By Ya?l Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA ? Even after hours of cramming mathematical formulas, composing rough drafts and tracking down ever-elusive No. 2 pencils, there was no more excruciating experience than having to complete a state-mandated standardized test.
The teachers, worn out from their recent intensive lessons on math, reading and writing expected on the next standardized test, would arrive on test day with the latest Mary Higgins Clark novel in hand.
Anxious students entered the classroom knowing all-too-well that failing the test, which had been drilled into their heads, would mean repeating the grade ? risking total social shame.
Throughout my primary and secondary education, this was the essential feeling tied to standardized tests.
For our class, they represented a barrier to future goals and dreams, not the rubric used to measure them, whether they were yearly writing exams to pass to the next grade or the SAT and ACT to be accepted into college.
It was no surprise to hear, therefore, that 66 percent of students failed the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year.That led the Florida State Board of Education to do what has been done all too often ?avoid admitting failure and pass an emergency rule lowering the standards of the standardized test.
This has been met with cries of outrage from the teachers and the parents, and they have every reason to be upset with the status quo.
?Every Child Left Behind?
As a survivor of this form of standardized testing, I can attest to the fact that it is both narrow-minded and wrong.
Students with divergent strengths and passions, such as history, art or science, are made to conform to predetermined standards that simply cannot be met by the majority, evidenced by the 1.3 million students who dropped out of high school in 2010, according to the Department of Education.
It was no coincidence that friends of mine called the mandatory tests ?Every Child Left Behind,? skewing the federal program of a similar named passed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001.For example, we look to my 10th grade writing examination question, administered by North Carolina: ?Write an article for a school newspaper about the meaning of individuality as it relates to being a member of a group.?
Now for some, this may seem quite simple. But to the majority of students, who are separated into academically gifted, remedial or sub-par ?regular? classes, the writing subject requires much more focus and detail, one that cannot solely be achieved by a standard teaching style mandated in the school curriculum.
To that end, I did not do so well on that writing exam, scoring in the lower portion of the average tier of my peers ? a sad fact for someone now paid to write.
This inspired me to reach out to a friend of mine now working as a high school English teacher in North Carolina, a studious chap who received a perfect score on the 10th grade writing test.
As a fellow survivor of the standardized testing scheme, he knew all too well the pitfalls of this method of grading students.
?What is the point of original thought if you must adhere to a standard that some administrators, far away from the classroom, have set?? he exclaimed, lamenting that teachers are required to ?teach to the test? so that students will succeed.
?What we?re doing now is filtering an entire education and way of interpreting language down to such a narrow view,? said the English teacher.
He emphasized that more than 90 percent of his students passed the latest mandatory state tests, but he could not say the same for his colleagues in the teaching faculty.
?The bubbles on the paper don?t say more than the teacher who actually spends time with the students in the classroom everyday.?
Testing the testA similar conclusion was reached by Rich Roach, a former teacher and 15-year member of the Orange County Board of Education, who decided to conduct a standardized testing experiment later featured in the Washington Post.
Roach took the FCAT himself last year and failed dismally, getting wrong 84 percent of the math questions and only scoring 62 percent on the writing portion, which would get him a ?mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction,? according to Roach.
?It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters? degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate. I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.
?It might be argued that I?ve been out of school too long, that if I?d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn?t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student?s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can?t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took,? wrote Roach.
If the highly-educated people responsible for drafting the tests cannot even pass them, what hope is left for our nation?s children?Related (from the Washington Post)
??The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62%...?
When an adult took standardized tests forced on kidsUpdate 12/12:
QUIZ: Take part of the test that the local school board member took in the story below: Reading Quiz | Math Quiz. Questions come from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th grade.
Revealed: The school board member who took standardized test
This was written by Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.
By Marion Brady
A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state?s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he?d make his scores public.
By any reasonable measure, my friend is a success. His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.
He called me the morning he took the test to say he was sure he hadn?t done well, but had to wait for the results. A couple of days ago, realizing that local school board members don?t seem to be playing much of a role in the current ?reform? brouhaha, I asked him what he now thought about the tests he?d taken.
?I won?t beat around the bush,? he wrote in an email. ?The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that?s a ?D?, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.
He continued, ?It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.
?I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.
?I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I?ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.
?It might be argued that I?ve been out of school too long, that if I?d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn?t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student?s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can?t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.?
Here?s the clincher in what he wrote:
?If I?d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I?d have been told I wasn?t ?college material,? would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.
?It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student?s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state?s children in a future they can?t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail ?cut score?? How??
?I can?t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren?t really accountable.?
There you have it. A concise summary of what?s wrong with present corporately driven education change: Decisions are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren?t really accountable.
Those decisions are shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they?re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.
All that without so much as a pilot program to see if their simplistic, worn-out ideas work, and without a single procedure in place that imposes on them what they demand of teachers: accountability.
But maybe there?s hope. As I write, a New York Times story by Michael Winerip makes my day. The stupidity of the current test-based thrust of reform has triggered the first revolt of school principals.
Winerip writes: ?As of last night, 658 principals around the state (New York) had signed a letter ? 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began ? protesting the use of students? test scores to evaluate teachers? and principals? performance.?
One of those school principals, Winerip says, is Bernard Kaplan. Kaplan runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, but is required to attend 10 training sessions.
?It?s education by humiliation,? Kaplan said. ?I?ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.?
Carol Burris, named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, has to attend those 10 training sessions.
Katie Zahedi, another principal, said the session she attended was ?two days of total nonsense. I have a Ph.D., I?m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations.?
A fourth principal, Mario Fernandez, called the evaluation process a product of ?ludicrous, shallow thinking. They?re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.?
My school board member-friend concluded his email with this: ?I can?t escape the conclusion that those of us who are expected to follow through on decisions that have been made for us are doing something ethically questionable.?
He?s wrong. What they?re being made to do isn?t ethically questionable. It?s ethically unacceptable. Ethically reprehensible. Ethically indefensible.
How many of the approximately 100,000 school principals in the U.S. would join the revolt if their ethical principles trumped their fears of retribution? Why haven?t they been asked?
QUIZ: How would you do on this same test taken by a school board member? Find out: Reading Quiz | Math Quiz. Questions come from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th grade. Or try your hand at questions from the National Assessment of Education Progress for fourth and eigth graders.