Archive for January, 2010

Testing in our schools

January 29, 2010

Hello, my friends,

So, I read this morning’s paper and found this headline:  TAKS TEST OUT, STAAR TEST IN FOR TEXAS SCHOOLS!  Before I read the article, my negative feelings started to grow.  I cynically thought to myself:  “Some company wants to collect several hundred thousand dollars for the creation, distribution and scoring of a new test!”  Well, that may be true, but it is irrelevant to the point I would like to raise with anyone who will listen.  So, here I go – off on one of my rants (This is a tough one – goes against the grain.)

Let’s start with the description of the new testing program:

“State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness”

“Beginning with the freshman class of 2011-12-, students who are currently in the seventh grade, end-of-course exams will be required for Algebra I, II and Geometry, English I, II, III, Geography, World History and U.S. History, Biology, Chemistry and Physics – 12 exams in all – replacing the cumulative TAKS exit exam administered during the junior year.

“New assessments each year in third to eighth grade will be in reading and mathematics, and must be ‘linked from grade-to-grade to performance expectations for the English III and Algebra II assessments,’ according to a press release from the Texas Education Agency, as mandated this past session by the Texas Legislature with House Bill 3.

“‘The new tests will be significantly more rigorous than previous tests and will measure a child’s performance, as well as academic growth,’ according to the TEA release.  .  .  .  .  ‘The tests themselves will be more rigorous,’ she (Dr. Victoria Pursch: a good friend of mine!!) said.  ‘In many ways, I see this as very beneficial.  Right now, with the TAKS, you get tested on biology and chemistry, courses you are likely in, and in physics that you may not take until next year.’

“The scores on the exams will be tied to final class grades, worth 15 percent of the final grade in a class.’

“‘There are some downsides,’ Pursch said.  ‘You have to take the test again if you fail with less than a 60.  It squeezes kids.  If you fail any of these you have to retake them.  I foresee the horrible possibility of many fifth-year seniors.’

“The way the tests will change at the elementary and middle-school levels is still unknown, though Pursch said it probably would resemble the end-of-course format of the high school STAAR exams.

“‘For third through eighth grades, we still don’t have a lot of clarity on how that will play out, though we did hear in 2011 it will be more rigorous,’ said the assistant superintendent for curriculum at Comal ISD.”

And, there you have it!  I wonder if teachers will be spending more time on that ‘valuable’ subject called ‘Test Prep’!  I wonder if we have a plan to help every child become a college professor!  I wonder what we’ll do with the kids who will not pass the tests on the first try – the second try – the third try!  I wonder what we’ll do if all of the kids pass all of the tests all of the time – will we declare that the tests are ‘too easy’ and we’ll have to re-do them!  I wonder  – – I wonder – – I wonder – – a hundred things.

My friend, Dr. Pursch, slips this little line into her speaking to the reporter:  “It squeezes kids!”  Sure does squeeze kids!!  If we can find a way to put more pressure on these kids we’ll eventually become concerned about the number of kids who drop out, who cheat to pass, who demonstrate many of the characteristics of kids who experience failure.  We could end up with kids with superb memories and little of the other intelligences:  evaluation, creativity, analysis, synthesis.  Or consider some more recent work in the area of ‘intelligence’ as presented by Dr. Howard Gardiner.  He suggests that there are many ‘intelligences’ and suggests ways we can help all people – from kindergarten to graduate school and beyond to attain and refine them.

Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”):

Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)

Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)

Musical intelligence (“music smart”)

Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)

Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)

Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

words (linguistic intelligence)

numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence)

pictures (spatial intelligence)

music (musical intelligence)

self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence)

a physical experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence)

a social experience (interpersonal intelligence), and/or

an experience in the natural world. (naturalist intelligence)

What test have you ever taken to increase what Gardiner calls ‘body smart’, or ‘people smart’, or ‘self smart’?  Who could imagine a world where ‘music smart’ would not be valuable?  And do you see any of these things set forth by Gardiner as being important?  And, will the STAAR increase a learner’s ability in these area??  What are we doing??

Let me stop this ‘carrying-on’ with a  little excerpt from a book I’m currently reading, “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink.  I strongly recommend this book – you’ll learn as you read every page!!  From the book (page 36).

“One of the most enduring scenes in American literature offers an important lesson in human motivation. In Chapter 2 of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom faces the dreary task of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s 810-square-foot fence.  He’s not exactly thrilled with the assignment.         “Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden,”  Twain writes.

“But just when Tom has nearly lost hope, ‘ . . nothing less than a great, magnificent inspiration’ bursts upon him’.  When his friend Ben ambles by and mocks Tom for his sorry lot, Tom acts confused.  Slapping paint on a fence isn’t a grim chore, he says.  It’s a fantastic privilege.  .  .  The job is so captivating that when Ben asks to try a few brush strokes himself, Tom refuses.  He doesn’t relent until Ben gives up his apple in exchange for the opportunity.

“Soon more boys arrive, all of whom tumble into Tom’s trap and end up whitewashing the fence — several times over — on his behalf.  From this episode Twain extracts a key motivational principle, namely ‘ . . that Work consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Do you think there’s anything in this little story that we could apply to our students’ learning? – to our student’s education? -to our students’ living more effective lives?

Jim

“If it’s good for kids, let’s do it!  If it’s not, why discuss it?”

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