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Sunday, February 20, 2011

We are testing not educating and there is a difference.

After ranting yesterday about Palin and her remarks to Wisconsin protesters and several discussions with friends, family and foe about the budget cuts made to Pell Grants; I think I may have a small solution to cut frivolous spending within our schools. 

Let's do away with state mandated testing or at least reduce the number of times a child is required to take the test. Why is so much money  spent on testing rather than being spent on educating?  These tests may have their place but testing children each year from 3rd to 10th grade is a bit much. Teachers waste weeks prepping for these test and the real curriculum is set aside. The test have created an invisible ceiling within our schools. A rich critical thinking student centered lesson is shoved to the back so little Johnny and Becky can learn to bubble in, eliminate possible answers and write an essay describing how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a skill I have  not used often as an adult.

I have seen many students stress to the point of throwing up, skipping school the day of the test and crying to please not have to take it. Now this stress has no boundaries in who it plagues,  from students who are in honors courses but struggle with exams to students with learning disabilities. State mandated exams are rarely a true measure of ability. I remember one year being completely appauld that our principal had every grade take a practice state test each 6 weeks from 1st to 8th grade. We had large bullitin board charts up in the hall with a student's name and if they passed their cell of the chart was colored in blue and if they failed colored red. Can you imagine the horror that these kids felt having that pressure and possible humiliation splattered down the halls all year.

As a teacher, I have tried many things to motivate my students to try and not give up while testing. I challenged classes with pool parties for a reward to the class with the highest percentage of passing. We had a Pep Rally the day before and made breakfast tacos, brought in lunch and snacks on test day.
My stomach would be in knots hopping that some of my very capable students would not stress to the point of just randomly bubbling in answers and finishing the test in ten minutes flat.

We are trained days before on protocal on where the test should be stored during the day, we are given scripted instructions and warned that any form of helping would result in your certificate being revoked and in some cases criminal prosecution.  I have heard of a teacher so stressed, that she went through each and every booklet and erased answers replacing them with the correct ones- she was instantly fired and lost her license. She was clearly wrong but I think the stress of administration telling her that her scores better come up or look for another job was more than she could handle.  Sadly, she was actually a good teacher who buckled under pressure.

A couple of years ago while working in Cambridge- we were starting our week of testing hell and the usual decree of "no one better call in sick" was drilled into our brains.  See you have to have credentialed teachers proctor the test and since a lot of students get accommodations for smaller testing groups or even individual testing we are always short teachers. So it is not a time to take a day off or I certainly would. I was heading for work the next morning and worried I would miss the train  and started down my stairs too quick. I tumbled from the top clear to the bottom wailing out in pain.

To make a long story short once I was in the ambulance and a bit sedated from pain medication- I repeatedly told the paramedics to remind my husband to call the school. The paramedics replied, "Mam they will understand  why you are not at school you broke your wrist." To which I responded with, "no you don't understand today is MCAS and we can't miss for any reason. I could lose my job" I became the joke of the ER because every five or so minutes I would remind my husband, the nurses anyone who would listen along with the doctors (trying to set my arm)  to call the dean and let them know I would not be in for The TEST! I heard later my supervisor joked that she was going to put me in a wheelchair and drag me to school- broke arm, IV and all. The next two testing sessions, she started her speech by reminding me to not take the stairs.  I told her the titanium plate and bolts reminded me not to run down the steps so she needn't not worry. She understood my not being there but was still ticked I wasn't.

So let's get back to teaching, save money spent on these tests and take the stress out that hinders a lot of students from truly applying what is taught and not just mastering multiple choices questions.

Testing waste is a 5 out of 5 fist shakes!


  1. Chris and I were talking about this the other day. We were also discussing the lack of importance put on mathematics in elementary schools. I was in a class room for observations and I watched the teacher teach her students to solve the problem wrong. Luckily my supervisor was near by and I told him what was going on. He very nicely pointed out the issue and we spent the rest of the class re-teaching.
    People want the US to start competing against other countries in education and technology but it is going to take a lot of work to get there.

  2. Yeah unfortunately teachers buy off on mathematics programs in put all their effort into a new style while throwing out any of the old. When I taught elementary, I had my 1st graders doing basic multiplication and division plus creative application of math facts. Mathtown was a fun way to celebrate math once a year. I have taught somethings wrong before, but thank god a student caught it and it was a great teaching moment. Sounds like the teacher you observed might not like math too much. I knew a teacher who would not teach over the 3rd grade cause she was not comfortable with math...she in general was not a good teacher though.