25 October 2015

Testing Action Plan is Step in Right Direction

My sons' individual state test scores arrived in the mail last week. I found them in still sealed envelopes under a bunch of junk mail this morning. I didn't even know to look for them until a parent friend of mine at a dinner party Friday night mentioned receiving scores for her sons.

Conveying her frustration with all the test prep in our public schools, my friend said all the test prep seems to be hurting her sons more than helping them. I wished I had more positive news to share with her, but earlier in the week conversations I had with educators and parents from around the country reinforced her view point. Too bad the news release about the Testing Action Plan wasn't made public until the next day. Multiple friends who know me and my stance on the issue shared links to various press releases while I was out and about with my young athlete all day.

Convo #1: an educator shared his work in a school where kids have been "ability grouped" into high, medium, and low groups. Decisions about which group a child would be placed for all subjects in were determined based on 1 source of data (a mathematics placement test). As they reviewed their state assessment data and considered gaps, they noticed disadvantaged students and students of color were predominately grouped into the low groups and were being taught by the newest teachers at the school.

Convo #2: another educator told me her school reviewed state assessment data and decided (because of her state's emphasis on "novice reduction") that teachers must not worry themselves with the students who are already scoring proficient on state tests (kids like my sons and my friend's sons) because they will be fine. Therefore, they should "teach to the low kids" to ensure those kids can score proficient on state tests next time. Not only should they cater to the kids who struggle, they should do more test prep and become a skill and drill factory, taking away any sort of imagination, creativity, or personalized approaches to instruction.

Convo #3: a parent told me her elementary aged child is provided only literacy and mathematics instruction with limited opportunities to create and explore science, social studies, art, and music. He's offered daily worksheets, a fifteen minute recess once per day, and physical education only once per week.

Convo #4: a family member told me she worries most that all the test prep causes her children to hate school and to be disengaged. That's been a concern of my own for years now. I've seen in it in my sons over the years, and some years are better than others.

Lest this post be all doom and gloom, I'll mention the update on standardized testing we saw this weekend from President Obama and the United States Department of Education who released (after I heard all the above convos) a testing action plan. In it they articulate what should be happening and say "No one set out to create situations where students spend too much time taking standardized tests or where tests are redundant or fail to provide useful information."

I believe the testing action plan is a step in the right direction. The thing is--we have to change the way hold schools are held accountable, too, because as the system stands right now, schools feel compelled to jump hoops and play a game that raises their overall ranking in the state and nation. We must change the overall system of public education in America.