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Friday, April 26, 2013

Cruel And Unnecessary But Not At All Unusual

If child protective services is called about my mistreatment of children, I will understand. Why? Because across six days of the last two weeks, I forced children aged 11 - 14 to sit silently for more than 20 hours of testing.

I teach students with disabilities, sitting is not what they do best, testing is not what they do best, silence is definitely not what they do best. Yet there I stood, trying to keep a lid on their anxiety and youthful energy for hours at a time.

To help them do their best, my students were given test accommodations including: extra test time, breaks, and on-task focusing prompts. Also to help them do their best, I gave out mint gum, tissues and platitudes like, "Try your best, sweetheart."

"Don't give up," was the insultingly useless thing that I said to one boy who reads at a fourth grade level but was handed eighth grade testing materials that he absolutely could not read. How exactly did that test serve to measure any progress that he made during the year? Short answer: it didn't. Instead what it did was make him feel inadequate, stupid and frustrated.

Worse still is that if all this testing is actually to help students, parents and teachers assess what "Johnny" has learned, it is unnecessary. By this time of year, a student's levels and depths of understanding - their strengths and weaknesses - are very clear. I have months and months of student work (or sometimes a lack thereof) which demonstrates their growth over time.  You can see that in September Johnny did not understand how to plot a point on a coordinate grid but later in October he consistently can. Or you can see, as is the case with some students, that they have made little or no progress.

But then the purpose of high-stakes testing has very little to do with how Johnny is doing. If standardized testing ever was a useful tool for academic growth, it is now mostly used to "control" teachers.

Not At All Unusual
I wish that my role as a test-inflictor was an aberration but it is not. Across our nation, hundreds of thousands of teachers participate in this annual mental flogging of our nation's youth. This month Florida teachers supervised as children sat and sat and sat for the FCAT's. At the same time, Texas educators inflicted children with TAKS and STAARs. Next week, New Jersey teachers will begin abusing their students as they proctor statewide tests. With so many abusers out there, hardly a child goes unscathed.

As you might imagine, I have a long history of abuse having "whipped" students into shape for almost a decade now. I'm not proud of it. I know it is wrong and I'm looking to make a change.