Regular readers know I consider mandatory, high stakes testing a pox on humanity. Not only is it grotesquely expensive—which provides enormous opportunities for graft on the state level—it does not and cannot accomplish what its proponents claim. Worst of all, once instituted, it perverts education—the tail wags the dog–forcing every school to do little but drill for the tests. Kids have little enough class time these days. Testing causes the loss of at least 1/3 of that time, and in some places, nearly all of it. Consider what Karol Markowicz, writing in The New York Post, has to say about New York State’s mandatory English testing:
Another year, another ridiculous effort to see how schools are faring by using state tests, then negating the usefulness of those tests by waiting months to release scores and ultimately disregarding the scores and passing kids on to the next grade anyway.
It’s a system only a government bureaucrat could love.
And love it they do–in the most perverse sense. Such testing requires the establishment of a massive and ever-growing testing bureaucracy, and the hiring of an enormous number of bureaucrats, many, probably most, far more highly paid than mere teachers, to design, administer, grade, and data crunch. The most obsequious of these hope to get even more highly paid jobs with the billion dollar testing companies with which they conspire. It’s all for the kids, you know.
The two statewide tests in English Language Arts and math begin in third grade. The math test is fairly straightforward and so gets much less criticism, although the usefulness of the actual test is debatable. But the ELA has come to represent everything that is wrong with New York’s entire education system.
The ELA state test for third- graders consists of six short essays and one long essay. That’s essentially a full day of writing for an 8-year-old, something that adults would find difficult. It’s a test of endurance more than reading proficiency.
At Chalkbeat, a teacher named Vivett Dukes noted, ‘My students simply didn’t have the stamina to read 7-8 new passages and write about them for hours on end. It felt crammed and by the third or fourth passage and writing combo, many students were becoming frazzled and fizzled out.
Imagine that. Third grade kids—8 years old—incapable of doing all that reading and writing in a single day. Who coulda thunk it? Actually, any competent teacher, but no one asks them anything about education. They’re just teachers. What could they possibly know?
Setting aside the test itself, the very system of the state tests makes no sense. The tests are administered in April yet the results aren’t provided until summer.
This year, the test results were delayed until late September. If a child is found to be deficient in English or math, wouldn’t it be reasonable to get them the results before the summer so that they can get extra help over the summer, perhaps attending summer school, and hope to improve?
Once they’re already on to the next grade, what difference do their scores make?
What difference indeed. One might be tempted to think helping kids learn isn’t the point. Why does this take so long? The states must hire highly qualified people to grade student essays, often hundreds or more per day. And what are the qualifications? The ability to read and answer an ad on Craigslist, which is how Texas does it. In other words, the people reading kid’s essays will generally be people that don’t have full time jobs. One supposes there will be the occasional retired university professor of English, or perhaps a professional novelist between novels, but for the most part, test graders are pretty much anyone with a pulse willing to do it.
Prior to reading tests, they are “calibrated.” They’re given a rubric—a set of criteria—to apply to specific questions and responses. Then they’re given a stack of essays and are asked to grade them according to the rubrics. If they’re too far wrong from the simplistic scores the test makers and educrats believe should be right, they’re “recalibrated” until all are engaging in perfect group think. Supposedly, people who can’t calibrate properly—they apply independent thinking–are dismissed. Realistically, they need all the bodies they can get, so they’re loathe to dismiss anyone, with the likely exception of anyone questioning the process. Most however want the paycheck, and are willing to suppress ethics to that end.
Do you sense, gentle readers, there is no room for creativity or excellence in writing? All of that difficult to grade nonsense will be reduced to the lowest common denominator. Creativity will be ruthlessly drilled out of those third graders!
Educators are widely known not to be fans of the test either. An ELA 6-12 teacher, who has proctored the exams many times, told me, ‘The only people who benefit from the current test structure are the testing companies.’
She adds: ‘I read some of the test questions, and I’m, as an adult, not sure of what answer they’re looking for. Some of the readings are dreadful.
An excellent principal of long acquaintance accepted my idea of putting the sophomore boys that needed to pass our ELA (English Language Arts) test in a large room, with lots of supporting teachers, to show them how to pass the test. I worked up many sample readings and questions. He sat in on several sessions and was horrified to realize how badly written the tests were. He was particularly disgusted to find most questions had at least two “correct” answers, answers any rational, educated adult would find correct, but of course, the kids had to figure out which answer test makers and educrats that hadn’t seen the inside of a classroom in many years would think preferable.
This, you see, was what I had to teach them. Not how to think independently, not how to accurately analyze literature, but how to second guess educrats. I was teaching insights and tricks about how to pass a very specific, poorly written test, not teaching them anything beyond that, and spending at least a third of the school year to produce that single data point.
There’s such a wide gulf between schools in the city that the test exposes, but it doesn’t get fixed.
‘Students in failing schools are expected to do the same [on this test] as those in good schools. We should use the resources spent on the test to help these schools,’ the ELA teacher told me.
This is, of course, quite impossible. Test makers and educrats must maintain the fiction that every child in the state can pass their test. It’s Lake Woebegon where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average. In most, if not all states, even special education kids must take the tests. Even kids incapable of reading, kids who can’t feed themselves, kids who can’t write, are expected to take these tests, though some are somewhat altered to “accommodate” them. Educrats think to do otherwise is “depriving” such children of a vital opportunity.
Go here to read how Florida educrats tried to force–for years–a dying blind child with brain damage, cerebral palsy and in a medically induced coma, to take a state test. The state’s education commissioner had this to say:
It would be a moral outrage to deny that opportunity to any child based on any reason including special needs. For all students, it is important that we measure progress so that we educate all children regardless of their circumstances.
Regardless of dying, blindness, being born without a brain, being unable to read, communicate or move in any coordinated fashion? Such is the educratic mindset. Nothing–certainly not the welfare, even the lives of children–is more important than the production of data, and the tests used to produce it.
Schools where kids do poorly in general suffer most. Elementary schools in particular tend to spend half a year or more on test preparation, including various benchmark tests and smaller tests to see if the kids are ready for the big test. In other words, the kids are never given the instruction they need to actually learn, to address their deficiencies. There just isn’t time. Instead, they’re drilled for the test, which is supposed to accurately reflect their abilities, the abilities they never develop because they’re too busy drilling for the test. Here is where Markowicz goes wrong:
Having standards in schools is important, but giving students an impossibly difficult, time-consuming exam once a year, and then not using the results to help them, isn’t the way to implement those standards.
The ELA test needs to be reworked so that it actually helps the schools and students. They deserve better.
The ELA test, and all mandatory, high-stakes tests, need to be abolished, consigned to the ash-heap of history, utterly destroyed, razed to the ground, the ashes stirred, burned again, the ground salted and the wells poisoned.
But how will we know how our kids are doing? Pay attention. Parents must get their lazy buns into the schools to talk with teachers, to see what their kids are actually accomplishing. Read their graded assignments; keep track of their progress. Vote in school board elections—for people that want kids to attend school,not money generating machines for educrats and test makers.
But if we don’t know how other schools are doing, how can we know how ours are doing? The same way.
Mandatory, high-stakes testing is a relatively recent invention. How did we manage to build the most technologically advanced nation in history before the wonders of such testing? Have contemporary teachers suddenly become stupid? Are they incapable of determining the progress of their students, the students whose work they read and grade and discuss with them every day? Are parents now incapable of reading a student’s writing and determining if they are literate?
It’s reminiscent of a classic Monty Python sketch where a woman is about to give birth, and asks her doctors “what do I do?” John Cleese replies: “Nothing. You’re not qualified.”
Testing companies and educrats want teachers and parents to believe they’re not qualified.
If for no other reason, testing must be obliterated on financial grounds. All such tests do is produce, at ruinous cost—Texas spends as much as $100 million a year—a single data point. Can any serious person believe that single score reveals anything of significance about that student? Compare that to the 100 to 150 grades a competent English teacher will produce each year at no more cost than their usual salary. Which is a better use of taxpayer money? Which is certain to produce more accurate and timely knowledge of every student’s progress and abilities?
Which isn’t a pox on humanity?