Thursday, April 15, 2010
Ivory Tower Thinking
Are you sick of hearing me complain about standardized tests? My students are certainly sick of taking them. One of them even came to school yesterday in spite of having thrown up at home that morning. He held himself together just long enough to finish his test.
If he had whoopsed all over his test, my principal would have been required to bag it and send it back to Harrisburg. All tests must be returned to the state. And while it’s satisfying to imagine state officials handling a pukey test, it would probably be an undeserving clerical employee and not one of the Ivory Tower intellectuals behind NCLB.
Next week my students take the state writing test, having just completed a battery of reading and math assessments. By coincidence, my school district rolled out a new writing curriculum this week, which was presented at today’s faculty meeting. The presenters began with a few belief statements regarding the teaching of writing:
Our district is committed to building a strong community of writers who engage in daily purposeful writing in a collaborative environment.
We believe writing is a recursive process that allows choice and opportunities to write for a variety of authentic purposes and audiences.
I whole-heartedly agree with these statements; however, I couldn’t help but reflect on how little these beliefs are respected in the state-mandated writing that will take place in my classroom next week:
Choice? No. Students write from a prompt – often a stultifyingly boring prompt composed by people who truly must be locked up in a tower somewhere. Expository essays, persuasive essays, and creative narratives are the three types of writing eligible for assessment. Because there are 3 types of writing and 3 writing tests, you might think there would be a sample of each. You’d be wrong. Last year the state asked for 3 essays and no narratives. If you consider that children enjoy being creative and demonstrate their strongest voice while writing stories, you might draw the conclusion that the Ivory Tower people just plain hate kids.
Community and Collaboration? No. The students take their writing test in a silent room. They may not confer with anyone; they receive neither peer nor adult feedback on their writing. They don’t even get feedback from the test evaluators – just a score. Students are not permitted to use dictionaries, thesauruses, references, or any resources that writers use in real life and on a normal classroom day. They write in total isolation.
A Recursive Process? Okay … Students can be as recursive and process-oriented as they like during the test, as long as they are finished in approximately an hour. They absolutely cannot look back at a previously completed sample, or peek ahead at the next day’s prompt.
I know my students will try to do their best. They always do. And yet, having just finished an exhausting array of reading and math tests, I have little hope that they will be at their creative peak next week.
All you lovers of writing out there – I know you’re probably cringing at the thought of an assessment like this. Send us your good vibes. We’ll need them.