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A Teacher's Open Letter to Her 8th Grade Students
March 24, 2012 11:53 AM   Subscribe


 
So upsetting. It is not students only who need to be educated. Thank you for sharing.
posted by anya32 at 11:56 AM on March 24, 2012


It’s not that I oppose rigorous testing. I don’t. I understand the purpose of evaluation. A good test can measure achievement and even inspire. But this English Language Arts Exam I so unknowingly inflicted on you does neither.

This.
posted by maxim0512 at 12:07 PM on March 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


They should go back to oral exams. 5 questions, you need 4 correct to pass. It would provide the educator much more control over grading.
posted by Renoroc at 12:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's exactly what their main source of funding doesn't want, Renoroc.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:13 PM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


Great piece. It seems like many aspects of educational systems, at all levels, are increasingly being taken over by middle managers and administrators, who have one quantifiable definition of intelligence, who are seeking to impose their own standards on everyone else. This is very sad.
posted by carter at 12:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think my favorite bit from the tests I recently administered was the warning that words written outside the box on the essays would not be graded. I guess maybe they scan the pages and send those to the graders, but the image of some petty grader just ignoring the middle of each sentence and failing a student was too funny; I nearly lost it when I got to that point. I'm already a little worried about getting in trouble for not taking the things seriously enough and reading all the directions in funny voices.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 12:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here we spent the year reading books and emulating great writers, constructing leads that would make everyone want to read our work, developing a voice that would engage our readers, using our imaginations to make our work unique and important, and, most of all, being honest. And none of that matters. All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit.

Maybe that's because that part of the test is over reading comprehension?
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2012


Maybe that's because that part of the test is over reading comprehension?

That may be the case, but based on the letter I'm guessing that the questions aren't written in such a way that this is clear to the students taking the exam and that, in fact, only when they are given instructions on how to grade the exam after the fact are the teachers told about this.
posted by asnider at 12:23 PM on March 24, 2012


It seems like many aspects of educational systems, at all levels, are increasingly being taken over by middle managers and administrators, who have one quantifiable definition of intelligence, who are seeking to impose their own standards on everyone else.

This is the business model of education, which politicians on both sides of the aisle just love to death. Students are product, pure and simple. They need to come out with X, Y, and Z skills, quantified to the tenth of a percentage point; nothing in the model cares about thinking for yourself or developing non-quantifiable skills. Even as somebody who benefits greatly from it in terms of job security, it still pisses me off.

Every time I hear one of these blowhards pipe up with "you wouldn't run a business this way," I think to myself, "good."
posted by Dr.Enormous at 12:27 PM on March 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


This is bizarre and perhaps not fully groked at the moment.

All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit.

The questions you were asked were written to elicit a personal response, which, if provided, earn you no credit.


Does this mean that children who happily regurgitate are scored higher than those that think critically? Because that is how I read it.

If that is true, then it seems to mean that children that inherently parrot back content are rewarded whilst children that do not -- and use their own voices and thoughts -- are penalised. So is the meaning that the test is selecting a certain kind of child to promote? Or teaching them that success is in conformity or something?

Anyone care to provide a bit of insight here?
posted by nickrussell at 12:33 PM on March 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


...nothing in the model cares about thinking for yourself or developing non-quantifiable skills.

We can't have office drones or competitive-with-the-Chinese laborers thinking for themselves. My god...they'd want living wages or something crazy like that.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:33 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is not students only who need to be educated.

Indeed. I have scored this exam and many others like it. This teacher has no clue about what she is doing.

It is also possible to fail at scoring exams.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:35 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't get the impression that the teacher scored the exam?
posted by wierdo at 12:36 PM on March 24, 2012


I don't think I'd be happy making any kind of sweeping judgement about this without seeing both the exam and the syllabus.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 12:38 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is exactly the kind of Teacher that we need more of: the kind that leaves an incredibly positive and lasting impression that inspires students to value independent and critical thinking, that instills in them a deep love of learning that drives them to never stop (and never want to stop) learning, regardless of context, and all this in spite of existing in systems that seem to discourage these kinds of values and the teaching of them, sometimes in ways that aren't necessarily explicit.

As a life-long student, I want to hug and thank you, Teacher, and hope that actions like yours inspire others in positions like yours, responsible for the development of generation after generation of curious young minds, to be bold enough to take the risks sometimes necessary to do the right thing (after accurately identifying what that might be in a given context, of course, which is itself not an easy task).
posted by kilo hertz at 12:38 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


It makes you wonder how many intelligent free-thinkers actually drop out of high school and are then labeled as failures.
posted by Malice at 12:40 PM on March 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


asnider: That may be the case, but based on the letter I'm guessing that the questions aren't written in such a way that this is clear to the students taking the exam and that, in fact, only when they are given instructions on how to grade the exam after the fact are the teachers told about this.

It was generally clear on the tests I've taken. Also, if that was the problem, the teacher should have been complaining about that - it's obvious from the scoring method that the intent was to measure reading comprehension, even if the instructions weren't clear. Complaining that direct regurgitation was the objective and independent thinking counts for nothing on a test that is clearly designed to measure reading comprehension is pointless; of course that's how it's scored.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:41 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that you can measure reading comprehension by asking for direct regurgitation is exactly what's wrong with these tests.

(To say nothing of the fact that the multiple choice questions usually tell you exactly what line of the text the answer can be found on, which means you don't even have to read the things in the first place to pass)
posted by Dr.Enormous at 12:46 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


It makes you wonder how many intelligent free-thinkers actually drop out of high school and are then labeled as failures.

Some, but not all, of the intelligent freethinkers who drop out of high school are failures. I'd tell you how I know that, but I have to get back to not showering today.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:51 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Indeed. I have scored this exam and many others like it. This teacher has no clue about what she is doing.

It is also possible to fail at scoring exams.
Please do expand on this thought?
posted by kavasa at 12:52 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I told you, didn’t I, about hearing Noam Chomsky speak recently? When the great man was asked about the chaos in public education, he responded quickly, decisively, and to the point: “Public education in this country is under attack.”

She's spending classroom time discussing politics instead of reading and writing.

You know who's not doing this? Danish teachers. Singaporean teachers. Norweigian teachers. Education is a fight only in the U.S. The other countries are too busy, you know, teaching.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:53 PM on March 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Dr.Enormous: The idea that you can measure reading comprehension by asking for direct regurgitation is exactly what's wrong with these tests.

To some degree, you can. Being able to delve into text and pull out facts isn't the height of reading comprehension, but it's a critical element of it. If you can't do that, you can't do anything else.

While I'm sure you'd prefer a test over conceptual understanding or critical interpretation, that might be a little difficult for eighth graders and it might be impossible to systematically grade it in a consistent manner.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:54 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does this mean that children who happily regurgitate are scored higher than those that think critically? Because that is how I read it.

If that is true, then it seems to mean that children that inherently parrot back content are rewarded whilst children that do not -- and use their own voices and thoughts -- are penalised. So is the meaning that the test is selecting a certain kind of child to promote? Or teaching them that success is in conformity or something?


Assuming you are right, there is a serious disconnect between these tests and college-level education. Because where I am, the inability to read and think critically is a serious problem that trips up many students. Whatever they are being prepared for, it's not higher education.

Of course, when I was young, all children were studious and polite.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2012


I had many college professors tell me that incoming freshman (as a group) couldn't cite a source to save their lives. They seemed to think this is a skill a person coming into college should know.

Then they would argue who should be teaching these freshman this when my college didn't have remedial courses.

Even if citing two facts/sources was a part of the writing test, it shouldn't be all that the students where tested on. After all, a student could regurgitate and use appalling grammar and pass the test. An eloquent answer with no cites is still incomplete, but does it deserve to fail?
posted by Monday at 1:07 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have read this piece twice and I am still not sure what her point is, or that she has one ... and I say that as someone who is basically on her side, in thinking that standardized assessment tests are of distinctly little value. (Standardized admissions exams I think are very useful, though.)

She states that a purpose of the 8th grade test is to predict who is going to pass an (important) 11th grade test. That simply can't be true. It could be that the test administrators can (in part) validate the 8th grade test by showing correlation between its results and the 11th grade results, but that's a very different point.

She suggests that there's something superior about producing a free-associative "creative" response, possibly even incorporating valid external data, over producing a response that demonstrates, in a verifiable fashion, that one can read a passage and assimilate at least two elements of its factual content. That seems to me to be a total venn-diagram fail. Any student who can write a strong, creative response who has such a mastery over facts incidentally invoked by the passage as to be able to add them in lieu of or in addition to the provided facts, is going to do fine overall on any standardized competence exam, even if they get a point or two deducted here or there.
posted by MattD at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Whenever I hear about problems with standardized testing, I think of the message about education reform in RSA Animate's "Changing Education Paradigms" video. The audio comes from a speech by Sir Ken Robinson. He talks about how there are different kinds of intelligence, and how standardized testing and standardized curriculum leads to conformity.

Personal anecdote: I am a high school dropout. I also scored a perfect 800 on the Critical Reading section of the SAT, and a 670 on the Math section, despite not having taken a math class since 8th grade. I still feel that standardized testing does not accomplish what it sets out to, and I say that knowing very well that I'm relying on my SAT scores (among other factors) to offset my lack of high school education on my transfer applications.
posted by hypotheticole at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's spending classroom time discussing politics instead of reading and writing.

You know who's not doing this? Danish teachers. Singaporean teachers. Norweigian teachers. Education is a fight only in the U.S. The other countries are too busy, you know, teaching.


Do you think mentioning Chomsky in class necessarily takes up that much time? Do Danish, Norwegian, and/or Singaporean teachers not talk about political issues in class? I honestly don't know, myself.

My impression of European school systems (based on very little exposure) is that they are generally not the focal point of constant budget battles because those societies seem to generally believe education is too important to let fall by the wayside. On the other hand, a lot of European systems seem to decide who is "fit for college" at a fairly early age, which might not be the best plan, but, hey....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have always believed it's the student's responsibility to craw an education out of those tasked with providing it. You can have great parents, great resources, and great teachers; for some this will make no difference. Just as you can have shitty parents, shitty teachers, and no resources, and yet the brightest will still achieve.

Lead a horse to water and all that.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:10 PM on March 24, 2012


Where does it say she was doing this during classroom time?
posted by Grimgrin at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


To all the bosses and bureaucrats and school administrators out there:

There is no justifiable, reliable metric that can be used across-the-board. Not everything is fucking quantifiable. Most important things aren't. It's why we have teachers.

No Child Left Behind has never been about the kids or the education. It's always been about the money, and the funding, and the control.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:14 PM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't get the impression that the teacher scored the exam?

I don't think so, despite her statement:

this is my first time grading this exam

She only read the scoring rubric. And she totally misinterpreted it. I see no evidence she has actually seen any student responses yet. Her opinion would change after seeing a few thousand responses and scoring them. She says:

All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer.

If this is how she's scoring these exams, she is giving incorrect scores. It is more complex than that. Fortunately, almost all exams like this are "second scored," so they are scored by two different people, and if they scores disagree, a third person (with more experience) resolves the discrepancy. If you give enough wrong scores, you get kicked out.

It appears that she's talking about the NYSED ELA 8th Grade assessment. More information on the NY ELA is available at this website.

This is a PDF with specific scoring "domains" for the ELA. Current tests and scoring rubrics are, of course, under tight security to avoid cheating, but past years are available. Read one for yourself. Note that on Page 3, the question asks for one example of each of two ideas (not facts, *ideas*) from the story, but there are two scores, one for meaning (referencing the facts) and another for development of that idea. Then on page 4, it asks for an extended essay answer. On page 7, the student must write an essay up to a full page. Another essay is requested on Page 9, up to two pages. Both the short responses and the extended essays are scored not just for referencing the content, but for writing mechanics (grammar, spelling, etc.), organization, development, and language use.

I assure you, an experienced scorer can give a very accurate assessment of the abilities of the student. Test rubrics use sly methods to obliquely test certain skills. If it was just citing 2 facts, they would just make it a multiple choice test and you'd fill in bubbles with a #2 pencil. But they are asking students to write extemporaneously, on demand, with no preparation. The questions are called "prompts," they are intended to prompt the student to start writing, so we can see what they are capable of. This is a *good* way to test students' skills, it is easy to tell who can interpret literature, and write well. The teacher says these tests are intended to indicate who will pass the 11th grade ELA, tests of this type are often used as a requirement for graduation. But more importantly, the tests are designed to give feedback to teachers about which students need more help improving their language skills. However, a bad scorer can give bad results. Scorers are constantly evaluated for the accuracy of their work, throughout the scoring process. And bad teachers don't know why their students are failing. Oftentimes, it is due to a poor instructor, not poor instructional materials or methods.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:18 PM on March 24, 2012 [21 favorites]


I have always believed it's the student's responsibility to craw an education out of those tasked with providing it.

I admit that pointing out typos is ignoble, but I am giggling while imagining resentful student crows grumbling over their homework.

OK, back to grading....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:20 PM on March 24, 2012


She's spending classroom time discussing politics instead of reading and writing.

You know who's not doing this? Danish teachers. Singaporean teachers. Norweigian teachers. Education is a fight only in the U.S. The other countries are too busy, you know, teaching.


First of all, an eighth-grade class should be way past "reading and writing" and deep into "meaning, context, interpretation, and themes." Which, surprise, includes politics and history, among other topics. Which a good teacher will include so that kids aren't just learning fact nuggets about authors and works in a vacuum.

And second, it would be nice if you had cites for what teachers in other countries do and don't teach in literature classes, and I might also ask why your comment implies that there's some sort of race we need to win by cramming our kids full of fact nuggets faster than other countries do. That may indeed be something we can achieve, but it's not education.
posted by emjaybee at 1:43 PM on March 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


You know who's not doing this? Danish teachers. Singaporean teachers. Norweigian teachers. Education is a fight only in the U.S. The other countries are too busy, you know, teaching.

Noam Chomsky is a linguist, which might be relevant to a class on language and its expression.
posted by deliquescent at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


"You know who's not doing this? Danish teachers. Singaporean teachers. Norweigian teachers. Education is a fight only in the U.S. The other countries are too busy, you know, teaching."

Uh, that's crazy nonsense. And I'm not sure why you picked two Scandinavian countries and Singapore, which have pretty divergent educational models, so far as I know.
posted by klangklangston at 1:54 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


if there is going to be one test - perhaps there should be a few others as well. . .to test for different kinds of intelligences?
since its well known that there are many. . .and each person is different.
posted by spidernoise at 1:59 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's spending classroom time discussing politics instead of reading and writing.

Maybe it was a unit on rhetoric and she was talking about the way Chomsky speechifies. It would then be relevant that she had heard him do so herself, wouldn't it?
posted by kenko at 2:02 PM on March 24, 2012


Standardized testing as practiced in the USA is counterproductive, but the idea of standard tests is sound. Even the idea of teaching to a test is sound: martial arts dojo gradings and drivers licensing are all effectively taught to a test. The difference is that the test measures mastery of the required performance, you are given the criteria very early on in the process, you are largely free to practice and study on your own, there are clear uses for the skills you learn, and you may take the test as many times as you like. You are initially assumed to know nothing and have no aptitude for the thing being taught, and your capacity to pass the test is supposed to be a measure of your having learned.

The canned-human-beans factory model of school is doing it wrongly on all counts - only one opportunity to take a given test, the test is administered at a set time regardless of the readiness of students, and students are all chunked along in a cohort (excepting those individuals whose performance across multiple subjects is so bad that they are ordered to repeat an entire year).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


spidernoise: if there is going to be one test - perhaps there should be a few others as well. . .to test for different kinds of intelligences?
since its well known that there are many. . .and each person is different.


The problem is that those kinds of intelligence aren't applicable to the same problems. Great social/emotional intelligence won't make you any less bad at math or fix your writing.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Noam Chomsky is a linguist, which might be relevant to a class on language and its expression.

Yeah, if you're a Linguistics grad student. These are 13 year old kids.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:12 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Noam Chomsky is a linguist, which might be relevant to a class on language and its expression.

The best thing I can say about that idea is that it strains credulity.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


OK, if there is no way to bring up any concept in linguistics to 8th graders, I will just say this: Nobody knows what she said about Chomsky in that classroom, and certainly we don't know how much the education of her students was hurt by her bringing it up. This whole line is a huge derail anyway.

My question is: she stated that the test has no value as a tool for predicting future success, which is its stated goal. Is that right? I would hope that someone would at least attempt to adjust the test to be a better measure, over the years.
posted by deliquescent at 2:22 PM on March 24, 2012


My impression of European school systems (based on very little exposure) is that they are generally not the focal point of constant budget battles because those societies seem to generally believe education is too important to let fall by the wayside.

US school systems are made the focal point of budget and other battles almost solely because 1) They are funded by taxes, and 2) The employees are overwhelmingly unionized. And, in the current political climate in the US, that makes public education doubly-evil.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:23 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know it is, and has been, the thing to attack standardized testing. But, I genuinely feel it misses the point, or at least paints with too broad a brush. The problems mostly come from control and a general culture of local resistance to statewide or national 'meddling'. Tests in and of themselves are among the best ways to learn. Standardized tests have the significant benefit that there is some base line standard that you need to reach in order to be recognized as having achieved learning in a particular field.

Personally, I believe the New York State Regents testing system, combined with availability of AP exams did huge amounts to set me up for success in life. In contrast, I had college classmates from other states who had excelled in high school only to arrive at college unprepared, such as having gotten an A in high school physics but never been introduced to the concept of a vector, or an A in chemistry but unable to do anything more than identify elements on the periodic table (and had worked through some recipe style labs).

Taking a test is like playing the game in sports. The point of being on the high school football or basketball team is to gain a whole bunch of life experience, but ultimately you play the game. Sure tests can be done poorly, or mismanaged. Certainly the testing results are frequently misused- how about starting with giving additional 3rd party extra help to all the struggling students rather than trying to punish teachers or threaten school's funding? But that doesn't tell me that the problem is testing. Refusing to measure won't make the education better, it will just return us to the time when we don't know what is going on.

Fortunately, new educational paradigms like the Khan Academy math site and Code Year are integrating and iterating the learning/testing/demonstrating cycle far faster than the old methods.
posted by meinvt at 2:34 PM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Several people in this thread apparently have no idea what eighth graders are capable of when challenged in an appropriately-guided environment, nor how an eighth grade class should be run.

The fact that they think they do is Exhibit 2,325,292 in "people think they know how schools should be run because they went to a school once, but actually have no clue what they're talking about."
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:41 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is what happens when people who have no real understanding of how to educate or measure learning make educational policy OR those that do are letting themselves be bought by the Gates Foundation and the like. Cheap, efficient, and inaccurate measures of student learning are a false economy, both in the sense of bang-for-the-buck and resulting outcomes.

And Noam Chomsky really is a linguist--his text on transformational syntax was my college grammar book. I think his approach to discussing sentence structure and syntax makes much more sense than old school sentence diagrams. In fact, I used a simplified version with my 9th grade English students.
posted by smirkette at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Most of the people I know over age 30 could use some tuning in their critical thinking skills. I'll put myself in that group. I don't think primary or secondary school was EVER truly about teaching kids how to think for themselves, other than rudimentary reading comprehension and enough math to balance a checkbook and (of course) pay your bills on time.

I would bet that (1) the proportion of administrators to teachers in a school district has increased over the last 50-60 years and (2) with more admins came more metrics of educational performance. I have no hard evidence of this - if anyone wants to refute with actual facts, be my guest. (There's a research project for me.) However, if there was such a trend and if that trend was Rosemary, NCLB is the baby. God, managers and admins love their metrics. Problem comes when your metric doesn't actually measure anything important, which is frequently the case.

On preview, like meinvt, my educational career directly benefited from standardized tests, particularly one I took in junior high that identified me as a potentially outstanding student as opposed to the A-/B+ student I'd always been. I started taking the SAT regularly as a result and was well prepared for the "real" run in junior year of high school; my scores ensured that I would attend excellent schools, which I did.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:48 PM on March 24, 2012


Some of you may be familiar with software called Salesforce. It is marketed to salespeople as a tool for improving the sales process. It is SOLD to sales managers as a tool to quantify salespeople's efforts.

They've built a billion-dollar company giving managers something they can point to when firing their worst performers.

See also: No Child Left Behind
posted by bpm140 at 2:48 PM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Dr.Enormous:The idea that you can measure reading comprehension by asking for direct regurgitation is exactly what's wrong with these tests.

(To say nothing of the fact that the multiple choice questions usually tell you exactly what line of the text the answer can be found on, which means you don't even have to read the things in the first place to pass)


This is exactly how I got through high school (with A's and B's in honors classes (AP classes weren't offered in my school yet) no less). No wonder I did horribly my first semester in college...
posted by zorrine at 2:52 PM on March 24, 2012


Ow, that makes my heart hurt. Public education is a highly contested field in every country where there are sharp ideological divides in the society at large. What the debates are varies, but not as much as you might think. I say this from direct experience with the US and Pakistani education systems, and a lot of reading about others. I do not know much about Norway, Denmark, or Singapore's systems of education, but I'm hard pressed to believe that there aren't disagreements about how best to run the education system in those countries.
posted by bardophile at 3:10 PM on March 24, 2012


Here's one of the major problems with current standardized tests: they're all largely READING tests, regardless of the subject. Kids with high reading ability do much better on them than kids who struggle with reading. So you could have a kid who really is a science whiz, but isn't such a hot reader, get slammed on his test. And the tests don't give a damn if he's a slow reader because of neurological, emotional, or developmental issues: they flunk him just the same (and penalize the school and teacher) even if he *has* been diagnosed. And surprise, kids of higher socioeconomic status consistently do better on reading than their lower-SES peers due to early childhood vocabulary exposure and coming to kindergarten with all their letters and numbers, on average in the population.

I used to get my kids' test results the following year, and I'd look to see how they scored to see if there were any discernible patterns--things I might have been teaching well, things that I needed to do a better job on. Often, the kids who did really well were the ones who were already on or above grade level. Most of the kids who were below basic or far below basic had also missed tons of school, had serious family or social issues, were special needs and/or English language learners. And the rest of the kids more or less stayed on the same track they were on when they entered my class. If I was lucky, one or two kids per class would get reclassified to the next highest level. This despite spending hours trying to design active, hands-on, standards-aligned lessons that required critical thinking. Now, it's quite possible that I was just a shitty teacher, but given my admin & student evals, I don't think so. FSM knows there's always room for improvement, but I don't think I was incompetent.

This lack of movement was depressing as hell to me, and a reason why I left the classroom: all that work, and no discernible effect on their test scores? (I've since learned that generally, schools and teachers have little impact on student achievement.) Now I'm in grad school and learning various quantitative research methods as applied to education research. I have come to understand its siren song: being able to separate out effects from multiple variables! Being able to describe complex relationships! However both my stats profs, who are both well-respected social scientists, warn us of three things constantly: 1) garbage in, garbage out. If your data hasn't been gathered through a valid and reliable instrument, then there's absolutely no point in analyzing it; 2) There are no good [quantitative] models, however some are useful (some sage whose name I forgot said that); 3) Quant is just a starting place; it gives you a very incomplete picture. If you want a true and nuanced understanding of something, you MUST used mixed methods (which in the case of measuring student achievement might mean the aforementioned oral exams where students have to explain their answers; portfolios of student work that demonstrate skill and concept mastery, etc.).

Sorry for the essay; logorrhea is definitely a weakness of both English teachers and grad students.
posted by smirkette at 3:15 PM on March 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


the idea of standard tests is sound
On the one hand, you definitely do want *some* level of centralization to testing. That way you can make sure that accreditation of students is done by different people than the ones who are trying to educate them (avoiding a big conflict of interest) and make sure that objective evaluation of teachers is done at all (avoiding a bigger conflict of interest).

On the other hand, centralization always just seems to trade diversity in space for diversity in probability and time. Instead of a decentralized system where N% of decisions are made by idiots, in a centralized system we find that 100% of decisions are made by idiots N% of the time. Great when you happen to be in the 100-N case; disastrous otherwise.

Education seems to be a particularly awful candidate for totally centralized standards. Even if the standards were perfect instead of grossly flawed, they still have to choose what kind of perfection to emphasize. A nation in which 100% of citizens are experts on (say) the Byzantine Empire will still have inferior public discourse compared to a nation in which 10% are experts on the Romans, 10% on Imperial China, 10% on the Anasazi, etc., even if the latter numbers don't add up to 100%. I suppose there's a large core of reading comprehension that every student could be fairly tested on, but perhaps that's just my STEM biases talking. I know that even in math, even at the high school level, there's simply too much that we ought to be able to teach and too little time to teach it all, so we end up picking and choosing, often poorly.
posted by roystgnr at 3:16 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If that is true, then it seems to mean that children that inherently parrot back content are rewarded whilst children that do not -- and use their own voices and thoughts -- are penalised.

it's called preparation for the adult world
posted by pyramid termite at 3:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


She suggests that there's something superior about producing a free-associative "creative" response, possibly even incorporating valid external data, over producing a response that demonstrates, in a verifiable fashion, that one can read a passage and assimilate at least two elements of its factual content.
That suggestion is implied, but is beside the point: if you are being asked questions that seem to encourage creative thinking, but are then being graded based on how many basic facts you incidentally repeated, then the grading is going to be well correlated with neither your comprehension nor your composition skills.

Proctor: All right, here's your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?
Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter--
Proctor: Wait, wait... just say slavery.
Apu: Slavery it is, sir.
posted by roystgnr at 3:28 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


if you are being asked questions that seem to encourage creative thinking, but are then being graded based on how many basic facts you incidentally repeated, then the grading is going to be well correlated with neither your comprehension nor your composition skills.

And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. And that observation is just as irrelevant.

There are also parts of the ELA exam on listening comprehension, which might be useful since nobody is listening to me: Read the exam.

The section the teacher is whining about is the shortest part of the test book. They are NOT BEING ASKED TO RECITE FACTS. They are NOT being scored on their ability to recite facts. At the top of the test book, the students are told what they are being graded on:

In this test, you will be writing about texts that you will be reading. Your writing will be scored on
• how clearly you organize your writing and express what you have learned
• how accurately and completely you answer the questions being asked
• how well you support your responses with examples or details from the texts
• how correctly you use grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and paragraphing


Look at the test. Question 31 gives you the two facts. Then it asks the student to locate the passage in the reading that refers to these two facts. The student must be able to analyze the passage to locate the references.

Look at Question 32. It asks the student to explain why the author made a specific comment. The student must be able to understand and analyze what the author meant, and must know how to explain it in a short essay answer.

Look at Question 33. The student must write an open-ended essay about why the author is having an emotional response.

Did you notice that these questions get harder? The teacher is whining about Question 31, while this is the most minor part of the exam, and the fewest points most certainly.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:50 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ooooow! Missss Dan-Drea's gonna get in trouuuuu-ble! [giggle giggle]
posted by -harlequin- at 3:50 PM on March 24, 2012


Here's one of the major problems with current standardized tests: they're all largely READING tests, regardless of the subject. Kids with high reading ability do much better on them than kids who struggle with reading. So you could have a kid who really is a science whiz, but isn't such a hot reader, get slammed on his test.
How are you going to get any science done without serious reading skills?
posted by b1tr0t at 3:56 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obviously, the author has this right. I am a resident of the Empire State and my children have all taken the ELAs. These tests are ridiculous. I asked the principal of their school if they were required to take the test. I figured my kids would get more out of a day with Daddy exploring a museum or something rather than even take the darn test. The answer was interesting. No, there is no requirement that my kids took the test, but there was a requirement that (I think I recall) 95% of the district's kids took the test. Apparently, if they did not, the district would lose funding. To her credit, the principal was torn. She said she would not condone my kids missing the tests because if she did and more than 5% missed the test it would have a financial affect on the district, but on the other hand, if my kids happened to be our of school that day for a some valid reason, who was she to complain?

My oldest took the tests. We got back some sheet in the mail that had an evaluation that was so worthless as to be laughable. "Reads above grade level". Wtf? My other two opted not to take them. One, the wise guy of my three opted to go to school and tell them he was a conscientious objector and would not be filling in the answers. (I told him I would support him if he got in trouble or there were any negative ramifications.) After about 10 minutes of the teacher trying to convince him to play along, they sent him to the library to read. He wrote a poem instead. It was called the ELA Blues and it included as many words as he could work in that had ELA in the word. I am paraphrasing here, but one line went something like, "Teacher is frustrated. I am rELAxed. I am ELAted. They are not."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:17 PM on March 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


MetaFilter: My oldest took the tests. We got back some sheet in the mail that had an evaluation that was so worthless as to be laughable. "Reads above grade level". Wtf? My other two opted not to take them. One, the wise guy of my three opted to go to school and tell them he was a conscientious objector and would not be filling in the answers. (I told him I would support him if he got in trouble or there were any negative ramifications.) After about 10 minutes of the teacher trying to convince him to play along, they sent him to the library to read. He wrote a poem instead. It was called the ELA Blues and it included as many words as he could work in that had ELA in the word. I am paraphrasing here, but one line went something like, "Teacher is frustrated. I am rELAxed. I am ELAted. They are not."
posted by Blasdelb at 4:24 PM on March 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


b1tr0t, I don't disagree that reading (and writing) skills are important to scientists; these things should be evaluated. I'm arguing these skills should not play such a large a part in determining a child's science or math achievement.
posted by smirkette at 4:25 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't really speak to much in your post, charlie don't surf, but as for this,"I see no evidence she has actually seen any student responses yet." I think you missed something?

Near the end of the article:
I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither. And I applaud you, wildest 8th grader of my own, who—when asked how a quote applied to the two characters from the two passages provided—wrote, “I don’t think it applies to either one of them.”

So yes, the first response is from a student sample, but the second is from one of her own students. I think it's very possible she read many more.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 4:35 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf, I'm having a little laugh at the fact that you didn't post the actual questions, because that would be illegal. Good point too, and I totally agree. At eighth grade level, those questions should be no-brainers. Our first graders have very similar questions but at a lower reading level.

If this wasn't from commondreams.org I'd worry that this was vetted by some sinister Republican with an interest in private/voucher/alternative schools.

Seriously though, public education is very much under attack and the environment has become very Machiavellian in the last few years. I can't speak for all teachers but down here teachers are thwarted, undermined and pushed around by policy and program changes so often as to make them almost entirely ineffective. I've heard at least a couple of times when test results come back, "Hell, that wasn't even in my curriculum yet!" The curriculum set by the testing folks at state level.

All of the educators who I know IRL are either making escape plans or seeking early retirement.
posted by snsranch at 4:41 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


*opens hood*

Noam Chomsky (...) the great man

WELL, THERE'S YOUR PROBLEM.

*closes hood*
posted by falameufilho at 6:06 PM on March 24, 2012


Eighth (or 8th) grade (capitalized and called Grade 8 in Canada) is a year of education in the United States, Canada, Australia and other nations. Students are usually 13 - 14 years old. The eighth grade is typically the final grade before high school, and the ninth grade of public and private education, following kindergarten and subsequent grades.


This is the point where I have a massive cognitive dissonance with education today. At 13, I had already gone through a rigorous scholarship process (in my case, 25% of the next 5 years fees, taken early, giving me 6 months from January > July of the ending year of my childhood to do my own thing, learn how to masturbate and otherwise run wild), and had was now in the first year of a Public School. There were 4 years above me, we lived together, we boarded, and we were a co-ed school. 18 year olds strode past, you learnt your place (in ecology terms: plankton) and you worked in there.

No one, and I mean not a single student, was unable to write a 1,000-2,000 word essay in their first year. Sure, we had those who weren't great at it. Sure, there was the academic / sport spread; the kids on sports scholarships / stipends / bursaries; those who had it made, and those whose parents sacrificed it all for them to attend.

But No one, and I mean not a single student, was unable to write a 1,000-2,000 word essay in their first year.

Yes, we were lucky: our school even forced us to do 6-8 GCSEs early (in the 'top sets') to prevent boredom, and could provide an interesting, non-tested year of education in the subjects you'd passed a year early to flesh you out as a human being.

Did it cost money? Of course it did: I think my 25% amounted to about £3k / year. Was I lucky? Of course.


But...

This discussion is all well and good: but if your educational standard is multiple choice & boxed answers at the age of 13-14, then: you are failing to educate your children[1]. You can argue about costs and bureaucratic tests (my grandfather failed the Civil Service exam on returning from France in WWII, because the questioner thought it'd be clever to ask in French about the planes he'd flown, while he'd spent the last 2 years fighting with the resistance after crashing, so his French was... a bit more rough around the edges), but the bottom line is:

Modern education teaches fuck all ~ having had to handle 1st year undergrads who can't cite texts, can't write more than 2k words without dissolving or copy/.pasting, it's clear that something is failing: and those are the ones who are either rich enough, or "passable" enough to get there.

The 'Liberal' ideal that "everyone is special" and "no-one should fail" is a perversion of the ideal that "everyone is equal". Equality is not synonymous with "equal in ability". Children should be evaluated and educated to their strengths: and this certainly means that there's not a single test for all 13-14 year olds.



Education is meaningless if it does not significantly grow the subject: 20th Century teaching methods are failing badly to do so. And yes, I'm looking at you America, with your "40% of all respondents don't believe in evolution". Stamping on that isn't "illiberal" it's what adults do.





[1]SATS ~ please: multi-choice for your 18 year olds, and yes, I know all about cultural bias in written exams, but any real education is not based on multiple choice.
posted by Jernau Morat Gurgeh at 6:12 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry ~ "Stamping on that" translates to: you don't sit around looking wet while people throw nonsense at you.

Logic, Science, Math etc:

"Sorry, you're wrong. You're badly wrong. Our job is to make sure you don't carry that wrong forward. You will learn it, or you'll be placed with a nice friendly psychologist to work you through those issues."


Because, YES, that's how Bat-Shit-Crazy the whole American (with nukes, yay!) experience is to anyone who is sane.
posted by Jernau Morat Gurgeh at 6:17 PM on March 24, 2012


Jernau Morat Gurgeh: What idea in the linked article or the earlier comments are you arguing with, and what do you mean by "the whole American experience"?
posted by C. K. Dexter Haven at 6:25 PM on March 24, 2012


I apologise ~

The OP piece is a 'call to arms' for her better students, who love the English language to throw off the chains of bureaucratic testing and revel in their fecund joy of the language. Yes! At 13 I was reading Catch-22, To Kill a Mocking Bird and 100's of other great books... but... wait:

At 18, SATs are multiple choice.

That's the reality -- they're being primed for SATS. Multiple choice answers to 18 year old minds. As such, there's a massive cognitive and parody gap that needs laughing at. In that cynical laugh before crushing out your last cigarette and facing down the horde.


As to the earlier comments, there was some snark about "Danish... Singapore" students: when the education of a Danish child (esp. in things such as emotional awareness, something that's not even on the radar in the USA or Singapore) or advanced math (where Singapore is wildly over the global standards / year) hasn't been treated with the disdain that it deserves.



No-one has even touched on the dangerous idea that maybe...just maybe... your entire educational model is wrong.
posted by Jernau Morat Gurgeh at 6:32 PM on March 24, 2012


cjorgensen: "I have always believed it's the student's responsibility to craw an education out of those tasked with providing it."

I did that and when I asked the professor for a letter of reference she said she'd love to, but when I held the envelope to the light it turned out to be full of stuff saying I asked too many questions and talked too much. The other students never talked because they hadn't done the reading, I wanted to learn.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:48 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Folks, this back and forth is totally co-opting this thread. Take it to email or MetaTalk or flag and move on but do not make this thread personal and do not make this all about you, period. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:53 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am going to speak in my not-small voice: your options are MetaTalk or the night off at this point. Your choice.
posted by jessamyn at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2012


charlie don't surf, I'm having a little laugh at the fact that you didn't post the actual questions, because that would be illegal.

Well, not illegal, but a violation of a nondisclosure agreement at a minimum and they will come down on you like a ton of bricks because that means the test questions leaked and they'd have to come up with new ones. I am not grading the ELA this year, nor do I expect to do so in the near future. All I can do is point to archives online of past year's tests. Some test rubrics leak on the net, but usually only after scoring is over. I couldn't find a leak of any ELA rubrics, not even ancient ones. I did find one short rubric as a PDF, this lists the criterion used and is published widely. But the article is talking about a 150 page document, which would be top secret and would contain many samples of actual student writing from a test run of the exam only weeks before the live test, with dozens of examples illustrating each score point and how to detect the differences. I found an interesting Powerpoint file that showed only a tiny sample of what these full rubrics are like, with some actual sample papers at different scores and different grade levels.

From another commenter: I can't really speak to much in your post, charlie don't surf, but as for this,"I see no evidence she has actually seen any student responses yet." I think you missed something?

I still don't see any evidence she has scored yet. She could have been citing a response from the sample papers in the rubric. And in fact, that's exactly what she did. I have actual evidence she did NOT score any papers yet. They haven't given the test yet. It's on April 17- 19. Scoring doesn't start until April 20 at the earliest. You know, I think this teacher is turning into Mike Daisey, she's making stuff up.

Another response:

The problems mostly come from control and a general culture of local resistance to statewide or national 'meddling'.

Precisely. This essay (and several comments here) are all from teachers who are certain their methods are best, and do not want anyone telling them how to do their job. Perhaps this is true, their methods might be better. Prove it. Have your students ace the test. Should be easy for them, right?

Another commenter:

My oldest took the tests. We got back some sheet in the mail that had an evaluation that was so worthless as to be laughable. "Reads above grade level".

Worthless to you maybe, but how worthless was it to your child who sweated over the exams? And how worthless was it to the other students? You know, not every student who takes the test is like yours, the child of a well educated parent who is literate, owns a computer, reads widely, and is capable of tossing off a 500 word comment on MeFi without a second thought. Parents' educational levels are largely a predictor of childrens' educational achievements. You expect them to pass at above their grade level, and they did. No big deal, right? But this test is also taken by students who are immigrants and learning English as a second language, handicapped and must use assistive devices, developmentally disabled, malnourished and unable to focus, or any number of impediments that you can not imagine. I see those cases by the thousands. And then there are students who just fail because they are poor students. Their test scores are a red flag to their teachers to give them more help. Those are the students the test is valuable for, the ones that fail.

You know, I'll probably violate an NDA by telling you one of my most vivid experiences as a scorer. I had open-ended essay papers from different school districts. One was a very rich school system. I got several papers that were almost word for word Ron Paul propaganda. I thought they were cheating and copying off each other, but they were just repeating crap they heard, probably from TV or their libertarian parents.

Then I got some papers from schools on a Native American reservation. These are some of the poorest schools in the country. There were stories about going hunting for moose with bow and arrow, and then horror stories that were cries for help about their abusive, alcoholic parents. You really have no idea what the lives of these kids are like until you start reading essays like this, by the hundreds.

I thought that was bad, then I got a batch of papers that included some stunning essays by Hmong immigrants. These kids obviously cared about their writing, their efforts at mastering English as a second language were obvious, they generally scored well. But the stories I read about kids living fleeing from their villages that were being burned by soldiers, then living in refugee camps while trying to survive amidst murderous tribes that wanted to exterminate them, I had to look up the facts to see if they were just trying to pull at my heartstrings (we're not supposed to do that) and it all checked out.

Now you tell me that your kids didn't value the "reading above grade level" result they got so easily. Now tell that to a 13 year old Hmong girl who watched members of her family die in refugee camps and now feels lucky to be alive, let alone have the privilege to get an education in an American school, so she are making the most of it.

One final remark:

I think my favorite bit from the tests I recently administered was the warning that words written outside the box on the essays would not be graded. I guess maybe they scan the pages and send those to the graders, but the image of some petty grader just ignoring the middle of each sentence and failing a student was too funny; I nearly lost it when I got to that point. I'm already a little worried about getting in trouble for not taking the things seriously enough and reading all the directions in funny voices.

Yeah, don't do that. Take it seriously. They scan the papers and then they're scored on a computer screen. I've seen papers that had significant portions that drifted outside the bounds and I couldn't see it. So you have to score what is visible. You are doing your kids a disservice by not taking the directions seriously.

Now really, I don't give a damn if your kids pass the test or not. To me, it's a job, and a crappy temp job that pays like $11.85 an hour, or worse sometimes, piecework of 25 cents a paper. But I take pride in my work and I do it well, and I am determined to give each student an accurate score. They deserve an accurate score, regardless of whether that is a passing or failing. It's important that their teachers know how their students are doing. And in many cases, it's very important to the students that they can show they are passing.

But sometimes I read the level of these papers and just despair at the future of our country, based on the education they must be getting. We joke that these kids are the future airline pilots and heart surgeons and we'll be putting our lives in their hands someday. That is the dark sense of humor we get into sometimes.

But what really puts me into a black mood is parents who think it's no big deal that their kids, who were born on third base, are hitting home runs. Parents and their children have died trying to attain the privilege you take for granted. And I read about it from the survivors who made it, sometimes.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:25 PM on March 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


grr.. edit errors, forgive me for grammar errors (is/are, etc). And I forgot to provide the link showing this test hasn't been given yet, so she could not have been citing real test results. I mean, wasn't that obvious? Is this a reading comprehension test? She says she's going to grade the exams for the first time, and then tells her kids they "have to fail" on the upcoming exam.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:32 PM on March 24, 2012


No-one has even touched on the dangerous idea that maybe...just maybe... your entire educational model is wrong.

This.

I recently conducted a series of interviews with 4th-year Education majors. Half of them told me (proudly) that they've never written a paper in college. The Ed. major I dated in college hadn't read a book since she was 9, and made sure everyone she spoke to knew it.

These people are all teaching your children today.
posted by coolguymichael at 8:58 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I cover a lot of local school boards these days and, if you haven't been paying attention, school administrators are being driven by data to prove everything. State and federal aid depends on providing numbers about tests, who's doing well, ever increasing top-down demands for identical standards, all of which can be counted and put into a spread sheet. One of our districts just turned down a chunk of state aid because the cost of generating the data was higher than the grant.
posted by etaoin at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


when I asked the professor for a letter of reference she said she'd love to, but when I held the envelope to the light it turned out to be full of stuff saying I asked too many questions and talked too much. The other students never talked because they hadn't done the reading, I wanted to learn.
That's still not necessarily a bad letter of reference, if you're applying somewhere that isn't likewise looking for silent drones. "Your other references already suggested that you are inquisitive and show initiative, but now we can also confirm that you don't let the bastards grind you down."
posted by roystgnr at 10:05 PM on March 24, 2012


cds: what was worthless about the score wasn't that they were reading above grade level. It was the lack of granularity. Let's say the score was a 2, reading below grade level. Ok, what needs to be improved? You said this was a help to some teachers. A red flag. Really? These tests are administered later in the year. Why doesn't their teacher already know they are reading below grade level? What was that teacher doing all year? The tests like these are really bs. The state needs to be allocating its resources towards helping the children in the low income areas, in the areas where ESL is the norm and in the areas where there is little to no parental support. But what does a bs standardized test have to do with it? Maybe instead of spending the money on the tests and scoring them, the state should allocate the money toward staff and teacher development so that the students can be helped in-line or maybe allocate additional state funds to those districts so that they can afford to not lay off teachers or they can hire reading specialists.

Why not give districts the option to not lose teaching days by administering these tests and give them a choice: Administer the tests or don't, but if you don't we will reduce your state aid by some number, $50,000 (?), and that money will go towards hiring reading specialists in districts that have the identified demographics that need it. Essentially, opt out and pay for another district to have an (additional) specialist or another teacher. I am quite certain that most districts in Westchester, Putnam, Nassau and Suffolk would take the additional teaching days over the $$$.

We agree that there are many kids that need real help, that are behind the eight ball before they even start and that wealthy districts will usually produce achieving students. But this test is not going to do anything to change that and it is not going to point out anything we don't already know.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:31 PM on March 24, 2012


Johnny, some states do tests that are more granular, but they are complex, the test questions and scoring methods are really difficult to produce and thus they're hard to score. It's very expensive to test this way. Maybe you should be lobbying your school system for better testing.

I don't get to see the results of the scoring, what students, teachers, and parents see, I usually only score one part of the exam at a time and I never see the parts that are multiple choice and scored by computer. Anyway, I think the hardest test I ever scored was 5 scores of 1 to 4, I forget the exact areas, but you got a separate score for ideas, development, mechanics, vocabulary, etc. so you'd get a score like 3-2-2-3-4. And that was only the essay section of the test. Yes, some tests are much better than others at assessing student performance. But just a single solitary score of 1-4 is still worthwhile. Some tests are "holistic" and can give students credit for their overall strengths more than specific weaknesses. It's much harder to assess low scoring papers than high scoring, since the differences are more subtle.

Pedagogy is not my field (except in limited areas in foreign language) so I'm not going to solve the problems of our educational system, especially from a spot this low in the system. But from what I understand, the tests help place students for the next year, and may indicate if the student gets sent to summer school, held back, or even prevented from graduating. I have no idea what they actually do with these test results. But this is all sort of a big experiment, both in testing (they try to improve the tests themselves year over year for better assessments) and for planning educational methods, or for testing what they have already tried in the classroom.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:59 PM on March 24, 2012


When I was at school, it always struck me that standardised tests were great for maths and physics, where there is a right answer, and other answers are wrong (using error-carried-forward for multi-part questions/answers), but much less so for subjects like English and Economics, where my teachers were constantly despairing that the marking guidelines said things like "if three of the following ideas are included, give it 100%:" followed by a list. The answer could be terrible, the logic broken, and things posited as following from each other that didn't, and they would have to give it a good score. Similarly, excellent answers that didn't use the correct (or correct number of) buzzwords would score terribly. What was the result? We were constantly drilled in the buzzwords (while our teachers would grumble) and we 'learned' that saying 'inflation goes up' demonstrates more understanding and insight than 'price levels generally rise, which decreases the relative value of each unit of currency' (you know, the answer that demonstrates you know what you're talking about, rather than just parroting a word in a Pavlovian reaction to seeing the phrase 'interest rates fall').
posted by Dysk at 5:40 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I recently conducted a series of interviews with 4th-year Education majors. Half of them told me (proudly) that they've never written a paper in college. The Ed. major I dated in college hadn't read a book since she was 9, and made sure everyone she spoke to knew it.

These people are all teaching your children today.


Your experience sounds far from universal. In my area, teachers are required to obtain a master's in order to get their license, which necessitates both book reading and paper writing. And most of the licensed teachers I know are, at the least, casual readers of fiction.

Then again, most of the people I know don't date people they disdain, either.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:14 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey, I'm a first year English (9th and 12th grade) teacher in an urban district in Virginia. We have Standards of Learning Exams here (SOLs), but they basically are the same idea as the Regents that she is complaining about up in New York.

The tests in and of themselves aren't bad. The writings prompts are solid and the grading criteria takes into account many of the "creative" aspects of the English language along with the foundation needs to comprehend, reason, analyze, and edit English. We teach to the test in that we prepare them for timed writing and reading comprehension. However, the latitude that we do so is very wide: the standards are known so that if the curriculum that we create covers and enforces those standards to the students, it is used. In both the grades I teach, the lesson planning meetings always accept that the standards are solid and that we must continuously be ahead of the curve to have the highest chance that students will understand with the curriculum we use. I have never personally felt that the standards themselves or their use in the test were antithetical to someone using and learning the English language and to being the long process towards critical thinking.

The problems with the tests are what happens after they are taken. NCLB actually did some good stuff. It got more Special Education kids testing (though there are specific allowances for non-testing kids and a lot of accommodations are allotted). One of my SPED professors swore by NCLB because it fixed a lot of state stuff and got everyone on board for certain educational standards. The metrics weren't the problem with NCLB; the problem is that these tests are now used as far as accreditation and that 100% pass rate is not only considered the goal, but by 2014 you should have it. The problem is that it can shut down schools that are fighting a tougher fight than others. The problem is that it is the only real tool used right now as opposed to one tool of many.

There is this belief that teachers can somehow replace everything that has come before and deliver a 100%. Of course, this is impossible, but still it's what governments want to hear. People want someone to deliver and you can't fire parents. You can't shut down economic conditions in a four year span. You can't reshape a kid in the process of a year. NCLB isn't innately evil; it's just so unrealistic as to be destructive. Certain aspects are actually good, which I know goes against the conventional wisdom around here.

You know the reason that education is hard? Because it's really hard. Kids don't want to be there, people don't want to spend money, and the very task is one of the more ambitious in the course of human events: educate all children in America so that they're all ready for the post-secondary education that the US expects them to be at least exposed to. As much as I hit my head on useless bureaucracy, I am much more frustrated by the seemingly impossibility of the task, the lack of any interest from students, and the lack of involvement from parents. It's not sexy to think so, but educating the American children is hard no matter what you do. If it's easy, you're either an incredibly good teacher or a very bad one.

That's my two cents on the subject of NCLB and standardized testing. I used to have a more black-and-white view, by my education and my current year as a teacher has changed it greatly. I suppose in time it will change again.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:43 PM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


She lost me at Chomsky.
posted by ericbop at 9:55 AM on March 26, 2012


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