Thursday, January 17, 2013

High Stakes Testing is Ruining Public Education

I truly believe that standardized tests (now called "high stakes tests") are ruining our public schools.  Here in Mass we have the MCAS test.  This is the second year Little Miss has taken the MCAS.  Her results were fine last year and my husband and I have never put any sort of pressure on her for her test results (and that goes for day-to-day classroom tests as well).  LM puts enough pressure on herself that we certainly don't need to add to it.  My job as LM's mother is to help her recognize that not everything has to be perfect, that as long as she works hard and does her best, that's all we ask of her.  I want to lessen her stress, not add to it.

When I was in school, we had standardized tests.  Every year we'd take a test to let us know where we fell in the educational spectrum.  You could be in the third grade, score a 4th grade in math and score a 2nd grade in writing and a 6th grade in reading comprehension.  That let everyone know where the child was strong and where he or she was weak.  If the majority of the kids scored low in math, for example, then clearly, some additional work in math was necessary for the entire classroom/grade.  But that's where it ended.  The only prep teachers did for this test was to show us how to fill in the bubbles about a week before the test was taken.  They showed us that if we didn't fill them in fully, we got the question wrong, even if the answer was correct.  It took a total of about 15 minutes.  Maybe 20.  And that was it.

But 25 or thirty years ago, we didn't have these high stakes tests.  The stakes weren't high.  The stakes were figuring out what the kids needed.  Today, Federal funding is based on high stakes testing.  Teachers are scared that they will lose their jobs if their students don't perform well.  School districts are in danger of losing their accreditation, perhaps having the state take over their school, losing their funding.  So, instead of teachers just teaching their classes, making learning fun and exciting, getting their students interested in learning, coming up with creative ways to teach mundane topics, we end up with a school district deciding how each subject is going to be taught.  Well those district people aren't in the classroom!  They don't know the students!  They don't know the challenges facing that particular teacher and her/his students.  But it's carbon copy teaching.  Teachers have NO freedom, at all.  Forget creativity.  It's just the same every single day.

Then on top of it all, they're expecting children to learn things far earlier than ever before.  Conversions from meters to millimeters to kilometers.....these are things I did in the sixth grade.  And I was an Advanced Math student.  LM had them in her first few months of fourth grade.  What is that?  Why so early?  Now she's doing geometry.  Granted, it's basic stuff, lines, angles, obtuse, acute, right angles, perpendicular and parallel lines.  But still.  It's a weird.

We learned how to do book reports early.  We had one due every two-three weeks.  My child has never done an actual book report with a summary, characters, main idea, etc.  She has, however, learned how to put together a power point presentation.  And forget about science and social studies.  There's none of that until 5th grade.  So, what?  Kids in 1 - 4 don't like science?  They don't like getting their hands dirty making a volcano that erupts vinegar and baking soda?  Of course they do!  That's what makes learning fun.  That's what makes them say, 'hey, I want to learn MORE about this."  But projects are a thing of the past in the High Stakes Testing Era.  Projects apparently don't show kids how to fill in bubbles on the MCAS.

In Seattle, a group of high school Teachers Refused to Administer High Stakes Test.  I applaud these teachers for standing up for their students.  The pressure we're putting on these kids to perform and what it's doing to the day-to-day teaching standards is wrong.  LM has come home in tears because she didn't think she did well on the MCAS (even though her scores were perfectly fine.  Good, even!).  One of her friends worried himself into an asthma attack because he got three problems wrong on an MCAS practice test.  And I can't imagine that these are the only two examples of kids freaking out over these tests.  Our kids deserve better than what they're getting.  

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