Saturday, April 18, 2009

'Tis the Season...

...for educators to freak the hell out and go bonkers getting kids "ready" for testing.

My school, like most around DC, is doing some pretty bizarre-o stuff to help kids do well on the tests. (Parenthetically, it seems to me that if we put that energy into, I don't know, planning and executing a curriculum that really taught kids the skills they need at high levels, we'd do a lot better on these tests...) This article in the Washington Post outlines some of the things that schools are doing.

The debate on testing is extensive, and most ideas have been hashed and rehashed by people far smarter than I (there's a great book called "Many Children Left Behind" which raises some good criticisms about testing --- this coming from someone who generally supports it). So I want to bypass the debate about whether or not testing is good, and draw your attention to a specific quote in the article:

"Way too much emphasis goes into getting those few kids to score better, while the entire rest of the student population is just put through useless paces," said Virginia Spatz, a schools activist with a son at School Without Walls High School and a daughter at Woodrow Wilson. She said the tests left her sophomore son's schedule "completely whacked out for two days each time."

Two days?!? This proves my point that at schools that actually teach -- School Without Walls, Banneker, etc. -- testing isn't this huge issue. The kids at Walls have to take the test for 2 days, show how much they know, and then get to go back to learning. My kids have to sit in special testing group classes all day long for FOUR WEEKS. That isn't accountability. It's crazy.

What are your schools doing to get ready?


lodesterre said...

It is interesting that we are told to have high expectations for our students and then told to teach to the students who are borderline basic and proficient and simply let the higher end proficient and advanced coast along because they are able to do so. I realize that this isn't what happens everywhere but that is the implication and you know that many will take that and simply teach to those kids that they simply have to move instead of to the class.

There are two very good studies by Neill and Smith, separately, that demonstrate how states that rely more heavily on high stakes testing fare more poorly on college entrance examinations than states that do not rely on these tests. I think that supports your belief that places where teaching is centered on a strong curriculum that involves best practice instruction, geared at teaching each and every kid, can end up taking the test in 2 days instead of 2 weeks (my school) or 4 weeks like your school (4 weeks?!! God that would just depress the hell out of me).

I have found that when I push my classroom agenda for my top performing students that it has raised the level of my other students. I believe this happens for several reasons. One is that when the train gets moving no one wants to miss the ride so they raise the level of their performance in order to compete. The second reason is that I demonstrate early and often that I will not focus on just the top performers and leave anyone behind - I offer extra help and push and prod my students and show them that I believe in their ability. The one time I failed in this was when outside forces (i.e. my crazy administrator at the school I was in at the time) interfered with my classroom, dictated my curriculum and deliberately sabotaged the environment in my classroom.

I believe that if the student starts to trust you and believe that you really do want them to do better they will try awfully hard to meet that expectation.

jmannii said...

I thought everyone takes the DC CAS in two weeks, maximum - why is it four weeks at your school?

Mr. Potter said...

everyone takes it in two weeks, but we're taking the four weeks prior to testing to "prepare." which means that 10th graders don't go to any classes besides reading and math all day long for the entire month of april.