Monday, March 26, 2012

The Difference Between Kids

As a small child the first thing I ever wanted to be was an astronomer. I am still fascinated with the subject, and continue to monitor current events in space exploration and theory. I'm a member of The Planetary Society, I receive daily updates via Email from Spaceref, I have my very own copy of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos." I get misty sometimes when watching it, the ideas presented are so beautiful.
. I am fairly knowledgeable on the subject, probably more so than the average person.
When I was in what is now called Middle School, and High School, I always got A's in general science classes. Always. The scientific method fascinated me, as did almost every subject associated with science. A lot of my fellow schoolmates were not so enthusiastic.
I did not become an astronomer. There are several reasons why, but one of them is that math was involved. I don't like math. I'm not enthusiastic about math.
I hate math.
That's what calculators are for.
My lovely ex-case manager, Erin, on the other hand, loves math. "I used to like working out my problems," she happily told me once.
The point I'm so laboriously trying to make here is that people are different, including children.
So why does the federal government treat children as if they are all the same? What I'm talking about is George W Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which threatens withholding of federal funds for education for schools that do not administer and pass certain standards set by individual states, through the use of standardized tests, a law that has largely been left in place by the current Obama administration.
According to a new report issued by Scholastic Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, only 28% of teachers believe standardized testing has any significant value in accessing student performance. Let me see, if I've got my math right... that means almost exactly 72% don't. The study was based on a survey of more than 10,000 public school teachers
Additionally, only 26% of teachers say standardized tests are an accurate reflection of what students know.
And accordingly to an assessment of the report by writer and teacher Judy Molland, the specific problems associated with standardized testing are:

* One potential explanation for those low marks lies in another of the survey’s findings—that is, only 45 percent of teachers think their students take standardized tests seriously or perform to the best of their ability on them.
* All states have standards, which should guide classroom instruction, both in the curriculum and in the way the material is presented and tested. However, state standards and state standardized tests are not always correlated, and often not well-matched to contemporary teaching and learning goals.
* It makes no sense to evaluate students only on standardized tests, administered over one or two days in the school year. Instead, all students should be evaluated using multiple measures, so that their performance throughout the year is monitored. Many students freak out at the sight of a “high-stakes” test.
* Grading teachers based on their students’ standardized test scores, a practice that is appearing in districts across the country, is unfair. The tests are often not well designed, but in addition, no teacher can choose which students he has in his class. I’ve had students who are very strong one year, and very weak the next year. Don’t grade me on my students’ differences.

She continues:
"Overall, according to the report, teachers see ongoing formative assessments, class participation, and performance on class assignments as much more important measures of student learning. At the same time, most teachers (85 percent) agree that their students’ growth over the course of the year should contribute significantly to evaluations of their own performance."
She states that she, as well as many other teachers have abandoned the public school sector in order to enter the private school system, where standardized testing is not required, so it would seem our nation's formal educational policies may actually be driving our most talented and valued teachers out of the system. She also cites the nation of Finland as ranking consistently at the top of international surveys of education, where students only take a standardized test once during high school, in the very last year.
Our Republican friends would say, "Finland! That's a socialist country. We certainly don't want to be anything like them!"
Of course we wouldn't. We wouldn't want an educational system that actually educated (this is what's called sarcasm).

Lastly, I'll reprint this... essay I guess, or epic apology, from freelance writer and English teacher Ruth Ann Dandrea, regarding this type of testing, which I found at Common Dreams:

'A Test You Need to Fail': A Teacher's Open Letter to Her 8th Grade Students,

Dear 8th Graders,

I’m sorry.
I didn’t know.
I spent last night perusing the 150-plus pages of grading materials provided by the state in anticipation of reading and evaluating your English Language Arts Exams this morning. I knew the test was pointless—that it has never fulfilled its stated purpose as a predictor of who would succeed and who would fail the English Regents in 11th grade. Any thinking person would’ve ditched it years ago. Instead, rather than simply give a test in 8th grade that doesn’t get kids ready for the test in 11th grade, the state opted to also give a test in 7th grade to get you ready for your 8th-grade test.
But we already knew all of that.
What I learned is that the test is also criminal.
Because what I hadn’t known—this is my first time grading this exam—was that it doesn’t matter how well you write, or what you think. Here we spent the year reading books and emulating great writers, constructing leads that would make everyone want to read our work, developing a voice that would engage our readers, using our imaginations to make our work unique and important, and, most of all, being honest. And none of that matters. All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit. You can compose a “Gettysburg Address” for the 21st century on the apportioned lines in your test booklet, but if you’ve provided only one fact from the text you read in preparation, then you will earn only half credit. In your constructed response—no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is—if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.
And here’s the really scary part, kids: The questions you were asked were written to elicit a personal response, which, if provided, earn you no credit. You were tricked; we were tricked. I wish I could believe that this paradox (you know what that literary term means because we have spent the year noting these kinds of tightropings of language) was simply the stupidity of the test-makers, that it was not some more insidious and deliberate machination. I wish I could believe that. But I don’t.
I told you, didn’t I, about hearing Noam Chomsky speak recently? When the great man was asked about the chaos in public education, he responded quickly, decisively, and to the point: “Public education in this country is under attack.” The words, though chilling, comforted me in a weird way. I’d been feeling, the past few years of my 30-plus-year tenure in public education, that there was something or somebody out there, a power of a sort, that doesn’t really want you kids to be educated. I felt a force that wants you ignorant and pliable, and that needs you able to fill in the boxes and follow instructions. Now I’m sure.
It’s not that I oppose rigorous testing. I don’t. I understand the purpose of evaluation. A good test can measure achievement and even inspire. But this English Language Arts Exam I so unknowingly inflicted on you does neither. It represents exactly what I am opposed to, the perpetual and petty testing that has become a fungus on the foot of public education. You understand that metaphor, I know, because we have spent the year learning to appreciate the differences between figurative and literal language. The test-makers have not.
So what should you do, my beautiful, my bright, my intelligent, my talented? Continue. Continue to question. I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither. And I applaud you, wildest 8th grader of my own, who—when asked how a quote applied to the two characters from the two passages provided—wrote, “I don’t think it applies to either one of them.” Wear your zeroes proudly, kids. This is a test you need to fail.
I wondered whether giving more than 10 minutes of every class period to reading books of our own choosing was a good idea or not. But you loved it so. You asked for more time. Ask again; I will give you whatever you need. I will also give you the best advice I can, advice from the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Juan Ramón Jiménez. Ray Bradbury thought this was so important, he used it as the epigraph at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451: “When they give you lined paper, write the other way.”
It is the best I have to offer, beyond my apologies for having taken part in an exercise that hurt you, and of which I am mightily ashamed.

1 comment:

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