Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Testing 1 2 3

Seen on the desk of the principal of YG's school this morning: a bumper sticker which reads "No Child Left Behind? More like No School Left Standing."

The season of testing is upon us. Sarcasm Girl had her last test at the 9th grade level yesterday, and is now free to spend the last six weeks of school doing projects and learning things in depth, since the work up to this point has been, more or less, to shovel gouts of knowledge into the kids so that they can pass the state tests (through which the NCLB standards are satisfied...or not, as the case may be). But the 3rd Graders, among whom Younger Girl numbers, have three more days of testing. Third grade is apparently a watershed year: it's the first year of the full-on state tests (as opposed to the kinder, gentler tests that the kindergarteners, first and second graders have to take. (I cannot believe that I had to write that last sentence. Kindergarteners are tested? Sheesh.) And a good deal of the material these tests include at all levels is, at least according to most of the teachers I talk to, developmentally inappropriate: "you show a third grader some of this stuff for the exposure, sure but mastery?" The kids worry about the tests, although the teachers do their best to alleviate the tension--YG's class has a special snack on testing days, and a "morning stretch" before they start. But the teachers are tense, because their performance is being gauged, and the school's performance (and therefore its viability) is being tested, and that gets communicated to the kids. The notion of sanctions is not a trivial one. If a school fails, money is withdrawn: three schools in San Francisco are being shut down (increasing school crowding) because there's a $22 million shortfall in the budget, and NCLB permits the Federal government to turn its back on the schools that most need support.

I am all for accountability. I don't think bad teachers should get a free ride (and there are always some bad teachers--SG's math teacher in 8th grade was a disaster, and she was pink-slipped). But the matter of who learns and how is so vastly more complex than who can fill in the correct bubble on a standardized test and who can't... And the creators of these tests and this system seem to believe that If We Say They Have to Know It, They Will Know It.

I think about this stuff and remember the announcement in the Woody Allen film Bananas: "All children under sixteen years old... are now sixteen years old."


Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Tried to post yesterday but blogger was...blogger.

When I first started teaching, I had definite ideas about pedagogy, and I knew the best way to teach writing was to teach it as a process. Then I met a teacher who did everything I considered abhorrent--red penning grammer and spelling mistakes, not requiring drafts, in short, teaching like a tyrant from the last century. But he adored his students, taught fiercely and they adored him and they learned fiercely.

The problem with the tests is, as you pointed out, they treat every student and teacher the same. Teaching is an art. Teachers need to learn their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their students. Oh, I'm going on. (gnashing of teeth.) But you're right, you're so right!

5:27 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Let us gnash our teeth together. There's a whole lotta teeth gnashing going on...

And the tests favor people (like me, it must be said) who are good at sussing out what the test writers want. The older kid had her 9th grade science test yesterday. The child has been tanking in Marine Biology all this year, and was concerned about this test. Then she heard that the only state science test available for 9th graders was Earth Sciences, and got even more worried, since the only Earth Sciences classes she had were in middle school. But she came home yesterday and said she thought she'd done OK...because most of the answers were obvious, if you just looked at what the choices were.

But not every child is able to look at the questions with that kind of eye. So a kid who took Earth Sciences all year with a B average might wind up doing worse than my (mumble) average child studying Marine Biology.

I'm not against tests entirely. I'm just against using them as the sole arbiter of success. And, as I said, I more and more feel that Certain Forces are trying to wipe out the public school system entirely...

8:31 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

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8:32 AM  

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