On Standardized Tests

Over the years many have castigated standardized tests. I, ever the contrarian, have defended their use. My contention is that if standardized tests are created in conjunction with the curricula, then standardized tests measure what we are supposed to be teaching.

In a perfect world, that is a wonderful response.

Unfortunately, it doesnt play out like that.

My evaluation is predicated on my staudents’ performance upon the stadardized test. Again, in theory, that makes sense. The test measures what the students are to learn. I am responsible for teaching the students, thus I am responsible for how well students perform on the tests. If merit pay were ever to take hold, this seems like a logical approach to determining whether or not I am successful.

Again, reality says otherwise.

I had a student who remained up until 3:00 (apparently) playing video games last evening. He came in and could not remain awake. I kept waking him up, knocking into his chair, etc. How am I to remedy that? Yet, I am held accountable.

I had students who clock watched throughout the test. Sure, I re-directed constantly. But they still did it. I am still held accountable for their performance.

There is one student who stares out the window constantly. Mind you, nothing goes on outside, but that is where she looks. Even during the standardized test. Her score will contribute to my evaluation.

Ultimately, this test has no meaning to the students nor their families. Whether Johnny performs well or not, matters not a hoot to either child or parent. There is no skin in the game for them, hence, this is not a concern. While my students all attended today (only the third time in 149 days), the school’s list of absences was lengthy. Teachers are still held accountable even if students do not attend. They’ll make up the tests in a small room with an unfamiliar teacher without the guidelines that the classroom teacher sets.

The educational system is broken.

Decades of no discipline has created an environment where students are no longer sent to the principal’s office. Nothing ever happens. Students, even in fourth grade, now understand that consequences do not occur.

The last two years accelerated many traits that have been developing. Attendance is chief among them. Entering the fourth marking period, there are several students who have missed more than a marking period already. That means one-third of the year of not showing up. I can assure you that when a child misses that much, even when she attends, the work is dijointed because of the absences. These students have nothing to fear; they will be promoted regardless. This is absolutely a change. My first in this very school 17 years ago had a student retained for fewer absences for the entire year. All these absences and the classroom teacher is still held accountable for the student’s progress.

For years I have pointed out we seldom discuss academics. Workshop days are now about cutesy programs (Flipgrid, EdPuzzle, etc.) or character education. I can not tell you the last time we discussed how to teach mathematics. How should a reading lesson progress? What is the goal of fourth grade writing? THis is not the emphasis in education. Yet, I am evaluated on how well my students perform those skills.

The district has made it a point several times throughout my career that there is a chain of command. Should a teacher have a concern, she is to discuss it with her principal. At no time should it be escalted by the teacher above the prncipal’s head. Yet, in recent years parents have taken to calling the principal directly to discuss classroom goings on. There are always questions. Who best to answer those than the classroom teacher? Over my career I have allayed many a parent who hear from their children horrid tales only to be informed of what actually happened. It’s the nature of the beast. But these days that doesn’t happen. Rather, after complaining to administration, teachers are hauled in to explain themselves. Really? Even when nothing wrong is being accused, we have to listen. Just last week I received a 20+ minute lecture how a student who I asked to wait to go to the bathroom until the lesson was over thought I wouldn’t let him go potty. Administration actually agreed with me on this one, but I still got the lecture. Wtf?

These days the majority of the students have health issues that prevent physical activity. The moaning when asked to be physically active outside is unbelievable. Heaven forbid one wants a child to be physically active. The result, students do not know how to play. The hallmark of childhood is learning how to reconcile disagreements on the playground. That is no longer a thing.

The pacing of academics is dictated. That is why my students will take three tests in mathematics where they have not learned all the material prior to the test. Area/perimeter, decimals, and geometry have yet to be taught, but New Jersey will grade them on how well they performed. And I will be held accountable.

We are instructed that students should not fail unless extraordinary circumstances persist. Missing half the year and completing no work does not rise to that standard. We learned that last year. I am still held accountable for student progress.

A student decided in the middle of the test that he wasn’t into taking the test. He put his head down. I was told that was acceptable. He did not complete the test. I will be held accountable for his progress. As soon as the test was over, the students were permitted to play a math game on the computer while the secure materials were returned. The boy immediately sat up and played the game.

If I speak to the students about responsibility or motivating them to want to do well, I am told I am badgering students. I have been told my tone isn’t right in setting expectations. Ultimately, it’s not my job to counsel. Yet, I am held accountable for how well students perform on the test.

The system is broken. Frankly, I think the system is so far gone there is no way that I can see to right it. Politics and agendas run the school system. Academics and standards are old school.

I’ve come to the conclusion that what is tolerated is what it received.

We tolerate absences. We get absences.

We tolerate parents directly complaining to administration. We get parents directly complaining to administration.

We tolerate no work being done. We get no work being done.

We removed phonics. Students cannot sound out words nor spell. We removed cursive. Students cannot write in cursive. We press in kindergarten for paragraph writing. We no longer teach how to form manuscript letters. We removed Agendas. Students cannot copy from a board.

If I were any younger, I would be disconcerted. I’ve witnessed the decline for 28 years. I am at the end. I will leave this sinking ship, retire to an area that I hope is removed from many of the ailings of American society, and live out my days. I will be happy and positive all the while knowing that much of our country has changed so much I no longer recognize it as my world.

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