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the evils of state-mandated testing

the evils of state-mandated testing

DJ has started fourth grade and thus we begin the year of "teaching to the tests." There are three state mandated tests in this grade. The entire curriculum is built around exams that have no bearing whatsover on your child's grades or future.

The English Language Assessment Test (ELA) takes place from February 4-6. This means from September through February, the classroom focus will be on reading, reading and listening comprehension and writing skills. I am not saying this is a bad thing; I just think it narrows the curriculum down to the point where other skills are going unused.

Fourth grade teachers, at least in this district, have admitted that the state tests take time away from other aspects of the classroom; they especially diminish the room to be creative in class lessons. Emphasis is placed on the skills needed for whichever test is coming up, and there is very little leeway in expanding lessons.

Once the ELA tests are over, it's on to the math test, which takes place from May 6-8, quickly followed by the science test, the written portion of which takes place on May 13, with the performance portion coming up the following week.

These kids are nine and ten years old. The dates of the tests are drilled home to them, the impending tests are announced over and over again (we must finish this book before May, class!), the reasons for certain assignments announced (you will need this skill for your test!), and when you put it all together you end up with some seriously stressed out children.

You say, there's six hours in the school day, surely they can set aside an hour a day just to concentrate on the test skill so the other lessons can go on unimpeded. Not really.

Figure in an hour for lunch and recess and an hour for "specials" time, meaning art or gym or music. Take off another half hour for the fifteen minutes spent getting unpacked and settled in the morning, and the fifteen minutes gathering up belongings in the afternoon. That's 2 1/2 hours off of the day.

Then we have what they call "push-in" teachers, who come into the classroom for specialized reading or math lessons. That's another 45 minutes or so that the teacher does not have control of the classroom.

There are kids, like my son, who are pulled out for speech or other special services. Kids are pulled out for drama or band.

Add that all up and you are left with about three hours of teaching time in the classroom. In that three hours they must not only teach the lessons planned for that day, but fill those lessons with test-specific subjects.

It's no wonder DJ comes home with enough homework to kill the entire night. And it's no wonder that he's feeling stressed, only three weeks into the school year.

The spectre of even more mandated testing hangs over schools like a cloud of doom. Bush calls for tests, tests, tests. Why? What do these tests do but determine whether a district is using their state money (the distribution of which is another rant completely) to its best advantage? What does my son, who spends his entire year studying and prepping for these exams, get out of it? Will a good grade on the ELA be refecleted on his report card? No. Sure, he's learning valuable skills, but at the expense of quality in the classroom.

I've been through this already with Natalie. I know what to expect when the testing dates approach. Natalie developed a twitch two days before the test. She threw up the night before. These dates and acronyms are repeated over and over to the students all year long; when the dates are coming close, the teachers emphasize the skills needed to pass. Nine and ten year old kids should not be put under this kind of pressure. One teacher told his students that if they didn't pass the test, the district would lose state aid.

Teachers admit that the emphasis on these tests take so much time away from the important lessons children should take from the classroom; the lessons that are taught when engaging in interactive, creative assignments with their fellow students. There's no room for that kind of "frivilous" activity in the fourth grade classroom now.

The adminstrators are not seeing the forest for the trees. Instead of viewing each school as part of a whole district, they need to see each student as part of a whole school. Stop filling our classrooms with nervousness and fear and let the kids just learn without that kind of pressure, at least at this age.

Comments

WOW! Thats doesnt sound so good.Im glad we have a completely different way of teaching kids down here.Have you guys heard of the spalding method?
They have introduced this to my daughters school just this year and i must say its working miracles!
She is only 5 and can already read,write and do simple maths.
This spalding method is so good she can read me Harry Potter word for word!

Hallelujah! I thought I was the only one who thought these things were irrelevant, stupid, and counterproductive (well, other than my kids). Florida has several of these, including the dreaded FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test).

Here in VA they publish each schools test results and the schools are ranked based on the average results of their students. Which, as you point out, proves nothing other than how much time the teachers spent teaching to the test. Your whole post reads like a pro homeschooling rant - unintentional I'm sure!

Chris, if I had to do it all over again, I would home school. It would have saved me years of agony dealing with the special ed system, and I think in the long run, my kids would have learned based on something other than rote memorization.

I think that the educationists dote on tests because they seem so European. They hear about "A" levels and "O" levels (without really understanding the purpose of those tests) and their eyes get all sparkly with visions of well-scrubbed children in matching blazers standing up and chanting "Good morning, Headmaster."

PS: I am not sure if they still use "A" and "O" levels in the British school system anymore, but I know they did when today's generation of educationists were still in school.

wow... kids go thru all that BS so they can learn... how to take a specific test. yeah, that's how life works, really! sheesh

i've always thought standardized tests were a friggin joke.

I have to agree with you. I grew up in Texas and was forced to take similars tests from 6th grade to graduation. The teachers didn't just threaten us with losing state aid - we were also told we wouldn't go on to the next grade. For many kids at my school, this was way too much pressure. Every year I saw more and more students cheating because they didn't want to be left behind. Every year I would get more and more angry as we were forced to spend 6 weeks focusing just on the materials needed to pass these tests. The teacher would literally drill us over the SAME exercises for 6 weeks! How are these methods of teaching supposed to help children? I'm not sure where my future children will be educated but i hope we have to option to choose how they will be educated.

My senior year of HS my psych teacher decided to make high school psychology "relevant" by studying test taking. We took several standardized IQ tests to start the section, and then 4-6 weeks later when we were done with the subject - we retook the tests and we all scored significantly higher just because we understood how the tests were designed so we could "beat" them.

Actually, it was one of most useful things I learned in high school, and I used it in every multiple choice test I ever took after that!

I despise standardized testing. We took one or two of them back in the 70's, if I recall, when I lived in Connecticut. The California Tests, or something like that (the mind dims as I creep to within days of turning 40). I hated the idea then as a kid, and I hate them now as an adult.