This is in response to the great diary by teacherken (http://www.dailykos.com/... ). I started writing a comment and after about six paragraphs realized that I should just diary it instead. It's all about how standardized testing has made me (and surely people like me) shy away from wanting to teach.
The first line: "standardized testing is the worst." Because it is.
Standardized testing is the worst. I took an AP junior year (my school, of NYT fame, offers most of the APs senior year) and was not enthralled. It was the US History AP (APUS) and I had an amazing teacher. The class was interesting, engaging, and fun, with the main downside being that we were all (well, 20 out of 21 — there was one non-thinker for Bush in 2000) quite depressed in December. It was a bit too test-prep oriented, but we all got 4s and 5s (the top 30 percentile)
But then test prep hit. I went over to a friend's house whose father taught and graded the APUS. He dragged us through preparation, not by giving us practice tests (we'd all seen the bubble sheets too many times from SATs, PSATs and Massachusetts high-stakes two-weeks-of-wasted-time test) but having us be able to recite every US president in a row, and talk about what happened in their administration. It was great preparation in a not-so-test-related manner and I did well on the test.
The next year, I took as few APs as I could, found interesting offerings at my school (For instance, my English classes were creative writing and one based on the Harlem Renaissance instead of "AP English") and enjoyed my senior year. I found out that my college didn't really care about AP credits, which is good, because AP classes are nothing compared to college courses.
Standardized tests really are useless, however. I hope their lifecycle in the education system is short. They teach nothing — and take away valuable time from learning. Instead of encouraging more people to turn to the teaching profession with a dynamic environment (and higher salaries — ha) we are making teachers teach one thing over and over and over (teaching to the test) so that there is no creativity in teaching. It seems like teaching to the test would be a horrid profession and knowing a number of student teachers and first-year teachers, it has turned me off from wanting to pursue the profession. What a shame.
I don't know what it will take to reduce or discard this "high stakes testing" game. It was invented by bureaucrats who want numbers to take to their constituents (or just to crow about in reelection campaigns) who know nothing about teaching. Ask the average teacher, and they hate it. Most of my teachers did. They so no point in losing two weeks of class time for kids to sit in a musty room filling in bubbles and writing "short responses" no one will actually read. Sure, there was a teacher every so often who was more than happy to teach the five paragraph essay over and over and over again (Here's a great article from the Times a while back about how useful those essays, which are all the test really want, are. The answer: not at all useful.) because it meant that they didn't have to really do any work. But nearly everyone who learned me stuff was thoughtful, engaging and really liked their job, and didn't like the state mandating the test.
And what comes of the tests? Well, they are sent off to a factory to be run through a machine to compute the scores. Then the essays are taken and read by someone getting paid by the essay, so there is no incentive for them to thoughtfully read them. These two meaningless scores (both of which measure how well the student learned how to take the test and nothing more) and supposedly answer the question, for the school, student, teacher and nation, well, "is our children learning?" My 10th grade class was the last who didn't have to pass the Massachusetts high stakes exam to graduate. Myself and a few other students realized that there was absolutely no incentive to take the test, and that we could be much more productive turning it in blank and reading a book or staring in to space. The school administration told us that, on a town-by-town basis, scores were going to be reported, and that it would affect our parents' property values. Seriously, they told us to do well on the tests so that our parents' houses wouldn't lose value.
If you went to school before this latest fad, consider yourself lucky. I am sure that everyone had their share of lousy teachers (I sure did *cough* BC education school *cough*). But think back to your best teachers. The ones who challenged you, engaged you, and really changed the way you thought, and possibly changed your life. I had some of those too. And I fear that in this time of high-stakes testing we are encouraging low-stakes teaching. I know it has kept me from being a teacher, and I wonder if the great teacher is something of a dying breed.
Update [2007-5-9 9:47:32 by irativesfo]:: I forgot one major point about the NYT article I referenced regarding testing. The man behind the tests was none other than Ron Paige, a Bush guy who is behind the nonsense of NCLB and such. It always comes back to them, doesn't it.