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Thread: How Standardized Testing is Ruining Public Education

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    Elite Member sluce's Avatar
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    Default How Standardized Testing is Ruining Public Education

    A Teach for America Alum On How Testing Is Hurting Our Kids - The Daily Beast

    A Teach for America Alum On How Testing Is Hurting Our Kids
    by Jonathan Sheehan Oct 9, 2013 5:45 AM EDT

    Teaching for two years in Harlem, Jonathan Sheehan saw first-hand how standardized testing is destroying public education. But he has some ideas on how to fix it.

    “Mr. Sheehan, A and B are both right!” one of my 5th-grade students uttered through gritted teeth. He was so angry and stressed that he snapped his pencil in half. The difference between the two choices on the mandated, high-stakes state test was trivial. I wasn’t even sure which answer was correct.
    131008-sheehan-education-tease
    Martin Shields/Getty


    On a different day of standardized testing, another student sat in her chair clutching her stomach. “I don’t feel well, Mr. Sheehan,” she pleaded. She wasn’t sick; she was terrified. I could see her 10-year-old body shaking from her nerves. What were we doing to this poor child to make her so fearful?


    A third student has a severe learning disability, but was subject to the same tests and same scoring scale as general education students. Her prescription glasses broke right before the state tests. She took three grueling days of tests without those glasses, as her family couldn’t afford new ones. She scored a 1 out of 4, and, according to the state, was a failure.


    As a Teach For America 2011 corps member, I spent the last two years teaching 5th grade at a charter school in Harlem. While two years is not a lifetime in teaching, I’ve observed two constants: teachers and students bravely struggling against daunting odds; and a national obsession with standardized testing that is ruining public education.

    Our country is in the process of implementing a new national curriculum called the Common Core Standards. This implementation will cost us billions of dollars. California taxpayers alone will shell out over $1 billion to bring the Common Core to their state. The result of New York adopting the Common Core in 2010 was more practice tests and test prep for a harder test. All this testing is serving to squash creativity and the excitement of learning. We are ignoring children’s strengths, and spending precious time trying to ensure they can improve their weaknesses just enough to pass the test. It’s incredibly difficult to put out a child’s curiosity, yet we’ve done exactly that. Testing preoccupation has led to the arts, PE, history, and even sciences being downgraded—and replaced by test prep.

    Based on conversations with other TFA corps members, many school visits, and my own experiences, I’ve concluded that there are two ways we can fix the problems testing is causing.

    “All this testing is serving to squash creativity and the excitement of learning.”

    First, let’s demand high standards for English and Math—but also for the field trips students take, the research projects they conduct, and the science experiments they perform. Our testing obsession did come about for the right reasons. Only a few decades ago, students were graduating from high school functionally illiterate and lacking basic math skills. Testing was, and still should be, a way to ensure that children aren’t slipping through the cracks. The problem is not that we’re testing; it’s that we’re only testing. We have to stop teaching exclusively to the test, and put equal weight on social studies, science, PE, and the arts. Schools can reintegrate character education into our curricula; extra test prep periods should disappear and become forums for preparing the next generation of fathers, mothers, neighbors, coworkers, and citizens. Sadly, practice tests have become far too common. You don’t learn from taking more tests, just like you don’t lose weight by simply weighing yourself more often.

    Alternatively, we can keep our testing obsession, but make the test so valuable that it becomes worth teaching to. My 5th-graders lacked vital world knowledge that most of us take for granted, like the difference between a city, state, country, and continent. Fine, let’s have the test, and make it determine the survival of teachers and schools. The content should involve major world conflicts, what presidents advocated for which causes, what nations have experienced what crises, and analysis of important texts with information that is taught during the year. If students are supposed to master determining the theme of a text, the text in question must be relevant to their curriculum. Education professor E.D. Hirsch Jr. outlined this idea in a 2009 New York Times op-ed about testing, in which he pointed out that “the key to comprehension is familiarity with the relevant subject.”

    Classes should center around discussions, field trips, debates, and projects. These can serve as test prep. Visiting a Revolutionary War battlefield or taking a tour of Ellis Island can prepare students to have the necessary prior knowledge to comprehend texts of these time periods.

    Teach for America has a dual mission: placing energetic college graduates in some of our poorest schools to teach, and preparing each corps member for a life where they advocate for these children in some way. And, if you ask me, one of the best things Teach for America alums can do to advocate for children is to speak honestly about how testing mania is taking our country’s public schools further away from their goals.
    You don't engage with crazies. Because they're, you know, fucking crazy. - WitchCurlGirl

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    Elite Member Butterfly's Avatar
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    These tests suck, but you can thank the dead beat teachers who passed kids year after year even though they couldn't read and still graduated.
    Last edited by Butterfly; November 10th, 2013 at 09:18 PM.
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    Hit By Ban Bus! rockchick's Avatar
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    I;m not a teacher and didn't know too much before, still only know a little. The teachers are not deadbeats. Teachers hands are tied by govt mandates that hold districts hostage by withholding funding if certain statistics aren't met. Districts need that funding, and push kids through the system to meet unrealistic standards set by government.

    Believe me. teachers work hard. they are extremely underappreciated and get next to no support from administrators or parents. If Johnny can't read, maybe mommy and daddy should help him learn.

    ETA: Today is Veterans Day in the US. Many businesses are closed. As I'm calling on absent students today, I get the "oh I thought school was closed today" bullshit from some of the parents.

    Some parents just don't pay attention to what's going on in their kids' school life and I'm sick of teachers taking the blame.

    Flame away......
    Last edited by rockchick; November 11th, 2013 at 12:03 PM.
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    Elite Member Butterfly's Avatar
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    I'm not talking about the good teachers... I am talking about the lazy teachers who let kids slide year after year, they are the reason for these tests.
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    Super Moderator twitchy2.0's Avatar
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    That's not necessarily the teacher's fault though. There are policies in place that promote a child to the next grade regardless of whether or not he/she is prepared to be there.
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    Elite Member Butterfly's Avatar
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    It used to be that way. The only testing the kids had to do was every few years to see how the schools ranked against other schools in the nation. Now we have these standardized tests that the kids start taking in 3rd grade, and if they don't pass these tests they don't move on to the next grade...they also grade the schools on these tests, if they get a low grade they don't get funding. This all started when enough kids kept on graduating and they couldn't even read or write...this is how they keep the schools accountable now.
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    Elite Member CornFlakegrl's Avatar
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    The article points out that the testing started for the right reasons, so yeah, we all get that our schools weren't doing a good enough job. And sure, there are lazy teachers, bad teachers, teachers who dgaf, just like any other profession. But we can't lay the entire problem on that subset of teachers. The government and its useless bureaucracy, parents, cultural changes, etc all play a role.

    Personally, I think anything that becomes "an institution" gets overly protected, and therefore never challenged and never changes, rots from the inside out over time. These tests are a challenge to the old system and they are not perfect, but they are forcing change and debates and have people are at least calling for a better solution. Better than sending our kids into a decaying system and pretending it's ok.
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    Elite Member darksithbunny's Avatar
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    I guess my kids have really been lucky because they have never had lazy teachers. I actually feel bad for my youngest son's teacher. They changed to that new core thing and she said the new report cards are a "f-ing nightmare" and she isn't sure what they are going to do come 3rd quarter because the shit that is on there she will have nothing to grade the kids for because they aren't learning it until the 4th quarter. smh.

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    Elite Member MohandasKGanja's Avatar
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    You have to have some kind of standardized testing, though, because you need to set some kind of minimum standards for what kids should know when they graduate.

    The problems with public education:

    1. You have to educate everybody. Unlike a lot of private schools which can exclude problem students or students with learning disabilities, or kids whose parents are tuned out or who have very little money -- public school systems take everybody. And they have to figure out how to educate a student body that is much more wide ranging in abilities (and baggage).

    2. Teachers unions are a double-edged sword. While they have positives, they can also make it difficult to get rid of bad teachers or make needed systemic changes.

    3. There tend to be less supportive and less motivated parents in the public education when compared to private. Once again, parents who send their kids to private schools tend to be already motivated toward educating their kids, and are more motivated to support them to protect the investment they are making.

    There are great public schools out where I am. Mainly because the parents are super educated, affluent and super involved in the process. Unfortunately, a lot of other places aren't like that.
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    Elite Member sluce's Avatar
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    The problem with these tests, and the current use, is how they are administered. We are forcing teachers to teach to the tests to protect their asses and get their district a high score. The best way to do that is to focus on the middle group of kids who have the greatest chance of actually improving. The top tier performers are going to do well anyway. The bottom tier become a write-off. Not enogh time to get their scores high enough to matter so why bother. It's not fair to the teachers, or students,and is not an effective measurement tool.
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    Elite Member Butterfly's Avatar
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    It is crap. When the kids start kindergarten they start in on the tests and how important it is, and they don't take it until 3rd grade! By the time the tests roll around the kids are about ready to have a nervous breakdown. Some kids are great students but shitty test takers, it really does suck.
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    Elite Member MohandasKGanja's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Butterfly View Post
    It is crap. When the kids start kindergarten they start in on the tests and how important it is, and they don't take it until 3rd grade! By the time the tests roll around the kids are about ready to have a nervous breakdown. Some kids are great students but shitty test takers, it really does suck.
    My kids couldn't care less. The only thing they know is that the night before they have to go to bed earlier, but get a bigger breakfast the next morning.

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    Elite Member Butterfly's Avatar
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    Does your children's school depend on high test scores for funding? In Florida if your school fails they will stamp a big "F" on your school for all to see...that is why schools with an "A" rating will put in on their billboards and web pages... Jobs depend on high test scores from these children, so the teachers and admin put a great deal of stress on them. Kids are taught to the test and if they want to learn fun things like dinosaurs the teachers have to find a way to squeeze it into their curriculum.
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    Elite Member sluce's Avatar
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    Exactly. You need your kids to do well or you end up taking them to meetings in bars trying to get them an internship....
    You don't engage with crazies. Because they're, you know, fucking crazy. - WitchCurlGirl

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    Elite Member CornFlakegrl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Butterfly View Post
    Does your children's school depend on high test scores for funding? In Florida if your school fails they will stamp a big "F" on your school for all to see...that is why schools with an "A" rating will put in on their billboards and web pages... Jobs depend on high test scores from these children, so the teachers and admin put a great deal of stress on them. Kids are taught to the test and if they want to learn fun things like dinosaurs the teachers have to find a way to squeeze it into their curriculum.
    We've had this conversation before so I'm repeating myself but I tell my kid the test is not about her success or failure so do your best and forget about it. I take that pressure right off of her.

    And IDK why, but in my kid's school they seem to have plenty of time to teach the test and do other things. Their test scores are well above state average, yet they do projects, science labs, take field trips, etc. Hell sometimes I'm bothered by the amount of time they seem to have for silent reading. Granted it's usually only the last 5 minutes or so of class but all I hear is how bogged down the teachers are with "teaching to the test," yet there seems to be leftover time in a lot of classes.

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