Viewpoint: We are part of the "test score" problem

Discussion in 'General Education' started by msufan, Aug 18, 2012.

  1. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 18, 2012

    I see many posters on here talking about how they are a good teacher because their students' "test scores were the highest they'd ever been" -- or something along those lines. This school year, I would encourage all of us to try to move past that type of thinking and to be vocal about it, even if we're in districts where test scores are basically all the admin cares about.

    Example conversation:

    Parent: "You must be pleased -- I saw the school's test scores went up this year."

    Instead of saying, "Yeah, thanks. We worked hard on that!" try saying, "Not really. Test scores aren't what matter. They can be easily gamed, and the thing they best measure is student affluence. I was most excited to see that my students loved learning -- when we published a class book, several of them felt like real authors for the first time. It was amazing!"

    (or whatever works for your subject/grade level)

    Every time we act like test scores matter, we lose a precious opportunity to fight back against this test-first culture we're in.

    :2cents:
     
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  3. tootgravytrain

    tootgravytrain Comrade

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    Aug 18, 2012

    You need to understand that those stupid standardized tests - and it sounds like you do - are a farce. We have a funny thing going on here in Ohio. There's a big investigation into a lot of school districts who are suspected of "cooking the books."

    Standardized testing is the biggest bane on public education, or any education of any kind. They tell us little of value if anything and it handcuffs teachers and students alike from really learning.

    Some are standing up to this nonsense............

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eE_6bY2UbWA
     
  4. teresateaches

    teresateaches Companion

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    Aug 18, 2012

    Fair enough, but when you fight against the system in your day to day classroom activities and you see an improvement in scores, it reaffirms that the drill and kill culture of test prep isn't the answer. That kids will naturally perform well on tests if they are given the opportunity in the class room to not worry about tests but instead focus on skill building.

    I've found, working in a Title I inner city school that administration believe the best way to beat the tests is to drill, baby, drill. That if we can just get the kids to memorize the content, our scores will be high enough to meet AYP.

    I don't believe that. When you compare inner city youth to suburb affluent youth, the difference is that teachers in the affluent areas don't have to worry about test scores because their kids will normally pass. They are free to teach the higher level thinking, the critical analysis, the skills necessary and focus less on the content. In the cities, we treat the kids like idiots and assume we should treat them like machines who are at best able to memorize, and often not even that.

    I think the best service you can do your kids is treat them like intellectuals with the ability to learn. Fly in the face of the drill and kill culture and teach them at a higher level. Believe in them and they will believe in themselves.

    The test scores will prove that it works, because that is the only measurable thing that we have now to use to prove to the rest of the country that our kids can learn. We can use methods normally reserved for the upper class to teacher the lower SES kids and they are in turn just as successful on the assessments that make everyone think the more affluent kids are smarter, we prove at passing the test doesn't make you better. It just means the teachers in your district apply stereotypes based on your economic status and treat/teach you differently because of it.

    I'll step off my soap box now.
     
  5. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Aug 18, 2012

    I don't think that tests, even standardized tests, are inherently evil.

    As a mom, as a taxpayer, I'm interested to know how my district did on standardized tests. Those test scores have implications about the value of my home and the amount of financial aid my district will get from Albany.... and aid that doesn't come from Albany will come from my pocket, whether I vote for it or not.

    I think that over-emphasis on them is educationally unsound. I think it's a mistake to think that poor test scores necessarily indicate a bad teacher any more than good test scores indicate a good teacher.

    But I don't see standardized testing as evil. I think it's yet another tool we can use to evaulate our kids, our teaching, and the strength of our schools.

    And honestly, if I paid my kids' teacher a compliment by commenting on improved test scores and got a lecture, I would probably think twice before offering another compliment.

    When I get a compliment, I tend to respond with "Thank you."
     
  6. novalyne

    novalyne Rookie

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    Aug 18, 2012

    Wow, that's a tough one. I see what you're saying, and agree with you in theory. Sometimes I am ambivalent about highlighting my test scores, specifically because of what you're saying - I don't want people to think that's all I care about.

    On the other hand, I was at the top of my district for 3 years in science scores. My best year, I had 100% of kids pass and 70% get commended - and this is in a Title 1 school with over 90% of kids at the poverty level/60% 2nd language learners. And I WAS proud of my scores - but not because of the test itself, but because I know that those scores came because I did not "drill and kill" the kids, but because I taught bell to bell science - lots of hands-on, inquiry leaning, notebooking...higher order thinking and connecting concepts instead of memorizing facts.

    So when people compliment me on my test scores, my response is to thank them and then explain a little bit about my philosophy of teaching the SUBJECT and not the TEST. My hope is that we see the test scores as a natural reflection of true learning - a byproduct rather than the end goal.

    But I do get what you're saying...
     
  7. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Aug 19, 2012

    I agree standardized tests aren't inherently evil. No governmental law dictates how a school must address teaching so that the students are capable of passing the test. They do that one all on their own.

    What we do find is almost every student that knows the basics of the subject matter will pass the tests because they are MINIMUM competnency tests. It is RARE to have a child fail the test due to poor test taking ability alone. They may not pass at the highest levels, but even those that don't test well on standardized tests do end up passing these tests when they are solid students that know the material and can show it in other ways.

    The ones that fail are the ones that don't really know even the basics and really can't show it. They can be procedurized into looking or appearing as if they know the standards by going over a quiz immediatly prior to giving it or having the quiz or test exactly match the "study guide". Or even giving them work that is so watered down that with answers available whether in groups or by other resources right there it appears they can produce something that shows knowledge. Low and behold, these kids have decent grades but fail. That isn't the test.

    Schools using tests to teach is appalling. But that happens often.

    My goal isn't to have a kid feel like an author. My goal isn't to have a kid love looking at that picture book that is 4 years below his grade level and "love" reading because that is the best he can do. Success breeds success and I care that kids make the most progress each year as possible and the content is covered in such a way that along the way they show what they know. The standardized test scores, save a few, should line up really well with what a student knows and how he scores.

    I can tell what kids will fail and what kids will pass just by what they can produce independently and without a procedure put in place to give the appearance of knowing more. If anything, I've seen more of the bubble kids benefitting from the multiple-choice standardized tests because there are answers there for them to choose from.

    Honestly, OP, if you said that to me as a parent, I would not be happy. It wouldn't help your cause at all because I don't care if my kid feels like an author. I'm not into that touchy feely learning. I want my child to know when he or she is a competent writer and that the skills can be applied to anything he or she wants to do. I want my child to know what the strengths and weaknesses are in the subject areas and what he or she must work on more or use to his or her advantage. I don't want them feeling like an author when the work really isn't anywhere near the quality of a true author's work. Let's stop making kids think they are something they are not because when they graduate and their real skills don't match what they have been told year after year about being an author, they scratch their head and wonder what is wrong. When they get in upper grades and figure out what you said was a bunch of flooey, they lose respect for teachers and start to not trust what is being said.
     
  8. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    Aug 19, 2012

    I understand what you are saying, but it would be very hard for me to dismiss the upcoming tests now. It's 50% of my evaluation--so as much as I don't like it, those test scores are very important to me, it does matter. It won't be my sole focus, but if I want to keep my job, those kids need to be as prepared as possible for those specific tests.
     
  9. tootgravytrain

    tootgravytrain Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    Standardized tests are not evil, they're simply useless. Just think of how silly the word "standardized" is when related to education. Why would we expect millions of students to learn and think the same? That's what cripples learning and handcuffs teachers and students alike.
     
  10. Missy

    Missy Aficionado

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    Aug 19, 2012

    Wish you all could sit in on our 4-hour Data Night this week (after we have taught all day, of course) and hear some of the conversations. I am sure I will be grilled on why my reading scores went down 1% from last year; the fact that my class make-up was entirely different will not be considered. It is just getting too ugly.
     
  11. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    But Missy, these are decisions made by your district/school administration as to the way to handle the information coming from testing. It isn't a problem with the test but with your administration and they way they go about dealing with information. Don't misplace the blame because the people you work for are clueless and uses pressure tactics. That's not the fault of the test.
     
  12. Missy

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    Aug 19, 2012

    And how does that help me?
     
  13. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    I think some of you are too kind about the effects of standardized tests. For those of you saying that the standardized tests aren't so bad, please understand that through much of the country standardized tests have led to a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum. The arts, physical education, music, and in many cases even science and social studies have been de-valued because reading and math (and sometimes writing) are what get tested.

    To say, "Well, that's not the fault of the tests -- it's just bad admininstrators using the tests wrong" is in my opinion misguided. The fact that standardized tests would impact nearby property values, as Alice stated, is another sick perversion of testing.

    I'm not sure that people understand that standardized tests are being used as a Trojan horse to make people believe that education is failing. Once that belief is in place, allowing for-profit corporations to come to the rescue and make huge sums of money from K-12 education is the next logical step. We as teachers need to understand that what is happening to public schooling in the U.S. right now is all about money and opportunistic corporate greed. And we can't fight back if we tell others that we believe standardized tests are really a valid measure of student performance.
     
  14. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Aug 19, 2012

    Well, knowing where the problem lies is the FIRST step to addressing the problem. Since I am to assume you aren't the only teacher unhappy in your school with the approach of the administration, why not get your fellow teachers together and find ways of actively addressing positive ways of interpreting and acting on the data that is available. As long as teachers keep sitting idly by playing victim, they will have data meetings that accomplish nothing and they will have to blame the test instead of utilizing the test to the advantage of the students and thus the advantage of the school.

    So, thinking about the issue differently may actually help you come up with a game plan instead of feeling like a vicitm.
     
  15. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Aug 19, 2012

    My local schools did not get rid of or reduce art, music, pe or recess in response to standardized testing. Our administration felt that these courses are essential to students. They also didn't do testing drill for months on end as the method of teaching students the curriculum.

    It isn't that people don't understand that standardized tests are a Trojan horse, they just don't agree with your opinion. Standardized tests just uncovered what was hidden before. Let's take a school that had kids with great grades prior to standardized tests. Kids appeared to be doing well based on grades (because often expectations were so low for some students). The only problem was, half of what the state standards said needed to be taught wasn't and many kids couldn't read, write, or do basic math upon graduation. Since graduation was only based on grades given by the teachers, any illusion could be produced. In comes standardized tests and some schools do just fine with them and other schools utterly fail. How could that be? Are we to believe the students failing these minimum competency tests are doing sonin reading, writing, and math because they just weren't taught illiteration? No, they failed because they couldn't read, write, or do math. Those kids with adequate skills passed if even at the basic level.
     
  16. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    Aug 19, 2012

    The whole point of standardized tests was to narrow the curriculum. At what point did anyone argue otherwise? When you had teachers who could get away with teaching whatever the heck they wanted with no accountability it was a mess. Yes, we now have a different mess but I'd honestly take this mess over the former.

    Our schools are failing. Pick any measure you wish and you'll find the same result. Read Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap which relentlessly attacks the testing culture and system in our schools and still concludes that they aren't the problem and that even when measured otherwise we're failing.

    As was said, I'm proud of my students' test scores because it does measure achievement. I'm proud that they achieve better than the students in the classes that are strictly teaching the test. I'm proud that they come out of my class loving history because they actually got to do it. I'm proud that love translates into learning and higher test scores for them.
     
  17. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    Aug 19, 2012

    My inner city school had a year where we didn't go test prep crazy. We relaxed. Our scores tanked. (I don't think the fact that we didn't go test prep crazy was the only reason, or even "the" reason.)

    But then we had a year where we went literally test prep insane. It was horrible. But our scores improved. (Again, definitely not the only reason.)

    But guess what? Since we went insane last year and our scores improved I can pretty much guarantee we'll go crazy again this year. Because when our scores tanked we had people from the state and district coming in an assuming it was a terrible school. Our rating dropped so low that if things continued that way the administration was risking the school being shut down and the admins being thrown out. So they were willing to try anything to save themselves and the school. So I can't really blame them because as much as I hated the craziness if I was in their place I'd be feeling equally as desperate.

    I'm not in favor of throwing out standardized tests. But I think the emphasis that is being put on them is what needs to be changed. But not accepting a compliment someone gives you when your students do well on the test isn't going to change that. I hated test prep last year, hated, hated it. But you know what, when I saw that one of my special education ESL students passed both tests I was happy, and I was proud.
     
  18. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    I wish to measure our schools' performance taking poverty level into account. Are we still failing? And is "we" just the schools, or society?
     
  19. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    Don't you see the inconsistency here?
     
  20. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    All this tells me is that the methods used to teach the curriculum are not effective. So, when you test prep like mad (make them memorize things for the test) you will see results but it won't result in long term learning. Seems neither method your school uses is adquate. Sorry, but that is the reality of it.
     
  21. tootgravytrain

    tootgravytrain Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    Some parents have had enough. Kudos to them!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNT6aVwV1Q8
     
  22. tootgravytrain

    tootgravytrain Comrade

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    Memorization isn't learning, it's "robot - making."
     
  23. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    I don't know why you're apologizing. 1) I don't make any major decisions at the school. 2) You don't work at the school so you can't quite possibly know as much as you think you do. I said there was a year that test prep didn't take over everything where we were relaxed about it. But the scores tanked. Then I said that our relaxing wasn't the only reason or even "the" reason the scores tanked. I didn't get into it, but you just assumed that the scores tanked because we weren't teaching the curriculum effectively. When actually there were a lot of other factors that came into play such as the scale for grading the test being changed AFTER the kids had already taken it, skewing the scores when compared to the previous years' tests. That's just one example of an outside factor coming into play. I'm not saying everything we do is perfect because it's far from that- but your assumptions are misplaced.
     
  24. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    I said I think the emphasis we place on the tests needs to change. I don't think we should prep for tests all day everyday for two months leading up to the tests. But I don't think it's wrong to be proud of a child and happy for a child who struggled all year, who struggled in 3rd grade and didn't pass the tests and then succeeded this year.

    What would you suggest? When the child finds out her grades I say, "Well I don't really care that you passed honey because standardized tests don't mean anything and we shouldn't care what we get."
     
  25. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    I would suggest:

    1. That children's parents opt them out of taking the standardized tests in the first place.

    2. If that fails, I suggest that children NEVER be told their individual test scores nor the school's overall scores.

    3. If somehow that too fails and the child has found out his/her score, I suggest you tell the child something like, "I'm proud of your effort throughout the year. You always work hard in class each day. This test is just a snapshot; your effort in class each day is what really matters."
     
  26. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    Being proud of test scores increasing after test prepping is like being proud of paying off your mortgage by maxing out your credit cards: the positive outcome at the end in no way makes up for the long-term damage caused along the way.
     
  27. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    If there were that many other factors into the scores tanking then the assertion that the lack of test prep being the problem is red herring. Saying that the lack of test prep was the problem then following it up with there were many other factors that come into play just watered your arguement down to nothing.

    Seems your saying that your school would have tanked that year regardless and nothing could ever have been done to prevent it. So it really has nothing to do with testing or test prep.
     
  28. John Lee

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    Haha. I love it. It makes me have some hope for this forum (that people are thoughtful enough to see opposing viewpoints to conventional thinking). I happen to disagree slightly, but I do see your point.

    Our system is set up to where I don't think there is a more practical way of measuring student achievement. It's a societal thing... cookie-cutter, pre-packaged service. It's a thought that occured to me one day recently, shopping at Ralph's (grocery store chain): I'm on a bit of a health kick, and I went in to Ralph's one day to get some groceries. When I shop, I usually just walk around and buy things as I see fit (horrible way to shop I realize). Anyway, I stopped for a sec, and I thought about what I could buy there (at the grocery store) that is actually HEALTHY. And I struggled to think of much. The vegetable/fruit section could be considered healthy, but what else? Cereals, granola bars, chips, and all sorts of colorful packages and containers are filled with all manner of salt, sugar, and chemicals. And they all have some pictures of smiling families on the cover, eating the product.

    Nothing will change unless people demand more. Store shelves will be stocked with crap, because that's what we buy. In the same way, test culture will continue, as long as people (e.g. teachers) passively accept it like the box of Hungry-Man dinner.
     
  29. waterfall

    waterfall Maven

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    I think this issue has gotten so much bigger than administrators placing too much emphasis on the test. That may have been true years ago- you could say that the test wasn't inherently bad and that the bad part was just how people in charge interpreted it. However, it is so much bigger now. My state, along with several others, has gone to making test scores 50% of our evaluations. Therefore, it doesn't matter how much your admin truly understands about scores- they have to do it, it's state law. If you get poor scores in your class for three years in a row, you're fired, again state law. Your observations and other parts of your evaluation could be great. You could be the teacher that has 13 students with special needs in your class, it doesn't matter. The test doesn't measure growth within the same group of students (we only take it once a year), so even if you measure growth in your class, you're looking at two entirely different groups of students where you may have just had a higher class one year and a lower class the next.

    Who is going to teach the students in special education, the ELL students, the inner city students? 21 of my 23 students are ELLs, and the two that aren't are in special education. I love my school's population and honestly feel that I wouldn't be as comfortable in a wealthy suburban school, but if my career and livelihood depends on kids passing some test, you can bet going to a school where I know the majority of the kids will pass no problem sounds like a good idea.

    I do think teachers are part of the problem when they act like test scores are a true measure of their school's success or failure. With very, very few exceptions, test scores are an immediate indicator of the SES of the school's neighborhood. What happened to the war on poverty? When did we stop fighting the real problem and focus on some stupid test?

    At my previous school, my first year we were somewhere between 80-90% ELL students and students on free/reduced lunch. The second year, our population changed drastically. A local charter school where most of the wealthy non-ELL students went was on the verge of financial collapse and many of the parents decided to send their kids back to public school. It was like a tidal wave of more and more coming as they saw that their student "wouldn't be the only one not speaking Spanish" (yes, I heard this ALL the time from parents). We moved to under 50% free/reduced lunch and ELL. Naturally, the test scores went up drastically from year 1 to year 2. Third grade reading scores more than doubled, with the same teachers, the same curriculum, and the same strategies. Yet I felt like the teachers at my school so wanted to be able to celebrate success that they completely ignored the fact that the much higher scores were clearly due to a shift in the SES of the students. When teachers like my former coworkers act like that, yes, we are part of the problem.
     
  30. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    When companies like Pearson realized there was serious $$$$ to be made off of making/scoring the tests, creating materials to prepare for the tests, and then opening schools to compete with other schools not consistently passing the tests.
     
  31. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    msufan-I completely agree with you, I just don't see that light at the end of the tunnel. I don't think we can change anything. I have had conversations with my admin about teaching to a test in Kindergarten, the response is, their bosses look at those scores. We are compared with other schools based on those scores. Until that mentality changes (and I don't think we have the influence to do that), nothing will change.

    I do agree with you as well, that there may be more going on with the leap to privitize education, etc. Here in Texas they changed our big test last year (made it much harder and cut the time in 1/2 the kids get to take it)--- then touted the fact that so many schools failed-was that our fault?

    I will say this though, I don't think that those test scores are always high because of that teacher. It may be because I teach a foundational grade, but I think that classes leading up to that grade can help/hurt as well.
     
  32. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Please define "teaching to a test" when the test tests the state standards. Explain how this is different than teaching the state standards.

    I know people use drill methods and keep using tests to teach the standards instead of using the standards to teach. I see this using tests to teach as awful, but I don't have a problem with grade level standards as a concept. I do advocate though that some of our grade level standards are out of line. Again, this is a different issue than the test itself.
     
  33. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    I never said the lack of test prep was the problem. I stated that were a year that we didn't prep for the tests but I don't think that was really the reason for the tanking scores.

    And yes, the schools grades would have tanked that year compared to the previous year no matter what. Because there was a significant change in the way the tests were scored. What was a passing grade the year before became a failing grade that year. So it was inevitable that the scores tanked. It was a problem across many schools, not just mine.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/nyregion/20tests.html
     
  34. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    Okay. Next time I get test scores back I'll forget that I'm working with 9 year olds. I won't offer anyone a good job or I'm proud of you. When one of my students asks if they did a good job I'll say "I don't care how you did."
     
  35. Mathemagician

    Mathemagician Groupie

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    Hahahaha---it's only a number.
     
  36. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    "My inner city school had a year where we didn't go test prep crazy. We relaxed. Our scores tanked. (I don't think the fact that we didn't go test prep crazy was the only reason, or even "the" reason.)
    "
    I apologize for not interpreting your post properly. My fault - completely.
     
  37. tootgravytrain

    tootgravytrain Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    Take it from someone (me) whose job it is to teach to a test. It isn't really learning. All your teaching is school, not really learning, not with any true impact (although it does inspire real learning sometimes along the way, occasionally).
     
  38. msufan

    msufan Comrade

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    Aug 19, 2012

    If they ask if they've done a good job, the battle has already been lost.
     
  39. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    Aug 19, 2012

    I'm sorry all I can do is roll my eyes. Whatever. Standardized tests have won because my students asked how they did and I responded with "you did a good job I'm proud of you." That's exactly how standardized tests have taken over the country!!!

    P.S. I never even said I was 100% against standardized tests. I'm against the emphasis that is being put on them. And by "emphasis" I didn't mean praising students that do well on the test.
     
  40. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    Aug 19, 2012

    It's the way the standards are taught. Assessments are all done in multiple choice/bubble answer format, because that's what the test format is (yes, even in Kindergarten). Upper grades no longer use actual books for instruction, but rely solely on reading passages so the kids can practice strategies daily for answering the questions. Teaching things that are not on the test like art, music, for us science and social studies, doing projects is frowned upon.
     
  41. pwhatley

    pwhatley Maven

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    Aug 19, 2012

    I agree wholeheartedly that too much emphasis is placed on standardized tests, and that teachers (and schools, and students) are judged on test scores of one year's "crop" of students versus another, instead of being judged upon the growth of a group of students from beginning of the year to the end. I don't think I would feel as negative about the tests (DIBELS, iLEAP, LEAP, etc.) if this were the case. Instead, for instance, our fourth grade teacher (we only have one) was pretty much slammed, because, of 26 fourth graders last year, 11 failed. Of those 11, 10 failed to pass the LEAP when given again during the summer (following remediation at another school by another teacher). No mention was made of the fact that these same 11 students had been "low" from the time they entered kindergarten, or that they had received, for 5 years, every "research based" intervention available to them, including free after school tutoring and summer "daycamps." It is simply assumed that she did a poor job last year, at least according to our state's new teacher assessment program. Instead of seeing that, at the beginning of 4th grade, student x was at level y, and then at the end of 4th, the same student was now at level z; or instead of seeing that 6 of the 11 students who were assigned to summer remediation did not attend, and that 2 of the 5 that did attend either slept or started fights, she was simply judged by their test scores. Someone called it a snapshop. I agree, it is but one measure that should be used to evaluate the efficacy of the teacher, and the progress of the teacher. I hope this makes sense, I'm typing it "on the fly," as the ideas come into my head.
     

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