I sat down recently to look at the CDE website.
CDE is the governing body of public education in Colorado, and I really wanted to see what kind of whitewashing is being done by the state in its quest to convince the general public that the insane amount of bureaucracy that engulfs public educators these days is anything but ludicrous.
I found plenty on Common Core and Educator Effectiveness and Testing, and the positive spin put on these concepts reminded me of what a college economics professor once said to me: You can pee on my shoe all day if you want to, but nothing you say will convince me it's rain.
The spin put on Standardized Testing is particularly misleading.
Case in point: I gave my sixth grade students a practice standardized test, the kind they do completely on the computer. My job was to walk around and "make sure" they take the test seriously and don't try to look on anyone else's computer monitor. How do you "make" someone take a test seriously? I do my best to teach the concepts and make the subject matter engaging, but let's be honest: how engaging can you make memorizing multiplication facts? And yet, that's what these kids need to do if they're to be successful at solving any kind of algebraic algorithm. In our current educational world, no one seems to get the concept of motivation.
As I walked around the testing lab, I saw students choosing answers randomly, students counting off Eenie, Meenie, Mynie, Moe to select an answer, and students staring at the monitor as if comatose. Motivation appears to be the key here.
I'm reluctant to say 'Don't test the children', but true testing only works for gathering data
if the learners are invested. The reality is that nothing is riding on the outcome of testing for the children.
I have just finished watching news video that gives statistics about how U.S. children rank among learners in 33 other countries. It’s not good. We supposedly rank 14th in reading and 17th in science. And math is horrible: our ranking is 25 out of 34 countries surveyed. But that’s if you assume that everyone taking whatever tests were used to establish these rankings gave their best efforts. After proctoring my group of test-takers, I’m not sure at all that that’s true. The only thing I’m sure of is that you can’t assume that just because a child doesn’t do well on a test means he can’t do well.
And who can blame the kids, really? I saw some of those problems on the test, and the multi-step processes necessary for solving them kind of gave me a headache. I can’t imagine being a kid taking the test, knowing that the results won’t affect you one bit. I wonder how many adults would tackle a test like that seriously without the assurance that a strong result would give them more money in their job or advancement in their career.
Perhaps it's time we as a society stop kidding ourselves: the only way to get an accurate measure of what a student can do is provide incentive to actually try. Our kids currently skate by elementary and middle school, and even high school to a point. The first time they are held accountable for the results they achieve on a standardized test is when (or if) they take the SAT or ACT. Until that moment, nothing matters to them. Only to us, the teachers whose salaries and even job security depend on those tests. On what planet does this concept even remotely make sense?
I think again about people who make way more money than I do feeding me and everyone else the line that the only thing that matters in successful instruction (and therefore, successful testing) is how engaging I make the material and leaves out the part where students actually engage in their own education. And it's feels an awful lot like pee on my shoe that's supposed to smell only of fresh rainfall.