Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On Testing and Speaking Out

Bubble test tunnel vision
My school board representative, Mr. Rick Roach, took a  version of our state's high-stakes test last year. He failed the reading portion and his math scores were miserable. Marion Brady wrote about it here and the Washington Post revealed Roach in this piece.

Last week, Roach talked to the faculty at my school. He demonstrated my one little word intention for April: bespeak. He is speaking out against how high-stakes tests are used in my state. He was given the last thirty minutes of the day to talk to teachers about the work he has done to oppose the FCAT. His purpose, to ask teachers to weigh in on his work. Should he continue fighting or should he desist.

Roach echoes how many talk about standardized tests using the snapshot  metaphor, "the test is a snapshot, one picture, of students' knowledge and abilities." Yes, to really see a student's work we need to collect enough pictures to fill an album of several volumes to capture growth over time. I would add that  pictures we take differ. If all you have in your album are driver's license photos or mug shots, what sort of image do you catalogue? Students' assessment albums should capture variety and depth of performance across the curriculum.

Kaleioscope of testing materials
If teachers were teenagers chants of "Fight, fight, fight!" would have filled the room. Instead we listened. Some clapped or whispered yes--a quiet revolution in a  high school media center. Many spoke to Roach at meeting's end--staying beyond the duty day to do so.

Most surprising to the teachers sitting at my table were the numbers Roach shared:

In  2000, 15,000 children entered Orange County Public Schools and started kindergarten.
In 2010, 9,000 of them failed the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).
Last  year, 17,000 high school students were enrolled in a remedial reading class, enough to fill our Amway Arena.

Rick Roach's refrain: why?

Why are we doing this to children? Testing is not teaching. In Florida, progress monitoring via tests are required by law. That means students must take benchmark tests along the way. My district also gives "mini-benchmark" tests to target specific skills or benchmarks from the state standards. All of this testing means teachers lose instructional time. I tried to track days lost last year, but the growing list disgusted me and made me feel powerless. I abandoned my tracking at nineteen days lost. Still, that's nearly a month. Time may be relative but instructional time seems to shrink in direct proportion to the number of tests we require. Budget dollars, computer availability, even access to the school library dissipates too: all taken over by testing.

Much of the why is well-detailed in Lindsey Layton's recent piece in the Washington Post on parents opting out of testing for their children. Why not opt out? That's another post, but to find answers to why our leaders continue to push tests and up the stakes try following the money, try following political demands, try following who's being funded, try following corporate test creators. Look anywhere but to the children these tests were to save and you'll likely discover why we're test-crazed.

1 comment:

  1. I think I've said this before, but it's interesting to be in a system where we do not have this same level of high-stakes testing, and to see teachers asking for it. I think it's difficult for many people to understand how to be data-driven, without relying on standardized tests (especially difficult for admin, I think). Having said that, your post reminds me why I should not be in a hurry to get back to Florida. Surely this testing craze will eventually implode and we'll try something else?