Teaching to the test and one teachers stand against it

Standardized testing, the bane of children’s existence. Those weeks spent preparing for the test with practice tests and practice essays, those mind-numbing hours spent taking the test, filling in those little bubbles, freaking out if A hadn’t been used in a while, cranking out a five paragraph essay about some random topic. Kids hate them and teachers don’t want to take time out of their class to teach to the test just to meet some arbitrary standard.

One teacher got finally snapped and wrote this letter to her 8th graders, https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/03/23-8. In that letter one of the most striking parts I found was “All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full 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.” I guess that explains why people practice the ACT and spend hours taking practice tests, so they can learn what the test wants them to be able to reproduce. I can see why they are forced to do this. My AP12 English teacher told us she graded for the AP test one year and said they got at most 90 seconds for each essay. 40 minutes to write each essay, carefully selecting the words to incorporate all those literary techniques you had learned over the year, time spent trying to nail that awesome alliteration and find the perfect metaphor to describe Frankenstein’s monster. All that effort comes down to one teacher sitting in a massive auditorium glancing at the paper for 90 seconds to decide if you passed that test or not, the difference between passing out of a college requirement and maybe graduation early or having to take intro English rests on those 90 seconds. So by God you better have a sweet intro paragraph or else you have no hope. Really seems like more effort should go into each essay but I guess when you have to grade thousands of essays time is of the essence. Doesn’t matter that those 90 seconds can affect peoples lives. My cousin, Hannah, applied to some college over in England last spring because she wanted to be a write. To get into that college she had to get a 5 on her AP literature exam and fortunately for her, she got it. But if those 90 seconds hadn’t been enough time to really see what she had written, her dreams would be crushed and she would have lost this once in a lifetime opportunity for her to study in England. Fortunately, this child wasn’t left behind but why should these types of exams be used to determine fates of children, schools or whole districts.

We need to find a new way to measure students and their progress through school. Standardized test shoehorn students into one path and hope they make it all the way through the merry adventure we call public education. Should they stray from  this school-house red brick path into computer science or god forbid be interested in art or music, nobody will know that they have this interest, this drive for something else. All they will see is the reading, english, math and “science”, or graph-reading, scores from the ACT. The senators dividing up the budgets won’t see the kids portfolios, github accounts, or listen to their concerts. They will only see the math scores are up here so what they are doing over here must be working. But these other skills can’t be accurately measured by a standard tests because you can’t measure a jazz musicians skill on a scantron exam. Until we find some way to include these other interests and skills in our  education system as part of the core curriculum or allow students more choice in what they learn, we will be stuck with these outdated tests and every year kids will suffer through the meap and then be sorted and shipped like meat based on those numbers.

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