I am doing the A-Z challenge; today’s letter is T for testing.
This is a tough topic to tackle, but I feel up to the test...er...task. I feel I have as much right as anyone to comment, since the standardized testing scheme in California, is the primary reason I took an early retirement. I used to say “they” would drag me from my classroom, kicking and screaming. Indeed, I was kicking and screaming all right, but only in frustration at the emphasis placed on a testing system implemented by a man who was incapable of making the most mundane statement, without tripping over his tongue.
I have railed against California’s STAR testing mechanism quite a lot, in the past couple of years, but not for a while. * However, so much surfaces on a regular basis that pertains to the inane attempts by W to whip our school kids into academic shape, that it’s time to put it back on the front burner.
I was talking to a long-term elementary sub recently, who was expressing frustration at the fact that he was required by his employer to focus the entire day in the classroom on reading, language and math. Gone were the days of social studies and science; gone were the arts, and long-gone was any emphasis on self-esteem or other social issues. It was all about the test.
Before the STAR tests were implemented, we still did the standardized testing in our district, but it was for internal examination only. As teachers and administrators, we were interested in finding our weaknesses and strengths. If my classes demonstrated a lack of proficiency in language structure, then it was up to me to reinforce my instruction in that area, to ensure that kids going to the high school were able to continue their studies, without having to have holes filled at the high school level.
After my first year of teaching, I teamed with another instructor, and we implemented a program utilizing project-based learning, along with literature and theme-based education, in a multi-graded setting. We had sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the same classroom, where they learned to think of each other as classmates, instead of in the artificial class status, found only on our school campuses. For instance, we orchestrated an annual, full-length Shakespeare dramatization, in which all students in our program had to participate. If a student did not wish to act, then he/she could work on sets, do the music, work the light system, do backstage directing, or even sew the costumes, the two years we included that element.
It was a class endeavor, and though much of the grunt work took place during elective, as we neared the dates of the performance, it invariably overflowed into the regular classroom period. Today, that would not be possible. I have talked to many former students who have commented that the performances were the main thing that they remembered about their time in the middle school-that, and the trip to Yosemite.
I would ask them, “You mean you don’t remember the time spent diagraming sentences?” in mock horror, and then watch their eyes glaze over. My teaming partner and I tried everything we could to keep all students engaged in their education, in order to deliver them to the high school staff, with their spark for education alive and well. If we were required to focus every minute of our time, teaching to a test, especially a test with the most unrealistic goals imaginable (all students attaining proficiency, at the risk of garnering state-mandated sanctions) we would have quit on the spot. (And eventually, I did, after our staff meetings were given over to instruction by the county, which sent in a person to do exactly that-teach to the almighty test.)
For years, during the week of STAR testing, I used to take the students’ answer sheets home, grade them (using a key that I constructed by taking the test myself) and give them immediate feedback on how they had done, instead of waiting six months for the results to come back from the state, long after they had any remembrance for the test itself.
Ironically, after my teaming partner had taken on the role of principal for our middle school, I found out that what I had been doing, was highly illegal, though I never could understand the rationale for that. I guess there was just the fear that indiscretions would occur, though long before W implemented the ridiculous-and repulsive-No Child Left Behind, my students’ test scores resided amongst the highest in the district.
Now, when I hear of a district instructing its teachers, to throw out all that was well within the fabric of the educational system, and teach solely to THE TEST, I am further repelled by what is being done to the kids in today’s schools. How can the spark for learning be kept alive, when it is ground into the mud, at the first grade level?
The spark can’t be kept alive, even though I feel that the state is playing with fire, by limiting the instruction in our schools in such a primitive and narrow manner.
* I posted No Circular Library Books on October 10, 2011.