Monday, December 04, 2006

I think I have a fever. Is there a test for that?

Can I ask you a question? If you have a fever, what do you do? Do you continue to take your temperature hourly to make it go down? Or do you actually take some action, like administering an anti-inflammatory medication, to produce the desired result?

Common sense tells us that continuing to suck on the thermometer isn’t going to do anything but produce stress and concern as the fever continues, right? So maybe you can tell me why state departments of education feel that implementing more standardized testing is going to produce more favorable results from our children.

Did someone at the NYS Department of Education actually take a long hard look at our students mediocre English Language Arts (ELA) test results and say, “Hey, they can’t read. We had better do something. I know! Instead of testing them in 4th and 8th grade, we’ll test them every year from 2nd grade on!” Was this individual met with pats on the back and praise? Apparently so, based on the current ELA annual testing schedule.

My son was riddled with test anxiety in 3rd grade. It seemed that every teacher in the school must “teach to the test”, a strategy that consists of drilling our children with old ELA test questions and a multitude of exercises designed to drive test scores upward. Continuous instruction centers on the “big test” and causes intense pressure on the students and teachers. I was sorely tempted to tell my son to put his name on his paper, turn it over, and take out a book to read in silent protest.

This rigorous testing schedule is, in reality, doing very little for the students. They are cramming test taking knowledge for weeks before the exams and when the ELA is over they start studying for the next state exam.

So I have to ask: If the kids can’t read, is continuous testing the answer? I have another idea. This is where I may get a little politically incorrect, so bear with me.

1. Get rid of tenure. Tenure is an antiquated form of job security for teachers who have successfully completed a probationary period. Unfortunately, this security can lead to teachers who feel so safe that they no longer feel the need to provide a quality education to our children. No other profession has this security. Professionals are evaluated annually and if they are not performing to expectations, they are given goals and support and if they continue to fail, they are let go. Our teachers are responsible for educating the future doctors, executives, technology gurus and teachers. They should be held responsible, like everyone else.

2. Instead of tenure, administrators should regularly evaluate all teachers throughout the school year and give support, recommendations, and discipline where necessary. Parents and students should be given the opportunity to “grade the teacher” at intervals throughout the year. It is inevitable that there will be personality conflicts and the occasional inconsistently negative review, but if a teacher received 20/25 negative reviews, administration should get the message that something is not right.

3. Back off of the rigorous testing schedule. The teachers are well versed in the State Learning Standards. Allow them the freedom to teach our students without the constraints of teaching to the test. Yes, some testing is necessary, but excessive testing is not.

4. Provide more academic intervention services, but base eligibility not only on test results, but on overall student performance.

5. Encourage teachers to be creative and to make learning a fun, confidence building activity.

This is in no way a slight to our teachers. At my children’s schools, we have been blessed with many wonderful, dedicated teachers who have been handcuffed by the demands of the NYS testing schedule.

I just can’t help but wonder how much smarter and happier we would all be if weren’t suffering from incessant test anxiety. Is this issue only a problem in NY? Do you see it where you are, whatever the state or country? Do you have a solution?

While I’m waiting for you comments, maybe I’ll take my temperature.



crpitt said...

Hello, thanks for checking out my blog.
Your right about this intense testing of children, its the same here in the UK. You now have five year olds with exam stress.
The best advice i can give is keep checking out other peoples blog and it tends to draw them to yours.
Also move that ad somewhere else or make it smaller (thats what i got told!) and as well as longer posts add some short ones. Also pictures and photos really attract peoples attention.
If you check out the people who have commented on my blog, they have been really helpful.
I hope that helps some?

Gene Bach said...

Ah, teaching to the test, what a great way to instruct. NOT! What a pain to feel you have to resort to that instead of actually teaching kids something they might be able to use every day of their lives. Trust me, NY isn't the only place where that's occuring.


Gene Bach said...

By the way, I read through your posts and like your blog, so I added a link to it from mine. If you get a chance stop by.


Anonymous said...

Hey WOV,
I'm sitting at my desk and should be here working but instead read through your entire Blog! You did a really great job setting it up and the content is great! I especially like the mix of serious commentary and the lighter side pop culture material.

Keep up the great work! I'll be back...

Anonymous said...

Wow! I am truly impressed with this information. :)

I am a teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, completing my second year in the profession. (And yes, New Mexico is a state...Was made a state in 1912.) :)

I ran into this information when I was trying to look up quotes that denounce the entire myth that teaching to the test is somehow educationally effective...And that actually taking a test and passing it is actually a sign of true intelligence and understanding.

Testing does nothing but create unnecessary stress and anxiety, and is in no way a reflection of how and what children learn.

At the same time, because I am extremely new to this profession, I am consistently being checked to make sure that my students are being taught to certain standards and that they'll be able to use whatever information I'm teaching them in a standardized test.

Now, this is just ridiculous, in my opinion. Last year, when I was teaching 10th and 12th grade English, I could see why some information on grammar is extremely important. But I taught it to my students differently than to the test, which landed me in some criticism. I told my students it really doesn't matter what they get on any test. The true measurable component of any education is to see that you are able to think for yourself and express yourself in such a way that others will respect you. For that reason, grammar is important. It goes back to the president saying, "Is our children learning?" and asking my students what was wrong with that statement. At the end of class, the students were able to answer, "Yes, Mr. President, we is learning," and laugh because they recognized the grammatical errors.

Now I am teaching German. I teach several different levels (I, II, III, IV, and AP). This is my first year teaching German, and I'm in a different school than where I was teaching last year.

I took over a program that had been successful for 24 years...Or so people told me. The teacher I took over for was tenured, and for that reason basically had free reign in his classroom. The German III students I have now have absolutely no real sense of working vocabulary and have just gotten to the point where they can follow basic commands that my German I students have been following since the beginning of the year.

I am consistently being observed, scrutinized, my lesson plans are consistently checked to make sure that they are standards-based, and this is all because I'm new. There is a Spanish teacher next door who has been teaching for 15 years now, and she is never looked in on; apparently because she's been there longer, she is an expert in the field.

So not only are my students under consistent stress about exams, but I'm consistently being examinated as well, which causes even more residual stress for the students...So for that reason, I entirely agree with the tenure statement you made. Just because I am new doesn't mean that I have any less problems than someone who has entirely burned out.

I personally don't mind the attention too much, if I know that I can use it to my advantage and really build a strong program without compromising too much on my ideals. But at the same time, I should be able to show constant improvement...And I doubt that some of my colleagues could stand up to such scrutiny, even though they have been teaching forever and a day it seems.

What got me in trouble, really, was the fact that I make it very clear that I am not a huge fan of any kind of grading system outside of a portfolio system, and I am certainly against the entire gammut of standardized tests.

If standardized tests are supposed to fix all the problems within the edcational system, we would not have had any problems once the tests were initially established. Tests are not proving anything about student success, and only seem to highlight student "failure." It doesn't take a whole lot of creativity or critical thinking to fill in a bubble. And to simply regurgitate facts is no sign of true educational intelligence, and yet when our students are being entirely evaluated on such a basic level of understanding, what ultimately does that do to self-esteem? Could this possibly be why we have leaders with such high insecurities that they ultimately end up bullying their colleagues and cohorts?

I have several parents ask me if their children are doing well in my class. And all I have to show them one way or another is through a grading system of A through F. In all honesty, however, can anyone tell me what an A really means? A student can get an A in any class and still not be able to apply true knowledge to any given life situation. Using a portfolio system not only shows whether the student is truly progressing from an evaluation standpoint, but it is actual tangible evidence that the student has to show that they have grown somewhat from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. That is true education in its finest terms.

Although I have only been within a public school system for not even two years yet, I am already seeing the flaws and problems in the certain mindset that is given to education from politicians and administrators alike.

In all honesty, I have a great deal more motivation to go back to school for my PhD in Education so that I will have the opportunity to scrutinize these issues further and establish my own private school system. Although I can't shelter students from taking the ACT and SAT within a private school system, I would have the opportunity to really do my own evaluation of student performance without a consistent barrage of standardized tests or such a rigid grading system. Furthermore, I would be able to have more of an opportunity to evaluate teachers regardless of years on the job...It would be a tremendous oppotunity to compare students from a school system that does not hold such credence in standardized tests to the public school system as it is currently being administered.

Because union contracts and such make it almost impossible to let go of a teacher who has been in the school system forever and a day, I would be disinclined to let someone go, but I could recommend workshops and retreats to try and again instill motivation in teachers who have been burned out...

The basic rule of thumb for anyone going into teaching, however, is that the second you feel burned out, it's time to gracefully bow out of the scene. Teaching, statistically speaking, is the second-most stressful job a person can take, right below air traffic control. And if you're not up to the challenge, it's time to leave or find ways to get support within the educational system. With the amount of degrees and training it takes to be a teacher, there are a great deal of work opportunities out there for those who have become burned out. Sometimes, however, retirement is another option. Either way, it would also give rise to the new and budding teachers to take their place in the scene and try to do something brilliant with the ideals that they have. It is my hope that I can still maintain a sense of hope and ideal in the public school system environment that is just riddled with negativity and illogical thinking.

That is the major failing component for any school system: support! Teachers lack administrative and moral support from direct adminstrative officials, state, and federal officials. And standardized tests, coupled with "No Child Left Behind" (Orwellian for No Child Left),are no significant way to support education; in fact, it is removing any kind of financial and moral support required to manifest true intelligence. It is no wonder our schools are failing when everyone is trying to turn up the heat on the people who are trying to educate children.

Teaching to the test is a cop-out, and is in no way helping students to prepare for their futures...At the same time, I feel as though people are somehow afraid of what truly individual and intelligent thought will generate. It would be the end of the educational system as we know it because it would actually adhere to concepts of greatness... and frankly, I'm ready to see the end come! :)

Problems are everywhere in every school system nationwide. But I hope that you can at least see that there are people out there who are just as fed up with you who work within the educational system. I'm just one person, but even one small person may be able to make the greatest difference...And I'm hoping that I can some day soon. :)