Here is what I wrote on a political forum about standardized testing.

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Sarge, Jul 8, 2011.

  1. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    Jul 8, 2011

    Teaching to the Test

    Ok, so without too much introduction, let me present two examples of the current problems that standardized testing create.

    The first is out of Illinois. It appears that they want to drop writing from the list of things upon which students are tested. They cite budgets as the reason - assessing writing is expensive because you have to pay a small army of people to grade essays.

    People are concerned that his will result in Illinois teachers spending less time on writing as part of their language arts curriculum. I think the people are right.

    My big issue with standardized testing is this: If you evaluate teachers and schools based on students' standardized test scores, then they will only teach what is on the test. Anything else will be viewed as a waste of instructional time. If you want standardized testing to work, then you must be willing to test students on every subject you wish them to learn in school. If you want second graders to have science, then you need to test them in science when they are in the second grade. If you want 7th graders to know what healthy eating habits are, then you need to put that on the test as well. If they really want to do it right, then it all has to go on the test. Personally, I'd love to know that my first graders had to pass a test on how to draw a house and cut a shape out of a piece of paper.

    But if you only test a grade level in two or three subjects, the don't be shocked when it ends up that those subjects are the only ones they study at school ever day.

    In California, second graders are tested in math and reading. Because of that, in many schools, they don't even bother to teach science and social studies in primary grades. The result is that by the time they get to the upper grades where they are tested in those subjects - science in 4th grade and social studies in 8th grade - they turn into massive cram sessions with teachers literally teaching to the test because they have no other choice.

    Which brings me to the next problem. Social Studies. It's a subject near and dear to my heart. I majored in history, and once dreamed of being a high school history teacher or even a college professor. That dream was crushed when I found out the current California standards in social studies virtually suck every bit of life out of what should be an exciting topic for kids to study. Basically, they divide history into geographical regions and time periods and leave it at that.

    4th grade: California,
    5th Grade: Colonial and revolutionary U.S.,
    6th grade: ancient world
    7th grade: Medieval world,
    8th grade: 19th century U.S.,
    9th or 10th grade: Modern world,
    11th Grade: 20th century U.S.

    The big problem is that nowhere does a student get a survey course in the entire history of the United States or world civilization. In theory, if you ask a 8th grader a question about the Civil Rights Movement or the Holocaust, they might not know the answer because that topic is not part of the general curriculum in any social studies class until the 10th or 11th grade. Nor would they know anything about the Great Depression or either of the world wars. Conversely, if you asked an 11th grader a question about the Roman Empire or the American Revolution, they would likely have to remember back to 5th or 6th grade to come up with the answer. Granted the standards and the curriculum both have sidebars that require students to connect the various time periods, but nothing outside of the those time periods are studied in depth.

    So in spite of the fact that they might read Diary of Anne Frank in 8th grade English, it's unlikely that their history teacher is going to spend a lot of time on an in depth study of the Holocaust because that's just not in the standards and not on the test.

    But far worse than the problem with the standards is the way they are now tested. In California,
    students are not tested in social studies until the 8th grade. However, the 8th grade test covers topics from 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. That means that 8th graders will either have to remember back to 6th grade to answer more than half of the questions or their 8th grade history teacher will need to spend a lot of time reviewing things that are not part of the curriculum he or she is expected to be teaching when the principal walks in the room.

    One of my students from my initial year of teaching first grade eventually grew into a very perceptive, 8th grader and ended up a teachers assistant in my classroom. (watching the kids grow up like that is one of the main reason I stay in this job). After they had all taken the STAR test, I asked him what the social studies portion was like. His answer was funny. He said "You know, it was sort of unfair. I don't read the Bible, but here were all these questions about Moses and the Egyptians on it!"

    Obviously, his teachers were not "teaching to the test."
     
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  3. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    Jul 8, 2011

    Nice summary. I wish more politicians would listen to it!
     
  4. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    Jul 9, 2011

    <<If you evaluate teachers and schools based on students' standardized test scores, then they will only teach what is on the test. >>

    If you insert 'bad' after evaluate I'll agree with you.

    I will agree that the CA history test for 8th is silly but as long as it is silly for all of us I don't have a huge problem with it. As far as the lack of a survey course you can't blame that on standards and testing. By your very logic standards and testing would in fact be the solution to that problem. A simple alteration of the test and bam, everyone is teaching a survey course right?

    The fact is there are too many bad teachers out there for me to trust them to deliver curriculum without guidance and teeth. I don't mind the argument that tests as they stand are a problem. I just can't accept the generic argument you're making that standardized testing by nature causes problems.
     
  5. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    I did not make the argument that by their very nature, standardized testing causes problems. My point was that if it's important enough to have as part of the curriculum, then it should be on the test.

    Simple fact: At many California schools - and mine is one of them - second and third graders are only tested in reading and math. The result is that the only subjects taught in those grades are reading and math.

    Yet, we have standards and curriculum for social studies and science in those grades. Moreover, the social studies and science standards in the grades where students are tested make the assumption that they have been taught those subjects in earlier grades.

    If my principal came in my room and found that I was teaching a science lesson that did not directly relate to our reading or math program, I'd have some explaining to do. There is no other reason for this than the fact that in second grade, my students will not be tested in science.

    Now, you could argue that it's more important that the focus of K-3 is reading and math because students will need those skills more than they need to know about photosynthesis or the Declaration of Independence. But if that is the case, then you need to remove the things in which students are not tested from the state standards and put them back in at the grade levels in which they are tested.
     
  6. mollydoll

    mollydoll Connoisseur

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    Jul 9, 2011

    This is making the assumption that teachers are not closely monitored by administrators to ensure that they are teaching to the test.

    When you have to fight and justify to give kids a small 10 minute reading assignment as a bell ringer instead of standardized test practice, what are to do? If you want to stay employed, you teach to the test.

    We have to teach minerals as part of our standards. Students need to be able to identify them, but principals don't really care if a student can identify them using real samples. The "important" thing is that a student can pick out quartz from a written description in a test question. Therefore, spending time doing hands on work is not considered the best use of class time. With snow days or assemblies or other schedule adjustments, it even becomes an inappropriate use of class time in the eyes of some administrators. They don't care if kids learn the material as long as they make the school look good in the yearly statistics.
     
  7. pwhatley

    pwhatley Maven

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    Jul 9, 2011

    I have almost the same problem in 1st grade here. The rumor is that we will only teach reading and math in 1st grade (we don't test except for DIBELS) next year. However, through this year just past, 90% of our day was spent on reading, ela, and reading interventions, with an hour for math. Interventions took most (and sometimes all) of the time for science, health, and social studies, yet we still have mandated standards (but no materials) and are required to give grades! Most of our science, health, & social studies grade came from reading activities or participation grades!
     
  8. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    Jul 9, 2011

    Well put Sarge.

    We take the Science TAKS in 5th Grade here-you should see those teachers scrambling to teach everything in one year. That's because as you said although we have science and social studies objectives we are told by our admin to incorporate those subjects in with math and reading-not even teach them as separate lessons. We have to include the time on our official schedules, we have to grade those objectives however our focus in our daily lessons has to be on math and reading. It's just sad that you have to "sneak" it in.

    Poor social studies isn't taught in many classrooms at all because it's not tested until HS. Which I feel is a real shame because at this age the kids love it!
     
  9. pwhatley

    pwhatley Maven

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    Oh, and Sarge - I have a BA in History and wanted to teach HS/College as well!
     
  10. Go 4th

    Go 4th Habitué

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    Jul 9, 2011

    :agreed:

    In GA. 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades are considered "gate" years. The kids have to pass in order to move on to the next grade. Last year, the 4th graders in our school just didn't care and several actually said that it didn't matter if they passed the test or not!!!
     
  11. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    So much to be angry, sad, and frustrated about in the lower grades (among others).
     
  12. Emily Bronte

    Emily Bronte Groupie

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    Jul 11, 2011

    This is me too!
     
  13. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    :yeahthat:

    I think it's extremely rare that it's the teacher's choice to teach to the test. I think most teachers would say that test prep is incredibly boring for them (not just the students) to teach. Why would they want to spend all day doing it? Kids that are bored out of their minds are also more likely to have behavior problems. So even if the teacher is "bad" and not even that concerned about her students, there are two big reasons right there why she still won't want to teach to the test. Of course, I think most teachers are also concerned for the welfare of their students- they want them to actually learn something other than how to take a test. I totally agree with the fact that if you want to stay employed, you teach to the test. My dad's best "work friend" got fired a few years ago because he wouldn't teach to the test. He was a 5th grade teacher and had wonderful hands-on things set up in his classroom. Those kids learned SO much. The admin of course thought all the hands on things were a waste of time.

    In my district, they basically just assume the special ed kids can't pass the tests and never will. Although I believe some of them are capable, I don't push it because it totally relieves me of "teaching to the test." I know one of the special ed teachers at another school in our district did test prep with her reading groups every single day. IMO, that is NOT an intervention. I'd rather they actually learn to read!
     
  14. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    Jul 11, 2011

    You have a link to that forum you posted in?
     
  15. Loomistrout

    Loomistrout Devotee

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    I'm having a hard time understanding someone being let go because students learned too much. If goal in minds of those in charge is to demonstrate growth and high scores on tests wouldn't they applaud a teacher using a vehicle (hands on) which is likely in many situations to produce those results? This tosses out the window almost everything we know about skill-concept attainment -- see-say-DO teaching. I think, perhaps, admin' is pushing to cover material. It could be their stance is better to be exposed to ten lessons and forget versus taught one lesson and remember.
     
  16. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    Unfortunately, his students didn't do as well on the state test as the other 5th grade classes who crammed for the test all day every day. Of course, the other kids knew how to take the test/figure out the questions better so they got better test scores. My dad's school is rated "excellent with distinction" so they're obsessed with almost every kid passing and hopefully getting accelerated/advanced on the test. IMO, there are a lot more ways to show learning than a standardized test score. I'd still bet this teacher's kids are more prepared/learned more even though they didn't learn how to take a test.
     
  17. knitter63

    knitter63 Groupie

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    Jul 12, 2011

    We are also told to teach reading and math, and put science and social studies on the back burner. The latest trend is to integrate science and social studies into our reading program. Hard to teach a science concept without hands on experiments for full understanding. We have a standardized test in science in 5th grade in Ohio. Yes, we try to cram it all in. I squeeze in an hour of science a week, and I am fortunate that my admin encourages this. My test scores are still low-and no wonder. It doesn't matter to the higher ups-as long as my reading and math scores continue to rise to keep the state happy. It matters to me. As far as one poster commented that there are too many "bad" teachers out there- my question is: who classifies a teacher as "bad"? What if, one day, YOU are the one they classify as "bad"? Are test scores really the answer to classifying "bad" teachers? What about those of us who work so hard to raise test scores, only to get NO SUPPORT from parents? Or working with a classroom of kids who don't value education because wondering where their next meal will come from is more important? When a student must stay home with his younger sibling because his mom EXPECTS him to be a parent to this sibling while she works? How can I educate him when he isn't there? These are realities to many of us. Evaluating us on test scores will not work.
     

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