There are four reasons I really dislike spring:
1) Time change
3) The advent of annual state testing and heightened expectations that make teachers and kids grumpy
4) It isn't fall
Let's talk about #3. Lots in the news these days about the annual high-stakes state testing in schools. What I hear most is the imaginary problem of "teaching to the test". It's a catch-phrase that is really convenient to use and maybe put on protest signs, but no one seems to really stop and think what it means or what the opposite would be.
Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). What is the point of school? Basically, school is to prepare a nation's youth to grow up and be literate, knowledgable and useful citizens of that nation. The very beginnings of our country had some pretty interesting ideas about education, including the Old Deluder Satan Law in Massachusetts. The point of this was to keep satan from using illiteracy as a way to keep people from the Scriptures. We've come a long way since then, but much of what happens during a school day fits with helping kids grow up to be literate, etc.
Our state, like most others, has a set of state standards. These are lists of things to be learned in each grade level so kids can progress to the next level and eventually graduate from high school and be able to choose college, trade school, military, etc. Teachers plan their lessons around these state standards and try to make sure each student is able to accomplish the learning targets so they can progress. How do we know they have hit the learning targets? We test them. We use classroom tests, computer tests, and the "big test" at the end of the year: the standardized test.
No one ever moans and groans about the classroom tests or the computer tests, but when it comes to the standardized state test, you hear about it from sea to shining sea. Why? What is so bad about those tests?
Nothing. And nothing is wrong with teaching to the test if the test is based on the state standards. If the tests are reliable (they produce consistent results with repeated administerings) and valid (they actually measure what they say they are going to measure), then there is nothing at all wrong with those tests. If you don't teach to the test, what are you teaching to? Learning targets must be clear and related to the state standards (which is what the test is all about!)
Then why is there such an uproar about the tests? Some teachers say that it is cruel and unrealistic to expect ALL students to ALL progress at the SAME rate. Those tests don't do that. I've never heard of a student being held back a grade because of the results of the state test. In our school, the test results are used to sort of "tailor" a student's education the following year. The results are not punitive, they are helpful.
Here's what teachers don't like... the tests have sometimes been used to measure THEM. Not that teachers don't want to be measured, but basing a teacher's evaluation on one test seems a little unbalanced. Our local newspaper prints the scores of every school in the county every year and since I teach a subject that is scrutinized and tested to the max, I feel a little vulnerable when the scores come out in August. Frankly, my students' scores are often not stellar. But you don't hear me making a fuss about the whole thing. Most school districts don't base a teacher's evaluation on only one test, but the teachers who are complaining would like you to think they do so they can get some sympathy and hand you protest signs that say "Teaching to the test is wrong!"
Don't be fooled. Teaching to a valid, reliable test is not wrong. The only thing that is wrong is using just one tool (standardized tests) to judge a student or a teacher. At this point, I know that is not happening in my district.
Next post- the real problem with standardized testing is not the test itself!