We’ve all heard that saying: “tried and tested”. It basically means that something has gone through tests and has passed, so it’s dependable and can do a job well. But there are instances where this is not true, where “trying” something to its utmost limits and testing it repeatedly doesn’t make it perform better. In fact, just the opposite happens. The testing leads to brokenness, and it’s this, I fear, that’s happening to the lively spirit of American children today.
In a month’s time, when the annual standardized testing in public schools ensues, parents across America are going to realize that their children are the victims of an educational crisis sweeping the nation, a crisis that leads to underachievement and missed opportunities: a crisis that could be avoided with a simple change of policy.
This high-stakes problem is not that students are being underfunded or taught outdated materials by inexperienced or ineffective teachers, despite those claims constantly being made. It is not an attitude of indifference by the majority of young pupils, or because of a lack of education being a priority in the home. (I should note that those last two things do impede a child’s education, but they are simply things policy cannot fix.)
No, the crisis I speak of is that students are being tested to the absolute extreme, despite overwhelming evidence that more testing does not lead to better results.
Consider this: Each school year consists of approximately 187 days. Out of each day of school, approximately five hours are actually spent in the classroom, and that doesn’t include the things that take kids out of the classroom: field trips, assemblies, fund raisers, special events, etc. But to be conservative, let’s say that children spend a total of 935 hours each year (187 X 5) in the classroom.
Teachers have a lot to do in those 935 hours. They must assess each child before every single unit in each subject to see what the child already knows, so they can be taught at the level they are at to make the most growth.
Trust me when I say that teachers have no problem with these Pretests. Pretests are valid. Pretests are necessary. Pretests tell us what we need to know about kids.
After the pretest, teachers group students according to their educational needs. They do this in each subject, for each unit. Then they decide what can be taught to the whole group, particularly for discussion and cooperative learning experiences. After teachers facilitate large group learning, they take the time to teach each student at the level that will challenge them. It involves differentiated instruction and a lot of planning, but teachers do it.
Because it’s best practice and it makes sense.
As you can imagine, it takes time for teachers to meet with individuals and groups, as well as teach an overlying concept to an entire class. Inevitably, after instruction and ample opportunity for learning has taken place and appropriate time has been set aside to answer any lingering questions, an assessment of some sort must take place.
These small tests tell teachers, students, and parents what the student understood after studying the topic, and what they didn’t. This is all still valuable information. That is why a teacher never has problems assessing students.
But then comes the problem they do have: the very corruption of politics into our educational system.
It’s been around for fifty or so years, and each year it gets more and more extreme.
Call it irresponsible journalism (I call it having two young children and jobs blogging, writing, and teaching), but I’m going to allow all of you to research what I have to say and see for yourself that it’s backed by fact, because the truth is out there my friends. These aren’t top-secret teacher things I’m telling you; it’s all public information that can be found easily.
Standardized testing is the result of political profiteering, not an endeavor to meet the needs of our next generation.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was signed into law in 2001. The law itself came with a great moral theme (no child should ever be left behind), one that should have inspired all teachers, and did at first glance.
But then came to the implementation of the law, particularly with the Reading First program and the tests.
All the tests.
The programs backed by NCLB were “rote and note”: robotic teaching at one level for all kids. Learning became a one-way street where the children were pumped full of information with little chance to explore, create, innovate, invent, discuss, or even question.
Just take a moment to think about your best learning experiences. Didn’t they involve all of those verbs?
The tests were even worse. It was already bad that policy makers didn’t trust teachers to even speak to their students without a script. Now they needed to take what little instructional time they had and test students even more than their usual one-standardized-test-a-year.
Fast forward to 2014 and the implementation of Common Core. At face value, Common Core seems awesome: have all the kids learn the same standards at the same stages, so when they move they don’t have any repetition. We can even make sure all districts and schools are held to the same high standards.
But the problem with this thinking is the size and variety of our population. The U.S., of course, is populated nicely and has a remarkably diverse demographic. A one-size-fits-all mentality doesn’t ever work when so many variables are at play, like they are in public schools.
Which is why teachers go to such lengths to individualize their instruction with students.
So why does the government keep trying to make teaching and learning a universal, one-size-fits-all thing?
The answer, my friends, is sad.
The answer is politics.
The top three textbook companies had record-breaking profits after the enactment of NCLB. Guess who contributed to educational lobbying for NCLB and also donated to George Bush’s campaign?
That’s right, those same three textbook companies.
Pearson Education Publishing is in charge of implementing the new nationwide, computerized, standardized tests this year. Guess who contributed to educational lobbying for common core and also donated to Barack Obama’s campaign?
That’s right. Pearson Education.
Left. Right. Republican. Democrat.
It doesn’t matter. It’s all gotten too big. Political games don’t belong in education, but because of money, it inevitably sneaks its way in.
And our students are suffering because of it.
Remember what I said about how there’s 935 hours spent in the classroom per year?
Now let’s look at the time my school district’s intermediate grades will spend testing our kids with the government-mandated tests required of them:
Total hours spent on CMAS testing this year: 12.5 hours.
Total hours spent on PAARC testing this year: 3.75 hours.
Total hours spent on mandated district computer assessments (we call it Acuity): 6 hours.
Total hours spent on district-required reading tests at the intermediate level: 3 hours
Total hours spent on district-encouraged writing prompts to prepare for CMAS: 10 hours.
So that means that a total of 35.25 hours will be spent with number two pencils, sitting in silence, being tested. Even worse, some of those hours will be spent as third graders painstakingly chicken peck at the keyboard because they are somehow expected to type out a well thought-out, planned essay on text they just read on a computer they’ve been staring at for an hour.
Eight year olds, people.
What were you doing at eight?
35.25 hours of this…this is what our children are doing.
How much time did you spend on standardized tests and preparation in elementary school?
Eight, maybe? And even EIGHT felt like an eternity.
As if those sobering numbers aren’t horrifying enough, in addition to the testing, most teachers feel the pressure to “teach to the test”, meaning they introduce the student to the format of the test, the atmosphere in which it will be taken, and they give them opportunities to practice in test-like scenarios.
They do this for a few reasons: One, knowing what the test will be like and look like helps ease student anxiety surrounding it. Politicians encourage it because it requires school districts to buy yet another resource (“prep” books full of examples similar to the test) provided by the publishers that line their back pockets. And there’s always the issue of teacher pay, which in some districts, is now dependent on how students perform on these exams.
So yeah, teachers take them seriously. They have to teach the content the district asks them to teach. It’s in the contract. And they want students to succeed. It’s in their genes, but it’s also in their financial best interest.
Teachers are skipping certain subjects for days – even weeks – in order to cram last minute information to better prepare the kids. They put poetry (not a required common core standard, can you believe it?) on the shelf in order to go over grammar and punctuation rules. They are putting away novels, choosing instead to read short articles in a test prep kit and asking students to answer the questions about those articles.
It’s killing them to do it, but what choice do they have?
This is what it’s doing to teachers.
Just think about what it’s doing to our kids.
For crying out loud, standing as a parent in the parking lot of my daughter’s preschool, I heard of a Kindergartner bursting into tears after running out of time to do an assessment. Seriously, what kind of five year old needs to be tested so rigorously that they end up in tears? What in God’s name is wrong with us?
At the age of eight, could YOU have spent over 35 hours testing? Would you have learned more because of it?
When something is tried and tested, it usually means that it can withstand the worst you can throw at it.
But that’s not the case with our children. They are trying. Lord, they are trying, leaving school in tears after they can’t complete the tasks the computer demands of them. And they are being tested: 25 hours on top of what their parents had to do at the same age.
Tests are not the answer to the educational crisis in America, friends. Policy is not the answer. We’ll never find a one-size-fits-all solution, which is why the federal government needs to leave educational reform in the hands of districts, where parents and teachers have the most say in the education of their child.
And for the good of our children, I hope this happens.
Because, as a teacher, I’m tired of testing. But I’ll never surrender my “try”.
Source: Amanda Deich