The week began normally enough but was followed by two of the worst days of the school year. You guessed it: standardized testing. In the middle of the week. Freshmen and seniors were allowed to stay home for a day and a half, while sophomores were packed into the gym for a practice ACT test and something called a Prairie State Achievement Test, which includes questions that, without exaggeration, many second-graders could answer. Everyone walks around cowed, pretending that any of this matters. And no one ever protests. The tables in the gym never fail to conjure in my mind scenes from Orwell’s 1984. It’s dehumanizing, deflating, and entirely without worth. Juniors take an actual ACT test on the first day, but why we need to wipe out an entire school day for this is beyond me. Remember the days when we had to make our own arrangements to take the test on a Saturday? 

Then we wonder why other countries report higher test scores? Our response to lower scores? We simply throw more tests at students rather than address the issue of lost class time. It’s like a cop taking the pulse of a dead victim for the 13th time rather than pursue possible culprits. 

Back to our regular scheduled update. On Monday students in small groups role-played various cognitive distortions that all of us fall victim to now and then: “I’m not good enough…I’ll never amount to anything.” Then we discussed various treatment methods used to challenge these beliefs. 

We’ve been doing role-plays throughout the year, and when I informed them that these would be the last ones, I heard a ripple of sadness from a few students. The same happened when I mentioned that there’d be no more study guides! These are twenty-page study guides I’m talking about! There were plenty of other students who I’m sure were thrilled by this prospect, but I was touched by those who said they’d miss my comments. When I speak at teacher conferences, one of the lessons I try to impart is that every paper teachers hand out to students is an opportunity to communicate. You’re not just handing out an assignment; you’re speaking in a particular voice to a particular audience. Here’s what I wrote on page 1 of their last study guide. 

“How fitting that all this ends with therapy because if you’re on the A.P. train, those daily hassles and other stressors have done a number on your coping strategies, which I’ve seen in your droopy eyes and slumped bodies, and you can probably use some consolation about now, the nonjudgmental assurance that everything is going to be all right, a reminder that in the larger scheme, you will forget not only the difference between a variable ratio and fixed interval schedule, but also your score—OK, maybe not the number itself because not many numbers make up the scoring system (a piddly 5!)—but the significance of the score, which will pale because one day, if you decide to start a family, a child will reach up to grab your fingers with her little hand and will want to walk with you, and that child ain’t gone care about what you knew in the spring of 2012 on a paper and pencil test because in her mind you know everything, and if you don’t start a family, you’ll have your moments as well because life is full of them if you pay attention and turn off that cell phone once in a while—or that computer or whatever the heck is distracting you from looking at the person across from you—so finish strong, but have fun and put this test and every other test in perspective.” 

Speaking of tests, for our last unit test on treatment, I allowed students to work in pairs for the last 25 minutes, which worked very well. Students were discussing the material in meaningful ways, clarifying fine points, defending this or that answer, just the kind of engagement we teachers love to see. Then why didn’t I allow students to take tests in pairs throughout the year? I’m not sure. I’m afraid, I suppose. Afraid I’ll get a reputation for being too easy, afraid students will take advantage and not study hard enough. Having succumbed to those fears all these years is a regret I’ll have to live with.  

Next week, all week: review for the big A.P. test in eight days. I usually hate review, but I’m competitive, and I want my students to beat that damn test.

 


Comments

04/30/2012 5:08pm

The national movement for parents to opt out of state-mandated standardized testing is catching on. http://unitedoptout.com/ A lot of money is invested in this testing, and the profits are going where?

Administrators whose job it is to coordinate these fiascos see some of the money as part of their pay, but most of it goes to the testing companies. They are a huge political lobbying force foisting their shoddy products on a tax-paying public that doesn't pay enough attention to how its money is being wasted.

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04/30/2012 10:34pm

Tony,

Thanks as always for a very thoughtful post. I'm going to bypass commenting on the standardized testing because, well, I don't want to get frustrated right now.

I, too, from time to time, allow my students to take a quiz in partners. I feel that more ideas are exchanged, deciding what is the best answer and why, and the students are focused and engaged for the entire period. I don't always do this because there's not as much individual accountability for material, and some sly students can skate by, but the students love it and take away more from it, I'd argue.

And thank you for the advice on perspective. Although I'm done with all my AP tests, the advice comes in handy in a variety of areas in life.

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