Suzanne looked unusually haggard one day last week when she got home late from teaching fifth-grade in Bridgeport. The results of last fall's Connecticut Mastery tests had arrived and there'd been a meeting.
For school administrators, test scores are it. And, unlike Lake Woebegon, in Bridgeport most all of the kids are below average. At least, many students outside of the magnet schools do not attain goal on these narrowly focused tests.
The upper echelon of administration wants the bragging rights to higher test scores, and the additional dollars they bring from the state, so they create an atmosphere of fascism. Now it's time to beat up on the teachers. They're ordered to teach to the test using very repetitive dittos, formula writing and other strategies which ignore educational theories, the existing curriculum and Suzanne's training and experience. In abusing the teachers, administrators make them the scapegoats for parental, bureaucratic and societal failings.
Suzanne was demoralized for days. Not really because of the scores- having taught these kids for half a year, she, more than anyone else, is painfully aware of their general lack of skills. But she knows that teaching to the test based on deficiencies is as likely to turn kids off to learning as it is to improve their scores. Studying for the test doesn't address the real needs of the poorly-performing kids; just the needs of the poorly-performing administration.
Perhaps, if the tests really accurately measured anything significant, some such abuse and demoralization of dedicated teachers might be justified. Although if teachers treated their students in the same manner, they'd be fired.
For meaningful data, you might want to look at one child's progress from one year to the next and the progress one teacher's class makes from the fall to the spring, for example. Then you would have some notion of a teacher's effectiveness in raising test scores. However, the administrators instead, base everything on school averages. The students Suzanne teaches this year will be mixed with students from another class and then be tested after summer vacation, maybe in a different school.
With a very stable population, using school averages might make some sense. However, half of Suzanne's class was bused into her school for the first time this year from a much poorer neighborhood, about a month before the tests. In the five months since the tests, she's lost six students and gotten five new ones. Another child has come and gone. One of the new students in her class of ten year olds is a 14 year old girl who's been out of school for two years, but that's another story.
We looked over Suzanne's class list and the scores. So many kids had already been referred for extra help because of low skills. Others have attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit, hyperactive disorder. Many speak Spanish at home. One of the brightest kids was accepted at a magnet school since he took the test. He's gone and three or four more high scorers are slated to go. That not only brings down the average of the class they leave, it deprives the remaining students of positive role models.
The administration sends the brightest kids off to the magnet schools, adds kids who've slipped through the cracks into the class, and then blames the teachers for low test averages. There's such a great ignorance and arrogance at the top.
The tests themselves of course are confidential. The folks who make them up are careful to keep them private. However, I've seen several of the recently discarded ones. Many questions are so ambiguous, that neither Suzanne nor I could say for sure which was the right answer. And these are tests for fifth graders. The results from these ambiguous questions provide the driving force in education today.
Test mania is taking over. Do the tests really tell us anything different than we could learn by say, driving through Bridgeport's East End and then driving through Fairfield? Or different from what most any adult trying to teach these kids, learns in just a few minutes or hours. No, the tests are political and economic. They're not connected to the needs of the students or the needs of society. We should view the prospect of national tests with foreboding.
If something isn't done soon about the megalomaniac testing industry, myopic administrations and curriculums which have nothing to do with how to live sustainably, peacefully and happily on this Earth, we are doomed.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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