Monday, February 20, 2006

State Mandated Testing

Tomorrow is the "big" day. My two 4th graders and one 7th grader take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills Writing portion of the test. Revising and editing in a multiple choice format and writing a personal narrative based on a general writing prompt will be their tasks. Will there ever be a time in their adult life when they have to revise and edit someone else's writing without the use of a computer or other assistance - or where they have to write a story or composition without the aid of a computer or other assistance? I don't think so.

I understand the need for assessment and accountability, but these kids are over-tested! Additionally, the test is only a snapshot of their potential, a few hours in one day of their school life, yet whether or not they go to the next grade level rides on the TAKS tests. They can make A's and B's in all their classes all year long, but if they mess up on one of the tests (writing, reading, math, social studies, science), they will be held back a grade.

Texas schools are rated on a "report card" based on these tests (and attendance, dropout rate, and other minor criteria). So, students in neighborhoods whose parents take part in the educational process or who place a high value on education tend to do better; therefore, their schools do better and are rewarded. On the other hand, students in lower socio-economic neighborhoods do the best they can with what they have, and their schools are punished, not because the students don't do what they should, but for various reasons such as lack of parental support, poor classroom situations, discipline issues, lack of materials, lack of importance placed on education, and so on.

There are financial bonuses for schools and administrators with high performing campuses. Plus, Texas lawmakers have instituted monetary bonuses for teachers with students who do well. Is that fair? If a child is in 4th grade, he has had 3 or 4 previous teachers. Why should his 4th grade teacher get the credit if he does well, and why should that same teacher be held accountable if he doesn't? What about those teachers who have only the brightest students in their "gifted" classes? At the other end of the spectrum, what about teachers who have the learning disabled students? Is it really fair to reward a teacher for the performance of her students, or to punish that teacher, for that matter?

As a teacher, I have a real problem with the testing. They have benchmark testing, aptitude testing, final exams, chapter tests, unit tests, practice TAKS testing, field testing for the state, and anywhere from 2-6 "official" TAKS tests per year. It's unbelievable! If teachers were allowed to do their jobs and focus on teaching kids what they need to know (rather than just strategies for passing a test) our kids would be far better off. Their report cards would be a true reflection of what they know or don't know. Too many teaching days are, instead, spent testing children. Unfortunately, we have a bunch of non-educators (read: idiots) making decisions that affect the public schools of Texas when they probably haven't stepped foot in a school since they graduated and have no basis on which to make their decisions. What do you think?

4 comments:

The Quintessential Feline said...

As a current teacher, I have to agree with everything you said. In NC, the testing requirements aren't much different. We have 9-week, writing, reading, math assessments, field testing, EOG's for reading and math, and next year - EOG's for Social Studies.

While I understand and agree that every child should have an understanding of the material taught to them at the end of any given academic year, I believe we spend too much time, $$, and effort on the testing and the results of that testing. Don't even get me started on rewarding teachers or schools. That's a whole other post in itself.

So, those are my thoughts...Best wishes to the kids...

Lisa :)

Mrs. Incredible said...

Sing it, sister!

I am vehemently opposed to state testing. I have six kids, 5 of whom are internationally adopted. Two of my kids have severe learning disabilities, who don't understand the testing, have huge anxiety about it, and (I'm sure) pull the numbers down. My others don't have the cultural background to "compete" with their peers. The testing doesn't measure the amound of learning they have done in a year. It only measures how much time their teachers spend "teaching to the test."


Corey
jcwaters2002@yahoo.com

Lisa said...

I'm not a teacher, but my husband is, and now that my son is school-age, I'll be dealing with TAKS directly. I think it's ridiculous that so much time and feffort is expended on "teaching to the test". Whatever happened to teaching kids the things they need to know, giving them the tools they need to make a go of it in life? I understand that children need to have some basic level of competence when they graduate, and I don't have a problem with that being tested. What I do have a problem with is the test basically being made the be-all and end-all when it comes to measuring academic success. And for what it's worth, I helped grade practice essays for the TAAS test - one of the previous incarnations of TAKS - when I worked for the county, it was our community outreach project one year. I was appalled at the horrible spelling and grammar and penmanship and poor use of punctuation. And yet we were told to "grade holistically", not to look at things like spelling and grammar, but to consider how the students communicated their ideas as a whole. I'm sorry, but if you can't spell and punctuate and use proper grammar, you can't communicate. These essays were written by high school juniors, and my six-year-old's spelling is better than some of what I saw demonstrated there. If I were an educator, I'd be a sight more concerned about whether my students could handle the basics like spelling than whether they could pass some assessment test cooked up by a bunch of high muckety-mucks.

We had standardized tests when I was growing up, but it was no big deal. There were no practice tests or prep sessions, we just showed up on test day with our #2 pencils and got to work. What's wrong with that? Seems like that's a more genuine test of what a student has learned than it is to have them take a test that they've practiced for all year long. And tying any kind of financial incentive, for teachers or schools, to academic performance just spells "bad idea" to me.

You're not alone in thinking this testing is a load of hooey, that's for sure.

Ginny said...

It is similar here in Michigan as well. These tests are very frustrating. My oldest always does very poorly on them. She also struggles in school. When her last tests results came last year, I was hoping I could get the school to finally see she needed help. They just told me not to worry, the tests didn't mean anything.

It was nice to know all that time & work spent on taking them meant nothing for the kids, ugh!

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