Thursday, February 16, 2012

Standardized Testing: Blessing, Curse, Somewhere Inbetween

Now is the season of our discontent....

In other words, it is time for the schools to start teaching towards the standardized testing regime so inherent in our children's education. Do you love these tests? Do you hate these test? Do you not really have an opinion on these tests?

When the boy's were growing up is when the standardized testing craze really began. I know most people blame No Child Left Behind (evil Republicans) for the inundation of testing. But honestly I am not certain that it was really a bad thing. I honestly think that there needs to be standards for education and the only way that we can make sure that everyone's education across the board is equal is to see just how they test out.

You can put as much money into education as you want, yet if there is a lack of direction, support, parent involvement and appropriately educated teachers, money will not accomplish a thing. It is important to gauge what is going on in the school system and to figure out just what needs fixing. The only way to do that is to test the students. The only way to see if a student is reaching the minimum educational requirements is to test them. The only way to see if the curriculum is appropriate is to test the student.

Yes I know many states are now using the testing scores to decide whether teachers should be entitled to raises, tenure and  bonuses. While that is a legal post for a different day, let me just say this: my father is a teacher. He took over some classes where the majority of students failed these tests. However, lo and behold after he got ahold of these classes, these students passed the standardized tests. You can say, "YES in fact it was because of the teacher." The children didn't change. Their home lives didn't change. Their IQs didn't change. Just the teacher changed.

By the way, does my father like standardized testing? Hell no. 

One incident he talks about was when he was helping out in a first grade class. The students were in the ESL class. Either their families were immigrants, or even if not immigrants, the dominant language in the home was Spanish. It was coming to the end of the year and the district needed to decide which of the students would remain in ESL and which would be mainstreamed. So they used standardized testing. They took 30, 6-year-olds and gave them a 3-hour-test with no breaks, except perhaps to go to the bathroom. Needless to say not one of those children ended up mainstreamed.

I don't know about you, but what 6-year-old do you know could sit for a breakless 3 hours test and do well? My father was furious and logged a complaint. Sometimes standardized testing is also used to perpetuate a system that is outdated, outmoded and actually detrimental to the child. Children need to be immersed in the dominant language of the culture in order to thrive and in order to be successful in life. It has been proven that those who are kept too long in ESL do not have the English capacity of their peers and they suffer educationally for it. Yet the system perpetuates itself with the use of standardized testing.

What about the standardized testing here? Did my children like standardized testing? Absolutely not. I do not know any child that does. Testing itself is no fun. But in truth it is how a teacher understands whether you are able to assimilate the information being taught. Sadly though so much of testing and so much of our educational system is redundant and unnecessary.(Another post at another time) Also unfortunately when children don't pass tests they themselves are blamed instead of the teacher, the teaching method or the lack of appropriate educational support. I experienced that myself as a teen. When my class failed a chemistry test the teacher berated us rather then review his own teaching methods.

Listen, I do think,  when used properly standardized testing can be helpful in pinpointing your child's educational issues by telling teachers, parents and administrators just what kind of support your child needs. That is if the testing is used properly. Sometimes testing is used to keep back children that just need extra support and don't get it, or indicates an undiagnosed learning disability which the district refuses to acknowledge.

Testing starts early in elementary school. I think right now it is yearly. Different tests (subjects) given in different years. I do know that  in our district the standardized testing was actually added to the IEP to show just where there were the deficits in the boys' ability to think, reason and extrapolate. Goals were created off the outcomes of the standardized testing and it was very helpful for them. So it never bothered me that there was standardized testing here. It was generally used for good.

But what do you do when you have a recalcitrant child who refuses to appropriately participate in the testing and who in their infinite wisdom decides they have had enough? That too has happened and it is not an actual read on a child's ability. Case in point, CM2...yeah attitude boy...and you thought it began with adolescence...hahaha

There is standardized testing in fourth grade in our state. Children need to take an English exam in the middle of the year and a math exam during the spring. All children who have been diagnosed with learning issues, or have IEPs, 504 plans or even if they are red flagged for learning issues are given accommodations. The desire of the district is to make sure they get an actual read on a child's ability. not to teach to the test, win a point contest or garner accolades.

Interestingly though,  it is the parents who care about those rankings and the point scores, spreadsheets and how the district compares to others in our area. I actually overheard a conversation, which abruptly ended when the mothers involved realized I was in earshot, that they resented that special education children were included in the district score tabulation because it brought the district overall position down statewide. Little did these incredibly ignorant bitches know that my children did better than theirs on these tests and quite frankly are smarter too.

Meanwhile CM2, on the day of the first part of the exam, was in an alternate location, where it was quiet, there were fewer children in the classroom, less distraction, extended time and oh, a nice handful of Hershey's kisses at his desk as a nice little present from the special ed teacher. The test was given over two days. Each part was 1 and 1/2 hours long with breaks if needed. At least someone in Albany knows that children (in this case they were 9-years-old) really can't sit for 3 hours straight with no breaks and do well on a test.

Well the first day of the testing went according to plan. CM2 took the test, did his best and concentrated just like everyone else. Of course, he especially enjoyed his chocolate and looked forward to getting somemore. Then came the second day of the exam. Instead of reading paragraphs and providing short answers or multiple choice questions, the task was to write an essay about what the student read in the booklet.

If you know anything about CM2 you know that he does not like to write. It is his nadir. While his ability to write has greatly improved over the years, in fact his teachers and professors extol his written voice, it is a very painful exercise for him. So needless to say he was not pleased with the second day of testing.  This is what he wrote in the testing booklet:

If you want to see how well I read and write, come to my school and watch me.

He then handed in the booklet. The teacher refused it and told him to go do the test properly. Which he then sat down with a harrumph and refused to look at the booklet. It was a test of wills between CM2 and the special ed teacher. Not sure who eventually won that contest of wills, but since CM2 has graduated from highschool and is now in college I suspect it did not matter all that much in the longrun.

Then there was the math testing in the spring. Same set-up, including the Hershey's kisses. Same two day testing period. The first day was fine. The second day CM2 had had enough. He refused to take the test. The special ed teacher told him to sit down and do what he was supposed to. So CM2 took the test back and proceeded to "Christmas tree" the exam. For those who don't know what that means, he just filled in the little circles on the scantron in random order without looking at the exam. The other children seeing what he was doing, began to laugh so hard they couldn't concentrate on the test. The teacher removed CM2 to another room to sit by himself until everyone else was done.

He did extremely well on the math test. So much for standardized testing.

Until next time,