odd time signatures

This is insane. Test anxiety in 8-year olds? No bathroom breaks? Really?

scantron imagevia Rachel Levy, one teacher’s frustration with the standardized testing students are tortured with every year. The tests are high-stakes, expensive, and costly in ways we don’t even know yet.

I used to tell Ms. Dancer that they were testing the school, not her. This is because she has always suffered from horrible test anxiety and I knew the only way to alleviate her stress was to tell her who really had skin in the game. It wasn’t her. It was the teachers, the school, the school board, and the state. But really, this is beyond the pale:

As testing was underway I became more and more irritated with not only the rules, but the fact that teachers’ discretion was being undermined by outsiders claiming to be experts on data, but not on children. Who are these people moving chairs from place to place around my room to see my test administration from multiple angles? Why are these strangers writing pages of notes on the condition of my classroom and my position in the room? The thought crossed my mind of just throwing the pile of test booklets in the air and screaming of its insanity, but what good would that do? I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the year with my students who had to put their science projects on the back burner for the two-week testing period. I would never get to see how they turned out if I was punished for breaching test security. I had already been scolded for allowing children to read books after they finished the test, as well as for allowing them to go to the bathroom. I decided to not push any further.

After being stalked throughout the building for two weeks in order to ensure that I would not change any test answers and spied on from just beyond my classroom door, my anxiety and disgust became overwhelming. After being witness to little children crying with anxiety and acting out in resistance and being forced to sit for hours completing endless assessments that they would most likely never see the results of, my faith in public education was diminishing. Why are teachers subject to this level of disrespect and distrust? Why are students subject to this much of a loss of real learning time?

There is a certain irony to me that I’m writing this as my last child is within two weeks of waving goodbye to the public school system. I am a total believer in public schools, don’t get me wrong, but I’m angrier and angrier at how teachers are treated, how data-driven education has become, and how much money we are WASTING on these high-stakes tests that teach children how to parrot answers but not how to think!

Here’s what I’m talking about, via the Washington Monthly special series on testing. A young, creative motivated teacher, crushed into a pigeonhole:

“The value of the way I am teaching this week,” said Voskuil, “is that kids are falling in love with books. They’re making important connections between ideas and having this emotional connection with the narrators. They also get the satisfaction of starting and finishing an entire book, which is something many of them have never done.”

And yet whenever Voskuil spends time teaching a novel—or grammar and syntax, for that matter—she says she feels a vague twinge. “I have the sense that this is not a meaningful use of my time,” she says. “I have that sense because it’s not going to be on the test.”

The test in question—a standardized exam called the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS), made up almost entirely of multiple-choice questions—was coming up in early April. And so the week after she taught Seedfolks, Voskuil’s teaching style underwent a dramatic change. She began by physically rearranging the classroom: the students who had scored just below the “proficient” level on earlier tests were brought front and center; the students who had scored “below basic” were clustered in a small group near the window; and the few students who were already on record as proficient lined the perimeter, their desks facing the wall so they could work quietly on their own. Like a politician who spends all of her time in swing states, Voskuil wanted to concentrate on the students who were on the cusp.

Working within a tight agenda, with five-minute intervals marked by a stopwatch, Voskuil began drilling the group. Together, the students read aloud an eleven-paragraph text called “Penguins Are Funny Birds.” Then they answered multiple-choice questions such as “According to the article, how do penguins ‘fly through the water’? A .) They use their flippers to swim. B.) They dive from cliffs into the sea. C.) They are moved by ocean currents. D.) They glide across the ice on their bellies.”And why, Voskuil asked, is it important to read the italicized introduction that always accompanies such text passages? Because it’s a summary, the group responded.

This is sheer insanity. It’s costing far too much in money, creativity, and it’s certainly hurting public schools. Some Texas parents have started an “Opt Out” program for standardized tests. I hope it spreads across the nation.

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