Tag Archives: rttp

Yet We Test

A while ago, I made a proclamation (in my head, anyway) that I’d move the direction of my blog away from railing against that which was not in my control. What was the point? At any rate, my students this year are too young to take the tests that in many ways define grades 3-8, so it wasn’t really on my mind much. In fact, I not so quietly gloated to my colleagues the last few weeks that, “I’m glad not to be dealing with this anymore.”

But today, I feel the need to pontificate just a little. The testing bubble burst this week when my students had to sit for 3 separate sessions of the state English proficiency exam. Since I have a bridge class, I had to deal with the logistical aggravation of the arrangement, including switched and missed preps as well as figuring out where to keep the students who weren’t testing in a given session. This was a nuisance but something I could manage.

My students had to deal with a much more potent and demoralizing aggravation.

Most of my students enjoy reading. Even though some of them are reading two years below level, they still like books. But those are books, vividly illustrated on topics that excite them and that they can choose.

They haven’t yet begun to fully understand the ways they struggle to read. Their experience taking the test this week may have given them an idea, though. That’s sad.

The rules of the test are written out clearly in boldface and italics, so the proctor essentially reads a script and the kids are left to their own listening – and writing, and reading – devices. The result was this: despite the great social and academic gains my students have made this year, they still wound up bruised and battered by the end of day 3 of testing.

Several faces looked back at me from the tiny desks, big pencils in small hands, silently pleading for some kind of assistance in completing the tests’ tasks. They could see their classmates managing to put answers down, and they looked from them to me as if to say, “Why can’t I do that?” One or two students raised their hands and said, “I don’t know what to do.” All I could do was silently point them back to the test. As they struggled furiously to sound out words they didn’t know using letters they couldn’t remember, they went looking for the alphabet chart (which, by rule, was covered). They looked at me with watery eyes. They were powerless and so was I. Their academic world as they’ve known it since September was turned askew with no apparent reason other than me saying, “Just do the best you can do.” What do words like that mean when you feel the best you can do is not very good at all?

Yet, we test.

I discussed these issues with a colleague who is in a similar boat as far as testing students with material that is out of their league. She agreed it’s heartbreaking to sit through.

Yet, we test.

I know in my mind my students can not, nor should they ever be, judged based on their ability to perform on a test like the one they took this week. It’s foreign to them, and inappropriate, too. And, as I truly believe, it’s just not right to boil everything down to one or two days and designate a year as a failure or success in such a way. The whole process is too damning, too nervewracking, too unfair to the children.

Yet still, we test.

Link: The Patron Saint (and Scourge) of Lost Schools

The charter vs. public school debate is really percolating lately here in the big city. I highly recommend you read this New York Magazine article about Eva Moskowitz, the leader of perhaps the most visible NYC charter schools system.


Consider This. (Test to Follow)

I recently discovered a blog written by another young NYC male elementary teacher – we are a rare breed – and this week, “bronxteach” shared some of his concerns about the still controversial No Child Left Behind Act, particularly its perspective on standardized testing.

“bronxteach” writes: “Let’s start with testing. NAEP test scores have risen under NCLB and NYC test scores have risen under Mayor Bloomberg. Awesome news.” Yet, he continues by questioning what test scores actually tell us and whether they actually mean anything.

What’s the awesome news, then? Who cares if test scores have gone up? I know of no colleague who sees scores as an indicator of student ability or readiness for promotion. There are several logical qualms that consistently arise (not that education officials seem be the type that ever rely on logic).

One issue is the fact that test scores can be manipulated – in various ways, too. For one, year-to-year, test difficulty can change. The assessment of whether a test is easier or harder than the previous year’s is largely subjective, but the manipulation and scaling of scores can’t be passed as such. Last year, I’m told the range of raw scores was set in such a way that more students would show passing grades on the tests. This year, the prevailing thought is that, since the tests are later in the year, while the subjective difficulty of the tests might stay the same, the scales might be narrowed, thereby making it harder to achieve the almighty 3s and 4s.

What does this say about our students, then? How about nothing?

In this pursuit of the golden rings of ‘success’ that supposedly rest atop the wrongly glorified mountain of test preparedness, our poor, not knowing any better students are being shortchanged. They are forced to become mini machines with an ultimate goal each year of getting a 4 on the tests. It’s all they care about, so there’s no intrinsic motivation.

When schools exist solely to churn out robots that lose the experiences I hold so dear to my heart from my school days, there’s something very wrong. Too many students now come into the classroom, not with wide eyed, eager smiles, and a thirst for learning about their world, but rather with droopy eyed, perfunctory smiles and the knowledge that today will be another one spent doing rote work for the seeming sole purpose of their school career – the test.

Another significant factor in questioning the validity and integrity of test scores is the issue of promotion. If the test scores are supposed to measure a student’s abilities relative to grade level, why, pray tell, are students promoted when they get 1s and 2s? What’s the point of the test scores if they aren’t enforced? Am I making any sense? Because this testing codswallop sure isn’t.

Why put the kids through the drudgery and pressure of “doing well on the test”? They think that’s the be all, end all in education. Are these the learners we want to send into the world? When there’s no thirst for learning, there’s no desire to quench. There’s nothing to quench.

Obviously there needs to be some kind of standardization on which students are assessed. That’s the world in which we currently live. But that can’t be all. When our students are out in the world on their own, I highly doubt their test-taking skills won’t be what they need to succeed. Their analytical skills, creativity, ingenuity, and other higher-level thinking skills will carry them farther than anything else.

But we’re not cultivating these things, at least not with the same emphasis of test taking.

Consider these points a rambling rant brought on by the nonstop conversations around these issues that I have with my colleagues. Consider them a bunch of bosh. Consider them poorly written and confused. But whatever you do, consider them.