Testing 1 2 3
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 If a school fails, money is withdrawn: three schools in San Francisco are being shut down (increasing school crowding) because there's a $22 million shortfall in the budget, and NCLB permits the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."