them on what was taught.  ONCE.  NO PRACTICE TESTING.  That is what all that "other" teaching time and homework is.

Maybe your instructions are too complicated if a 3rd grader can't read them and answer correctly without extreme practice.  They learned in Kindergarten how to color in a circle.  Why does all the practice have to happen 2 weeks prior to the real thing and then try and glamorize and costume it call it "Reading and Math Olympics?"

It's fine to teach them strategies for understanding.  For example, Cavett has to underline every single item in a mathematical word problem and circle numbers and show every single thought process to get all 3 points of the problem counted correctly.  Nevermind that he got the right answer!  He's bright and understands. His education is being dumbed down.  Maybe he has a better way.  But again, meet the student where they are.

The problem is....where are the real world skills?  I asked Cavett, "when have I had to take a test after leaving school?"  Hmmmm.....haven't.  He says, "But we are building stamina."  For what, sitting on your hands, staring out the window, waiting for the EXTREMELY LONG AMOUNT of TESTING TIME to go by after he has finished and checked his work several times?  Stop.  I understand.  Some kids need that long.  Fine.  Send the finished ones to a different place.   When do we need this "stamina" in real life?  Ok, running a marathon, finishing a project, following through on something you are supposed to do, YES!  If you want to teach a kid how to sit still start by taking them to church and listen to the sermon with nothing else to do.

Does the real world ask you to show your work?  Nope, they don't care.  It's the bottom line.  Does the real world ask you to take all day or are some situations so fast paced that you don't even get to finish?  Is life a balance of collaborative work and individual?  Of course.

I'm just struggling with this testing thing.  I'm not sure I want them to completely opt-out, because I want to know that their grades do mean something and that they have learned something.  I came across this quote from the Texas Observer as I was reading and it describes me perfectly.  I don't want to harm my child's future by bucking the system.

"Even the most vocal opt-outers—former teachers, usually, who wrestle mightily with the decision—often settle for symbolic half-measures when faced with the reality that their protest could harm their children’s futures."

So, bottom line.  Here's what I want.  I want a full, rich, creative, liberating education preparing my child to think critically while preparing him for real life in a democracy, not a test-taker.  

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