Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Know...We Can Fix It with a Test

What many of our leaders have proposed or installed, I find pretty useless in helping us educate our kids. One of those ideas is  the current use of “state-mandated testing.” I’ve sat on enough committees to know that it really is true that of all the animals the only one God didn’t create was the duckbill platypus. It was created by committee, or so goes the old joke. Most state tests are also created by a committee of experts and were done so at the behest of politicians. The first state test in Colorado was called the CSAP or “see sap” which actually stands for Colorado Student Assessment Program or as as some in education called it when it first came out Can Students Assess Politicians. Some of what was originally intended was not a bad idea until we learned that students weren’t going to be held accountable for it in any way. Parents could opt out but if they did it was scored against the school. We also learned how the test would be scored and that it would be used as a political club to eliminate those evil, greedy teachers who were tenured and collecting paychecks without teaching a single thing. It would be used to put those awful schools in their place. In short, it was a great election tool and a reason to keep schools underfunded and taxes down. Besides Colorado had that hideous tax law known as the TABOR amendment that basically left all public services on a tax base some ten years behind.

I love it when some politician announces to the media that every measure has been taken to prevent teacher from teaching to the test and thus give them a true and accurate portrait of education. No test has ever given a true or accurate portrait of anyone’s learning or for that matter IQ. As to teaching to the test, think of it this way: “Today class we are taking a test. Since you know what I’ve taught you, I’ve decided to test you on everything that I didn’t teach you. That way I will have a true and accurate portrait of what you know.”

Of course teachers teach to the test. It is purely stupid, not to. We will also now ignore the fact that Johnny has a learning disability, hasn’t eaten more than one meal a day for the past week, has an alcoholic parent, has his family in the midst of a divorce, has parents who take him out of school to go shopping or on vacation, stayed up all night playing Xbox, was constantly texting or watching TV while doing his homework or simply didn’t do his homework, got a bad night’s sleep, has a cold, doesn’t take the test seriously because it has no impact on his life, has a parent who tells him how bad his education is or how unimportant the test is, or has a politician or media expert for a parent. True and accurate portrait from a test? Really?

On the original Colorado state-mandated test, which is like many given throughout the nation, a student on the section of math, where they are to show their work, can get the mathematical answer correct but because they don’t show some step that some math professor thought is essential, they are scored as having missed the question and yet if they are writing a paragraph if they meet use a comma correctly, it, is, still, correct, even if, they add too, many, commas (not even my punctuation checker counted that last sentence as incorrect). Tests are fascinating beasts that tell us very little and to make only the school or the teacher responsible for them is the height of stupidity. Kids are not widgets that are mass produced, but if you want them to take something serious, they need ownership. A junior or senior taking the ACT or SAT for college entrance takes the test far more seriously than a freshmen who has to take a test that counts for nothing. I’ve administered such tests and believe me there is clearly a difference.

The other reason that we have probably reached the state of testing we are in is my fault. Well not my fault but education’s fault. We made a horrible mistake in the 1960’s. The push was on and the race to the moon began. We needed scientists and mathematicians although many of those people would not graduate from school much before we actually made it to the moon. Education announced that we could teach any body and we would, in our ideal announcement, make everyone up to the task. It was a lie. We cannot teach everybody. We can try. It is difficult to make it happen though if you are ducking bullets from a drive-by or wondering if you will have dinner that night. It is difficult if you have a profound learning disability or are told over and over that you do. It is difficult if your parents don’t read to you or put emphasis on education. It is difficult if the people who want you to take the test don’t think you’re worth spending the money on. We can try; but there is political expediency and idealism; and then there is reality. The reality is that we cannot teach everyone, and for some, teachers are truly a baby sitter.  The reality is some have more economic advantage and social advantages. The reality is not everyone needs to go to college and we have dedicated far too many resources for students who aren’t going to go to college.

 The reality is a test has nothing to do with giving everyone that chance. The reality is we should never stop trying to give everyone the best possible education so they can have that chance and forget about massive testing as a means to fix education.