Thursday, June 10, 2010

Comments and reactions to, Accountability, Yes. Teaching to the Test, No.

So, I stopped reading the instructions for this assignment at the rubric. I did not catch that I was supposed to add this to my blog. Well Crap.

But here is what I wrote last week:

Maybe I am way off base; I am certainly ignorant of what it means to feel like a teacher. I mean to say that only a person who is feeling the pressure to get results no matter the students’ ability, work ethic or parental support can truly know the reasons to start teaching to pass the standardized test. I have trouble seeing a true difference in the teaching to a list of standards versus teaching to a standardized test. It seems to me that if the test in question is a standard measure of what a child should know by a certain point in their life, then is that not the same? If there is/were a test that tested everything a student was to learn in order to be “educated at a high school level” a practicum for graduation, would that not be the standard all teachers at that level would teach? As an EMT-B, Emergency Medical Technician-Basic, after I had passed the quizzes and demonstrations for the classroom portion of the licensure program. I then took a standardized test which required 80% to pass. This test was a sampling of all of the common and some of the more common issues and EMT faces. I also had to demonstrate in a standardized testing format the skills an EMT-B could/would use. In this way prior to being licensed an EMT must have met certain standards and demonstrated certain abilities. Then and only then, could I be released to work in an ambulance crew with lives at stake. Is the problem that teachers are forced to teach to a test, or is it the test does not reflect the teacher approved standards? Is this not that much different than a teacher examining students with a final, in which the students are asked to demonstrate a semester of learning in one three-hour session?

What gets left behind in key decision making are the "day-to-day classroom assessments, which represent 99.9 percent of the assessments in a student's school life" (Deubel, 2008) Is the problem the time lost in testing? Is it the standards that are being tested to do not match what the teacher wants to teach? Or is the more? “You can't teach all of the standards; I agree there are too many.” (Deubel, 2008) It would seem that the author feels there is too much to teach, is this a time factor as stated above? Should some of these standards been met before the grade and merely covered tangentially? In my lifetime, be it short, I have witnessed a school system which switched from diagramming sentences, learning the ins and outs of grammar in “old school” ways to that of the new way, learning grammar by practice reading. What has come out of that school is a sharp decline in students’ ability to write. It is still something I struggle with and work toward. (Sentence ending in preposition, intentionally) I use this as an example, had the system been “old school” and drilled grammar into my head at an early age, the Language Arts section of the sophomore year high school standardized test would be covered by an earlier age. Instead there is a large cramming session of grammar before the testing season. What lesson does that teach? Not grammar, not writing, nor teaching.

Several times the author alludes to ideas like “focusing on THE TEST, we are denying our young people valuable experiences they need in the 21st century,” but what are these experiences being missed? (Deubel, 2008) As a substitute teacher, I find there is plenty of room in each classroom for movie time, for fun time, and non educational activities. I am not advocating that students be subjected to learning all day, every day in school, which would be crazy. In one example at a local intimidate school I witnessed a teacher reading to his students. He was loud and acting out the parts of Treasure Island. It was fun to watch and when I asked him his approach, he said he was making reading fun for these 6th graders. I responded that from my perspective none of the students were looking at the book, they were watching the play. He did not like it, and our meetings became more formal each time I worked there. On another occasion I heard a commotion coming from the classroom and upon investigation I watched the students throwing marshmallows at him. I never asked to see what sort of education that was. Later I read in the newspaper that he was flying to California to accept one of the nation’s highest teaching awards. I also learned the novel they were “reading” was not on the 6th grade list, in fact it was a 4th grade book. I heard many teachers of his school talking about his students performance that they were all behind the NCLB standards, but his award made him untouchable and them the “bad guys.” I am not so na├»ve to think this is indicative of all teachers at all levels. I am arguing that if these are the standards we as perspective teachers will be graded on, then we have to teach them. To the test, well that seems like semantics to me, but to the standards on the test, yes. If that means a little less fiction, a few less movies, and a few more collaborative efforts then that is the business we are choosing for ourselves. The people want accountability, the government has put into place a test to measure success, like it or not, teachers have to adapt. Does that mean some of the classics will move over for a new standard? …maybe.

Douglas Reeves (2004, cited in Deubel, 2007) provided good advice: "Even if the state test is dominated by lower-level thinking skills and questions are posed in a multiple-choice format, the best preparation for such tests is not mindless testing drills, but extensive student writing, accompanied by thinking, analysis, and reasoning." (Deubel, 2008) In this, I whole heartedly agree. The tests are supposed to be the minimums a student at that level has mastered. A teacher who teaches above and beyond these, covering them all will have students who pass easily, these “tests.” In the first wave of ISTEP+, a standardized test that links to graduation in Indiana, I passed it as a sophomore. My question was, if that is the minimum of what a student needs to graduate high school, then why am I not in college instead of a junior? It was my opinion then that the tests needed to be harder, so an average sophomore could not pass it. But then as I watched three or four students retake the test for the 6th time needing to pass it in their senior year, I began to wonder why they were graduating with me. One thing was true in that situation, either the test was a joke and the system had completely failed these few, or the test was right on and our system had failed these few. They all graduated, some with waivers. What does that say about my diploma? To me it makes it meaningless, just a piece of paper. After all these 18-year olds had been granted the same “honor” and never passed the test I found easy at 16.

I think the problem is illustrated by the high jump field event at track meets. The bar is set, if you jump over it you continue at a higher level. If you do not, you stay where you are until you have mastered the set of minimums. It is my opinion that age does not equal readiness. We have become a society where a student being held back is atrocious. It takes a major failure to admit that a student is not ready for promotion. In this I think we have the wrong name, it should not be no child left behind, it should be promoted when ready, and no student will be passed forward. In college, an administrator has no problem saying a person has not achieved senior standing and must remain a junior until that has been met. Fifth-year seniors are the normal now, not the odd exception. Could it be that the teachers would have a better chance teaching to the level their students will be tested, if the students themselves are ready to be at that level? I see a trend in the schools I substitute teach to separate, by ability the students in almost every subject. I am waiting to hear they have advance and remedial physical education.

“The combination of growth and achievement might lead to a more complete accountability system. (Deubel, 2008) We need to make sure the standards are fare, be it minimums or average level. We need to make sure the students are ready. Then and only then can we expect teachers to excel in this new system. It truly is a combination of growth and achievement; I would take it further and say that only if the student has achieved that growth they achieve the next level.

Works Cited

Deubel, P. (2008). Accountability, Yes. Teaching to the Test, No. The Journal .



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