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Teacher or Score Whore? August 13, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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“All perceived underachievement by students is entirely the fault of teachers.” 

I’ve been mulling over posting Rewriting the Attack on Teachers from The Last Word on The Lawrence O’Donnell Show for over a week now. The show featured a clip of Matt Damon and his mom, who is a teacher, speaking out against this national obsession with standardized testing. The comment above is taken from the show. (And yes, if you click on the link, you have to sit through a commercial first. ^#^&8&.)

But in the meanwhile, MY students’ STAR test results came in. I was elated to learn that four of my 28 third graders scored a perfect 600 in math on the standardized STAR test given in May! Even more exciting, 24 scored Advanced and 2 at the Proficient level. I wasn’t surprised about the two students who didn’t make the grade. They struggled all year and scored Basic, but it could have been worse. There ARE sub-levels of failure including Below Basic and Far Below Basic.

It helped that this year I taught a cluster of GATE (Gifted and Talented Students). They made up half of the class. The four previous years, I taught an ELD (English Language Development) cluster where the test scores can sometimes make you wonder if you’ve been talking to yourself all year.

My students’ English Language Arts scores were less stellar, but that’s always the case. Whereas, math is black and white, the English Language is a moving target for my students. Still, if I taught in one of those districts that handed out money for test scores. Ka-ching! My initial reaction was, “Woo hoo!”

But then I got to thinking, something that teachers are prone to do. Though my class tested well, most of my students have difficulty writing a coherent paragraph. And with all that test prep, we barely touched on those two subjects that begin with S – Science and Social Studies. But these things aren’t “on the test” which is code for they must not be that important.

But what about imagination, passion, and creativity? Matt Damon asked. “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.” Sssh! The elephant in the room has stirred!

In Not Your Imagination: Kids Today Really Are Less Creative, Study Says, Ron Beghetto, an educational psychologist at the University of Oregon, posits, “The current focus on testing in schools, and the idea that there is only one right answer to a question, may be hampering the development of creativity among kids,” adding, “There ‘s not much room for unexpected, novel or divergent thought.”

Amen.

When it comes to talking not just about educational reform, but educational Revolution, I can think of no one as articulate and downright funny as Sir Ken Robinson. In his 18-minute talk at TED Bring on the Learning Revolution!, Robinson urges us to scrap the outdated industrial/manufacturing/fast food model of education where the goal is standardization and success is based on the standardized test in favor of a model where kids’ natural talents can flower. He also debunks the myths that “Everyone should go college” and “College begins in Kindergarten.”

It’s rousing food for thought, especially as a new school year awaits. Score whore no more! I’m a teacher. Period.

Credit: Score: Score Whore merchandise (yes, that’s the front of a notecard for the teachers in YOUR life) available through Urban Dictionary.

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Comments»

1. shoutabyss - August 13, 2011

While I applaud the inclusion of the word “whore” in the title, I vote for “teacher,” at least where our kids and the future of our country are concerned.

IMHO, NCLB caused one of the worst incidents of “gaming” the system we’ve ever seen. The desire to quantify the unquantifiable led to a lot of evil.

I hate the paradigm that states: If it’s not on the test then it’s not important. That’s a very short-sighted view.

Thinking is good.

Shout,
Thanks for the thumbs up on “whore” – I had to think about that, but there are only so many words that rhyme with score – “s’more?”
Although I’m patting myself on the back for how well my students did on the test, I know I taught them how to take a multiple choice test. Yes, that is a skill, but it’s not going to bail the planet out of the mess we’ve created. We need students who can think outside a Scantron bubble! Jan

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2. Corinna - August 14, 2011

You know, I hope, that you taught them much more than Scantron bubbling.

As a scientist, I seriously lament the repression of creativity in our children. The best scientific minds are the ones that can see beyond the pat answers, the ones than can come up with the new ideas and experiments. Adding and subtracting can be done by computers (and in increasing amounts are) whereas there is no substitute for the human mind’s ability to make connections and see what is not immediately apparent. Forget teaching science specifics — college can do that — let’s teach creativity!

And, for what it’s worth, I think you did.

Corinna,
Thank you! I watched how the kids’ eyes lit up when you did the science experiment for the class. I’d so wanted you to be able to do more, but there was always something “mandatory” – like minutes of PE per week. I do try to infuse my classroom with a wacky creativity that will motivate even the most disinterested students. Actually, I don’t have to try. That’s just the way I am.
It’s icing on the cake to have students who join in the fun. >wink< Jan

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Corinna - August 14, 2011

BTW, China is known as a science powerhouse, but a recent study of their scientific publications indicated that their articles are about 40% plagiarized. An obvious bi-product of rote memorization, pressure to produce, and a lack of creativity. Is this coming to the US next?

Read The Education Race: China’s Stunning Test Scores. The scores are only for Shanghai. Educating every person in China is not considered a viable option. Jan

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3. Catherine Sherman - August 19, 2011

I loved taking standardized tests when I was a student. I thought of them as puzzles. But I hated rote learning, and my favorite homework assignments were the creative projects that combined a variety of disciplines, such as a poster that required measuring, designing, art and content. If I could have added smell and sound in those, I would have. I know you’re that kind of teacher! You teach the subjects so well that your students then do well on the test because they know the subject. Practice does make perfect even though it may be painful at first. You take the pain out as much as you can.

Cathy,
I excelled at taking standardized tests too. I still remember that I was in the “Wagon Wheels” – the advanced reading group in third grade. I suppose that moniker meant we were going somewhere. I can’t remember if the low reading group was called “The Ruts.” LOL Now we say, “Practice makes permanent. It’s “Perfect practice makes perfect!” Jan

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4. elissestuart - August 20, 2011

I have been waiting to receive my youngest son’s STAR test results since he took the test in May. I was not surprised that he scored well into the Advanced Placement level in 3 of the 4 testing areas. I blame his 6th grade teacher that he scored only basic in Algebra, as that teacher only re-taught the class for the last two months of school.
The problem with the district my son is in – is that they have a secretive and nasty habit of tracking the students according to their STAR test results….something that we all know is illegal.

Elisse,
The first thing I’m given at the beginning of each school year is the results of a child’s STAR test. That said, in my district, we don’t “track” students when placing them. Two years ago, I had students who ranged in reading level from kindergarten to 7th grade. I felt like I was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse! Jan

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5. Lili Chaparas - August 30, 2011

I just saw a woman on Charlie Rose last night who mentioned half the schools in China dont even have bathrooms yet (inside) and that the same things are being taught as when she went to school.. she was in her 40s mabey. I ignore those tests.. they really only show who is good at taking tests for the most part. We teach them nicely the ones that can sit still and focus how to take tests.. they should be outside planting a garden and playing with chemistry sets, taking apart clocks and machines and learning to make fire. They have all the time in the world to learn to sit still and take tests… I wonder really who invented all these tests and really why. I liked the filling in all the little holes when I was little and did not really care what the answers were seeking instead to make patterns. But then I turned out to be an Art Teacher. I bemoan the lack of Apprentices and skilled laborers , craftsman and artisians…where are those tests? Blah blah I like to complain Jan remember? Love you… I wish everyone could have you as a third grade jump into the next phase of development teacher.

Lili,
What a great comment to read as I prepare to meet my class on the first day of school! Jan

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