Ah, late April. The weather is warming, the birds are chirping, flies have started to invade my house. And the students at school are almost – almost – done with standardized testing.
Think if I say that enough times, it will become true?
I wrote a post similar to this last year (find it here) wherein I questioned the number of supposedly productive hours students use to take standardized tests. I predicted it would get worse.
Sometimes, I hate it when I’m right.
In addition to DIBELS, MAP, and CMAS, this year was the first year students took the PARCC test. There have been numerous articles blasting Pearson for glitches in the PARCC system, for invading students’ privacy (via tweet monitoring) and for not releasing scores for six months or longer after the test.
I don’t need to add to that noise. I want to talk about the kids.
Today, I watched two first graders cry because their MAP scores weren’t high enough. First of all, I don’t blame the teacher for the tears. I don’t even blame the school or the district. I believe crying kids is a symptom of a huge systemic problem.
It starts with standards, which are not bad to have. I hold myself to certain standards when I write. It would be nice if the some in the general public had standards of how to dress when going outside (let’s make sure all the essentials are covered, k?). Standards say “this is what you need to do to succeed.” Not a bad thing.
The way standards are written and used can easily become an unmanageable monstrosity.
For fun, I looked up a few for second grade in reading, writing, and communication (the document outlining these standards is 27 pages long, by the way).
This is one under the Oral Expression and Listening standard: Students can produce complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification. (CCSS: SL.2.6)
Translation: students will speak in complete sentences. Remember back in the day, when that was on your report card?
This one’s under the Reading for All Purposes standard: Students can demonstrate use of self-monitoring comprehension strategies: rereading, checking context clues, predicting, questioning, clarifying, activating schema/background knowledge to construct meaning and draw inferences.
Count how many things are in that last standard. I’ll give you a minute.
Just from the two I’ve listed, and if you read the others on that 27-page document, you can see that every little bit of information our kids are to know has been standardized. Every one.
They can’t just learn how to read and write letters now. HOW they learn it and demonstrate that they’ve learned it is official and will likely be tested. And so will every other minute skill the state deemed necessary for success. It’s no longer good enough to have a student read a passage and answer questions, where we as educators can make the logical leap that if they can read the passage and understand it, they, you know, know how to read. It’s no longer good enough for us to have a conversation with students about the novel they’re reading to see if they’re thinking critically. Because we aren’t computers, we aren’t working in a standardized environment, and we can’t be trusted.
So think about the 27 pages, which just included standards for second grade just in the areas of reading, writing, and communication. The other grades and subjects have their own lengthy documents. How on earth are we supposed to assess all those?
Enter the hours and hours of testing. I spoke with a fifth grade teacher today, and I think she said today’s test was their 23rd for the year. And they still have the rest of PARCC to go.
End of year scores aren’t as high as we expect, I believe because the kids are freaking tired of all the testing. 7-year-olds are crying because they didn’t meet an arbitrary goal. Teachers, who I see work their butts off every day and put in countless hours of unpaid overtime, are penalized when the percentage of students who pass the culturally biased and developmentally inappropriate tests isn’t high enough.
So what’s the big deal? Education has become an us vs. them situation: us being educators, students, and parents; them being state departments of education and testing companies. More parents are opting their kids out of state testing (PARCC, specifically), and maybe if this trend continues, something will give. In the meantime, realize what our kids are up against: literally everything they do is tracked, and there’s little room for creativity.
And remember what’s behind the scores – young kids and overworked educators, all trying to make a difference in the world, trying to prove that they matter. I hope, when they consider their value as a people, test scores will be the last thing they think about.