Skip to main content

View Diary: A Response to TeacherKen and Dailykos Community (357 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  The SAT is a test (none)
    that determines whether students can get into many colleges.

    Students need to learn how to take tests.

    It should also be kept in mind that employers may give tests to prospective employees.

    My father ran a clothing store chain and he normally gave prospective employees a standardized test before hiring them.

    •  Apples and oranges. (none)
      I can't speak to what your father tested his employees on, but the SAT is a far different kind of test, in kind and in purpose, than the current crop of end-of-grade, end-of-course, writing assessments, and other tests our kids face dozens of times every year.

      The SAT purports to be a comprehensive test that measures a student's readiness for college-level education.  It is one of the most carefully crafted, wide-ranging, and comprehensive tests out there.  It is also deeply, deeply flawed, as any educator familiar with the test can tell you.  Regardless, it has one purpose -- college placement.  No child is required to pass the SAT to graduate high school.  No child is required to even take the SAT.  It's strictly optional.

      The raft of standardized tests plaguing the schools today are a different matter entirely.  The kids have to pass them in order to graduate from their classes, and ultimately, pass them in order to get their diplomas.  They are mandatory, not optional.  That places them in a completely different category.

      Every test I've seen, and I've administered dozens of them, in different school systems and different states, focuses on a few aspects of their learning, mostly their ability to read and comprehend.  Yes, all kids need to read in order to function outside of school.  But these tests don't measure their ability to read.  They measure their ability to read and comprehend as applied to a variety of other subjects -- social studies, chemistry, even algebra and geometry.  It's like if I wanted to be certified as a marksman, and instead of being taken onto the rifle range, given a gun, and allowed to bang away at a target, I was given a test on paper.  I haven't proven my ability to shoot.  I've proven my ability to read and regurgitate answers regarding the skill of rifle shooting.  Who knows if I can handle a gun?

      Worse, the tests rarely reflect the education received during the school year.  Few teachers worth their salt march lockstep through a curriculum guide, covering standardized subject matter in the order given and the manner recommended.  Teaching is an art, not a science, and kids are not computers to be programmed in a specific manner.  I've taught the same course to the same grade for years at a time, and never taught it the same way twice.  My teaching is shaped by the kids I have, their individual abilities and needs.  And there's no guarantee that the end-of-course tests will reflect even the standardized curriculum.  Every year I've administered these tests, I've had post-test discussions with teachers who howl about something they had focused on as part of their class not being on the test, while subject matter considered extraneous or of secondary importance is highlighted on the test.

      Since the specific info tested on is considered top secret, an entire cottage industry of speculation and informed guesswork has sprung up surrounding the tests.  Teachers go to seminars where veteran teachers, in lowered voices, pass along tidbits of "what to focus on this year" in a particular subject.  Hints are dropped by Ed Dept officials, seized upon and shared by teachers from system to system.  "We all know you're not allowed to teach to the test," we are told, "but you might be wise to spend some extra time focusing on thus-and-such in your class this year."  Teachers rearrange their entire teaching schedule to focus on these hints and indirect directives.  And usually these tidbits of information are dead wrong.

      The closest example I can give is to go back to the computer metaphor.  These tests "measure" kids' learning as if they are little computers, all expected to have the same "image" of software and directories.  You can give a roomful of computers the same "test" to see if they have been "imaged" properly, and that's fine.  It doesn't work that way with young individual human beings being taught by older and more experienced individual human beings.

      Test anxiety is another issue that most people fail to address.  I've never seen levels of test anxiety like I have over the past decade, and for good reason -- these tests make or break students.  They know it.  And they react to it in the various ways that human beings react to tremendous stress.  These tests do one thing well -- they measure how well the students stand up to inordinate stress, in the same way industrial testing can tell you if a steel bar can handle X amount of pressure applied for N minutes.  But again, kids are not objects.  Some of the best students in a classroom fare the worst on these tests, and are judged accordingly.  Kids who live under heavy stress already react even more extremely than "average" kids.  It's a horrible time for students, and little better for teachers and especially administrators, who can lose their jobs because a few kids did poorly on a test and brought their school's average down below a certain criteria.  I once taught at a school that was on "emergency" status because five mentally challenged kids didn't do well on their end-of-year tests, and as a result the entire school didn't measure up to NCLB standards.  The school didn't show proper "improvement" the year after that (2004-05), and nearly half the staff was replaced, including the principal, a veteran of over 30 years and a very good administrator.  Think the school will do better this year with a bunch of new staff members, a new principal, and state officials breathing down their necks?  I doubt it.

      I'm sorry, but I know from hard, cold experience that the kind of "testing to destruction" that these tests do show nothing worthwhile about the students' learning, and do nothing besides destroy the very fabric of the educational paradigm.  It is an aspect of "factory learning" at its most shortsighted and most destructive.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

  • Recommended (149)
  • Community (71)
  • Baltimore (68)
  • Bernie Sanders (49)
  • Freddie Gray (38)
  • Civil Rights (38)
  • Elections (27)
  • Hillary Clinton (27)
  • Culture (24)
  • Racism (23)
  • Education (20)
  • Labor (20)
  • Media (19)
  • Law (19)
  • Economy (19)
  • Rescued (18)
  • Science (16)
  • 2016 (15)
  • Politics (15)
  • Riots (14)
  • Click here for the mobile view of the site