My first graders start their fifth week of school tomorrow. They also start their fifth week of “assessments”.
Language tests have been administered individually--although the students were given the same test at the end of Kinder. District “benchmarks" were given, although arguably, students hadn't progressed much yet--especially since testing took the place of teaching. Then, there was DRA,” a newly-purchased, bulky, time-consuming, costly “reading inventory” that duplicated other tests, such as the state-mandated test we start the sixth week of school.
Mind you, these students are six year olds—and all of their school experience to date, except for fire drills, has been testing.
Sadly, there is such a huge amount of money in test-producing and test-scoring companies, and such misinformation being spoonfed to politicos, that there seems little hope of bringing sanity back to public schools. Sanity as in—give teachers time to teach. Then kids pass anyway.
The original idea of standardized testing was to insure that children who graduated could read and write. But because schools threw everything into improving test scores, the field of “beating” state-mandated tests erupted into a money-consuming beast, and in-services, at least in my district, tend to be sales pitches for new “strategies” that basically are intended to insure students pass tests, whether they have the necessary skills or not.
Many will argue with me—all the testing materials companies, many administrators who know their schools’ performance is tied to these artificial performance assessments, and many politicians. I doubt many teachers will disagree, if given the assurance of protection from retaliation, and I suspect, too, that many parents and students will also agree that testing has become the be-all of schools. Defenders of the test-to-death practices currently in vogue will tick off a list of problems in the public schools, and end with their pet word, accountability.
How do you hold teachers accountable, though, who spend five out of five weeks testing, and none of those five weeks teaching? The problems in public school, frankly, are due more to the collapse of a values system than anything else. That stand is not popular, nor politically correct, but it is true . I have had first graders ask me how often I “do it” with my husband, I have had first graders so traumatized by abuse at home that they are unable to function in school, I have had first graders come to school with razor blades. None of these problems will be solved by testing—unless we start testing parents and society as a whole.
So forget “excuses,” as the politicians label such truths. Hold me accountable, even for abused kids and kids with razor blades. I’m not afraid of responsibility or of “accountability.” But unless you give me time to teach, then hold me accountable only for the hours of paperwork and “analysis” of tests, because it’s hypocritical and futile to hold me accountable for instruction I’m not allowed to give.
Our district gave us a “big” pay raise this year, added half an hour to our day, and demanded that we meet our staff development requirements through unpaid Saturday “trainings”—many of which will be sales pitches by ex-teachers who got out of the classroom to avoid testing. Yet many of my colleagues who have discussed leaving aren’t leaving because of the low salaries and the countless hours of unpaid work. They’re leaving, quite simply, because “assessment” is sapping the life out of public education.
Statistics about teachers leaving the field will grow, and the sad incidents of teachers dying on the job—through violence, occasionally, and stress-related illnesses more frequently—will be murmured through the rank and file of dedicated teachers who stay, but aren’t sure why.
Teachers who speak out against the overkill of assessment will continue to be branded troublemakers, negative people who gripe constantly. And until voters take politicians and school administrators to task, the tests will continue to choke the life out of our school systems and our kids.
I have four "personal" kids. They all graduated with honors from their high school, two of them very near the top—11th and 5th, respectively, in fairly large classes. They did fine on the state-mandated tests, thank you. But they struggled mightily in college. Why? Easy. Neither college nor life hands you questions with four multiple choice answers that require only a knowledge of certain strategies, but little thinking or global perception.
Accountability should be demanded—but should be based on occasional, perhaps randomly administered tests. And all students, but especially the early primary grades, should be taught more than tested—and tested not competitively, but analytically, so that weaknesses can be addressed.
None of these changes will come about, though, with so much money encouraging testing and “beat the test” mentalities.
Parents—if your children are spending more time on “benchmarks” and “assessments” than on education, please speak up. Educators—the administrators have to listen eventually. I consider myself a teacher, not a tester. At least—I did once. None of us should leave children behind, with or without acts of Congress. And all of us should be willing to be held accountable—if we are given the time we need to teach.