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Kvetching About Testing April 11, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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My favorite book about high stakes testing. The cafeteria serves students salmon because it's good for their brains. Available on Amazon.

Spring has sprung, and as teachers know, April showers bring May flowers testing. Yes, it will soon be time for The TEST.  For students in California, it’s the CST.  High stakes testing that will determine our school’s API (Academic Performance Index), an academic Scarlet Letter that we’ll have to wear in public for an entire year.  Public stoning is a possibility, though for most of us, it’s more about self-flagellation.  Yes, it’s “No Child Left Behind” (or only a few children and hopefully one of them is not yours).  

All of the learning and teachable moments that I’ve shared with my students since September pale in comparison with their performance on The Test.  It is the ultimate trump card and though I’ve taught my students every test-taking strategy on the planet (at least on mine), in the end they’re flying solo.  Unlike in Second Grade, where teachers can read the directions aloud, in Third Grade, students read the directions by themselves.  (Despite all my admonitions, I cross my fingers that they’ll bother to read the directions!)

We have only three more weeks to “prepare” our students for testing.  On our first day back from Spring Break, we’re spending part of our Professional Development day making motivational posters to inspire students.  This is the closest I’ll ever come to being a cheerleader.  Rah rah. 

I don’t believe for a minute that all this emphasis on testing is a reliable indicator of what children have actually learned or are capable of.  Yes, testing provides a measure of accountability, which is necessary, but really! Even my principal, at a recent staff meeting, worried out loud that all this emphasis on test results could lead to “unethical behavior,” or as one teacher shouted out, “You mean, teachers might cheat!”  

The temptation to cheat is a legitimate concern.  Especially with talk about putting students’ test scores in a teacher’s record (as in, “This will go down on your permanent record.”)  Then there’s that talk about financially rewarding teachers based on their students’ test scores. If that were the case, who’d want to teach my class? (Many students who are chronically playing “catch up” because they’re learning English.)

My students have come so far since September, but like a proud mother, I might be a tad biased. Our school librarian still laughs every time she remembers how my new boy from Korea turned to me when checking out a book and asked, “What’s my last name?”  Should I be worried?  Hell, yes! It might say “Miracle Worker” on my coffee cup, but it’s my students who move in mysterious ways (which might explain why they so frequently fall out of their chairs).

A week of testing awaits in May, and once the “offices” (manilla folders stapled together to discourage wandering eyes) go up, I can only cross my fingers, and look to the heavens.  I’m still hoping that April showers WILL bring May flowers.  


1. Catherine Sherman - April 12, 2009

I hope your students and their parents realize what a treasure they have in you! Once again you bring humor, charm and a great deal of insight to a serious subject. You get an A plus! (I know that’s not very original…..) Don’t flunk me on composition today. I can’t even blame it on too many chocolate Easter eggs. I wish the Easter bunny would have left me some.

Catherine – The E Bunny did, but “treasure” that I am, I stole them from you. 🙂 Jan


2. janelleholden - April 13, 2009

My husband is a teacher, and I truly believe that teaching should result in sainthood. He feels the same way you do about testing, and has witnessed teachers cheating on standardized tests (another teacher gave out a question a day to his class from the test). This wasn’t a bad teacher either (bad in the sense that he couldn’t teach), this was a teacher who just got caught up in the pressure and competitiveness of standardized testing and went too far. Anyway, good luck, and don’t worry too much. They’ll be fine!

Janelle – Let me know when your husband’s birthday is and I’ll be happy to observe it as a feast day. 🙂 You’re right, too, about the teacher who cheated. It’s not that these are BAD people, but under incredible pressure to produce results that are often unrealistic. Jan


3. The CEA Blog » Blog Archive » Victory Friday: Testy About Testing Yet? - Presented by the Columbus Education Association - April 22, 2009

[…] a third grade teacher in California (who writes at planetjan) muses on what achievement testing actually measures. “Even my principal, at a recent staff meeting, worried out loud that all this emphasis on […]


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