Thursday, March 27, 2014

Where State Testing Fails...

I was supposed to volunteer in Cole's library class this week, but got  an email stating that due to PSSA testing they won't be having any volunteers in the building.  Cole is only in 1st grade so he is not doing any state testing.  Last year though in New Jersey he was exposed to a standardized test which he took via the computer.  He did really well on it and I appreciated seeing his results, because it did give me some comparison of where he stood.

As a child I always liked the testing.  We took the TELLS test and the California Achievement Test.  I can still recall the sample questions that went something like this... a baloo is a bear and a yonker is a young man.  If you know me then you won't be surprised that this useless info is forever ingrained in my mind.  In the 1980's the tests just sort of showed up one day, we took them and a few months later the results came through.  It was not an event.  There was no lead up, no incentives for kids to do well, no threats, no practice tests, special snacks, or anything of the like.

To me the issue with the current line of testing is not exactly the testing.  First it is the hype, that built up for kids and parents about the importance of the testing.  Children lose sleep over taking the tests and have anxiety attacks from the pressure.  Remember these same children did not even exist in this world as little as eight years ago.  Secondly it is the political pressure that surrounds the testing system.  I am not one for politics, but I am one who knows education intimately and better than most politicians.  They should hardly be the ones governing this system and using it as leverage for their own political gain. Next it is the finances.  What can we do to improve our nation's educational system for say 1.7 billion dollars?  I am sure that we could do a great deal including hiring more teachers to make class sizes smaller,  providing appropriate teaching materials for students, improving education in our nation's poorest communities.  Finally, the problem lies in what is done with the results of these tests.  Schools that do well get funding and schools who do not do well get into trouble and can lose funding.

I want to look more closely at that final thought.  I have taught in three states in three very different settings.  I have worked with students whose first language was not English, students with learning disabilities, students who were educationally gifted, students from low, middle and high socio economic backgrounds.  I have worked in places where class size was 17 and another where the average class size was 26.  In no way were the settings where I worked equal, but the tests given were the same.  One district I worked in the students basically walked through the doors reading while the other school we were lucky if the students knew the letters in their names.  How can funding be based equally when the educational system that provides the test prep is so clearly unfair? 

All this said I feel there is some value in standardized testing.  It is for the above reasons that I am against what it has become.  Will I opt Cole out of testing?  I probably will not as he is the type of student who will probably be just fine for that week.  I would like to see his results as it is a way for me to really see how he measures up educationally against the norm of his peers. That Kindergarten test he took last year, blew me away as he did really well and I was not expecting that. I do not believe the current system is worth the money or stress it causing to all involved.  A less invasive system of standardized tests would better serve our schools. If it surprises you that I would at any level support this form of test remember, you can't expect someone who can still recite their results from the Tells test taken at Schuyler Ave Elementary in third grade to completely turn their back to standardized testing, can you?

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