Monday, May 27, 2013

Attention! This is a Test of the American Educational System



"Do Not Disturb" exam sign
April showers might bring May flowers, but these months also drench students, teachers, administrators and parents with a torrent of state standardized testing. School days (and Saturday mornings) are crammed with reviews, work sessions and tutoring for these exams as well as for the SAT, PSAT, ACT, IB, and AP tests. 

Countering this plethora of assessments, are protests against the attitude that testing is be all end all for education.  Like the proverbial squeaky wheel, these protestors are oiling the public’s attention with their arguments. The past few months, every time that I open The Washington Post, read a status report on Facebook or listen to parents, teachers and young people stress, rant and/or rave about this testing fact of life, I can’t help but think:
Spring has sprung, the tests have ‘riz
Who’ll be the winners of this testing biz?

And, yes, testing is a big, Big, BIG business. People get paid substantial bucks to create, to print and to grade these evaluations.  Every year, teachers get paid leave to travel to the state the companies choose to read and rate the essays, as do retired educators or various other assessors. We can’t forget the tutoring companies that promise major gains in scores if kids take their course, the lobbyists who push for federal money to subsidize the costs of the tests-including proctoring- and heaven knows what else that is involved centrally and peripherally with this industry.

For every school district, state or federal agency who bets the educational backs of this county’s children on a test score, especially state mandated tests, a group comprised of a combination of students, parents and teachers protests their existence.

From student Opt Out groups in Oregon to teens dressed like zombies in Providence, Rhode Island; from teachers boycotting standardized tests in Chicago to those doing the same in Seattle; from national and state award-winning teachers to top-notch teachers in the classrooms leaving education because of the emphasis on test-taking and not learning, and from parents opting their elementary-aged children out of the state tests in Virginia and protesting in Texas to a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Parents-Kids-Against-Standardized-Testing/117479641627357, people invested in America’s schools are crying for a return to learning for knowledge’s sake not for the sake of proficient test scores.

Pro-standardized testing groups say that we need country-wide academic guidelines. I agree. Parents and children need to feel assured that wherever they live a quality education is waiting for them. As Woody Guthrie said in the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” that he wrote and sang in 1956,
 
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This school (my paraphrase) was made for you and me.”

On the other hand, teachers, parents and students are right in demanding that education should be about
Testing answer sheet
inspiring children to love learning, to strive for knowledge in all areas, and to cultivate their minds with layer after layer of critical thinking skills. If schools followed these teaching goals, they would arm their students with the understanding and the skills to pass any test shoved at them because they would be able to read proficiently, comprehend intelligently, analyze perceptively and write wisely.

We shouldn't worry about how students in other countries score on some worldwide test because they test selectively and we test ALL of our students.  Our children’s education should always come first.

We shouldn't allow one test that might or might not be in accord with the books and texts used in every school in the state to dictate the future for our students. Our children’s TOTAL education should always come first.

We shouldn't permit lawmakers, politicians and others who have NOT spent time (or if they have, it was years ago) in the trenches caring for and about their kids day after day after day, like teachers and parents, decree educational policy. Our children’s education should always come first.

As with any significant issue, two impassioned flanks exist, each with worthy and valuable arguments.  Both sides need to communicate with each other, because as any English teacher leads students to understand while reading story after story, “The lack of communication leads to tragedy.”  

If we want our children’s academic gardens to thrive and to blossom with a bouquet of knowledge and a love for learning that will benefit them throughout their lives, we must yank out any weeds that threaten to destroy America’s educational system.

Our country’s future rests in the strength of our educational systems. If we are to keep it in peak condition, we must “Teach our children well” (Graham Nash 1970).

Until next week,