It's all about the test...

Every Wednesday after school we have some sort of staff meeting. This is a time to talk over what is happening at school, talk about the future, etc, but today's meeting talked about testing.

Ask any teacher and they will surely give their opinion regarding standardized testing. I, personally, have mixed feelings. I mean, don't get me wrong, I hate testing. I don't feel that it adequately reflects a students learning, nor do I feel that it is a good use of our time. Yet, every year we give up two or so weeks to do testing (sometimes three weeks or more.) This is time that I am not teaching my students the math they so desperately need to learn.

We are now moving to the Common Core, which is a nationwide movement. Again, I have opinions. Based on my work with the state, there will be more opportunities for student to reflect on their thinking and apply their knowledge. This makes me happy since I am concerned that critical thinking skills and their application are going by the wayside, but, on the other hand, as long as they "grade" schools, teachers, and students based on their score, we are in the same position.

Not everyone will go to college. I am not saying that college isn't a good thing, just that not everyone aspires to go to college. Some want a career. As schools (and the education system at large) has worked to narrow our focus so that we can compete with the world, we have actually left more children behind. In the United States, all children are given an opportunity to receive a free education up to grade 12. This is not true with many of the other countries we are being compared to. In these countries, many pay for their education, teachers are given the ultimate authority, lack of homework completion would be embarrassing to both the student and their family, and rigorous tests determine whether or not their education will continue.

Students in the United States believe that education is owed to them and, frankly, don't take the opportunity to heart. Now that we have standardized testing, we are broadening the gap between those who have and those who have not. Instead of treating education as a training ground for the upcoming generation, it is becoming a filter. Instead of filtering those who would be more successful in a vocational program and giving them appropriate training, we are just filtering children out inadvertently and leaving them behind to sort it out themselves. Those whose families have higher education backgrounds are more likely to assure their student follows the same track, while poor families or those without academic resources, fall behind. Students who were dropping out in high school twenty years ago are now dropping out, mentally, in middle school. Instead of the great uniter, education is becoming the great divider.

The test...even just talking about it brings about heated discussions. Should we teach to the test? Should we give them strategies that will help them pass the test? Should we just take the test and move on? Achievement or growth targets, do we want them, do we want to share them with students, do we care? All of these are questions that good educators ask daily. What is our purpose or goal?

I want my students to be critical thinkers, to exhibit common sense, to estimate, and draw conclusions. Will the test show me those things? I want students to apply math to their actual life, to see how things could apply to their future, to yearn for knowledge that they see will help make them more successful in life...will the test give them these skills? I want students who have well-rounded educations, who can talk about art and music, as well as math, science or language arts. Will the test give them these opportunities? Does meeting the benchmark mean that you know something, that you're smart, or just a good guesser?

We, as a society, need to decide what we want out of education. If we are "racing to the top" are we leaving some at the bottom? We have put a lot of eggs in the testing basket. Billions of dollars will be spent to create, monitor, and score the new upcoming test. Will it give us more information than we know now? I don't know, frankly, but I do know this...

My students will take the test, some will meet their learning targets, others will not. My brightest kids will continue to be stuck in a middle ground, rewarded for doing well, but not necessarily pushing to move upward. My lowest children will still be low, but hopefully at a higher low than they are now. Money that should be going toward education to lower class size and provide opportunities to help those who need it most won't be spent in that way, but we will be judged, scrutinized, and, I'm sure, looked upon to determine the effectiveness of our teaching skills based on student performance on the test.

Truly, life is the test. Can you provide for yourself? Make good, thoughtful decisions? Be a critical thinker and decision maker? Use logic? Be able to speak clearly and understandably? None of these skills are on the test. Which is more important to society at large? I am thinking that the above skills, but then what do I know? I am only a teacher...

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