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.

7 comments:

  1. Where's the tower? I'm on it.

    Sending good vibes....

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  2. As usual, the lunatics are creating the rests. Nonetheless, may your students have the best of luck.

    Malcolm

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  3. Standardized tests are horrible. Being in high school, I know the pain of writing to those boring prompts. I totally feel for your students.

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  4. During 30 years teaching college English, I have watched the "experts" with green eyeshades and education degrees increasingly insinuate themselves into the process of instruction. We are the worse for it, I believe. I once pointed out to my father in law, who bragged about the sound education he had got in his one-room schoolhouse, that his teacher had had no education administrators over her. She also had only eleven students total. I might add that parents back then were willing to pay for that....

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  5. Ugh...standardized tests. Ugh...NCLB. When I used to teach writing, the thing that really made me cringe was the students who came to me having learned a "formula" for answering a question. A formula???? A formula???? That should be illegal! Are we training kids to write like little robots? Good luck with those tests--maybe one day we'll come around.

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  6. Sigh. I could get my students to write something really fantastic for their state exam -- something they were invested in, took time with, cared about, and was truly a snapshot of what they could do with available resources ...

    But it wouldn't be standardized.

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