Sunday, January 27, 2013

Testing, Testing, 1 2 3

Can you sit for 2 1/2 hours and read?  I would guess that most people could not do it.  Yet that is what we expect elementary schoolchildren to do in this lovely state of North Carolina every year.  (I suspect more states employ this torture method, also.)  Why do we do it, you ask?  The simple answer is that the accountability movement that began many years ago demands that teachers demonstrate that their students are mastering grade level curriculum.  This is true, but I (the conspiracy theorist that I am) believe that other, darker forces are trying to ruin public education through attacking teachers and blitzing the media with stories of poor test scores.

I have no problem being held accountable for helping my third graders learn everything that they are supposed to know.  I work hard, I have high expectations of my students, and I become more knowledgeable about my craft every year.  I don't necessarily have a problem with a test being ONE factor that determines whether they know third grade material or not.  However, I DO have a problem when just one test from one day out of 180 school days determines whether my student is on grade level or not.  I DO have a problem when that test requires kids to answer 6 - 8 comprehension questions on 8 selections.  This is not truly testing whether a child can read or not.  It is really testing 1:  Do they have the perseverance to sit for 2.5 hours without a bathroom break?  2:  Are they interested in the material that they are supposed to read?  3:  Has their teacher taught them test-taking skills?  4:  Will their knowledge base overcome their nerves?

Here's where I'm at with this whole testing nonsense:  I quit playing the game.  Fuck it.  It is much more important to me whether my kids LOVE to read than whether they can answer a bunch of stupid questions about dumb passages that were selected by middle-aged white men (more than likely) who work at a publishing company that is becoming rich from the testing movement.  If a kid loves to read, then they will read, and reading comprehension, fluency, accuracy, and vocabulary will grow along with that love.  Testing in the manner that we do has done nothing to promote that love of reading.

What we are doing to children is abusive.  Kids have learned to hate to read because of the emphasis on these stupid tests.  That is a crying shame.  Now, I know some wise-ass out there in my reading audience will claim that my students do not have good test scores, so of course I would be anti-testing.  To that wise-ass, I say "Go ahead.  Examine my test scores since 1994."  I have nothing to be ashamed of in that regard.  I don't even mind the math tests--it is the reading one that is developmentally inappropriate.

Do I have an alternative to this torture method?  Of course!  1 - Let me record the conversation of a group of kids discussing a self-selected book.  You will see a high level of engagement, intellect, and comprehension.  2 - I will even give them a selection to read.  Just let them analyze it with their peers, and then answer questions about it.  3 - Give them one selection a day for a week as their "test."  You will see a marked increase in reading scores.  4 - Let the kids write a reading response about a third grade level book and read what they have to say about the book.  I guarantee you would be amazed.

I wonder why no one has ever asked someone with lots of teaching experience (like me) how to check reading comprehension.  My theory is that education reformers want to make it look like public schools are failing.  They WANT the kids to do poorly so that it looks their teachers suck.  Then they can push their reform ideas, including opening charter schools.  There is a lot of money to make from this reform movement, and the greedy have taken note of that and are circling like vultures.  Don't believe me?  Just google "Art Pope" and see how many politicians he financed in North Carolina to get into the legislature . . . and guess who our new governor just made as the Budget Director?  Yep, you guessed it--Mr. Pope himself.

So what needs to happen?  Parents need to get involved.  There are numerous anti-testing websites and Facebook pages out there--start reading.  Write to your legislator and the Department of Public Instruction and demand that we do better for our children.  Ask your child's teacher for their opinion of testing and what other ideas they have for determining whether a kid is really ready for the next grade level or not.  Spread the word!  It is time for a movement, it is time for people to get involved, and it is time to say stop the testing movement.  Enough is enough.