Monday, March 19, 2012

Your Choice: Light or Dark


Today I give you a choice of blog posts.  If you want something light-hearted and humorous, check out the guest post on first drafts I wrote for my agent, Sara Crowe, last week.

If you’d rather have the Dark Post, continue reading here for my yearly diatribe on government-mandated standardized testing.

The 2012 PSSA tests were rolled out this year with a whole new set of security measures designed to make sure teachers don’t cheat.  That’s right – they’re not worried about students cheating. They’re worried about teachers cheating. Because increasingly, teachers’ jobs depend on students passing this test.

Every item in my classroom that could possibly influence a test question had to be covered.  Yes, I had to take down the poster defining similes and metaphors – that only makes sense.  But I also had to cover the alphabet. And the calendar. And the weekly agenda that lists the days of the week.  We didn’t have to cover the clock, but I’m sure that oversight will be addressed in 2013.

There was a big change in proctoring instructions this year: Teachers are no longer allowed to inform a student if he or she forgets to complete a section of the test.  This is a bigger problem than you might think. The PSSA consists of two different books – a test booklet and an answer booklet – and students switch between multiple-choice and open-ended questions located in two different places. For years, schools have complained to the state that the directions we read aloud to the students are confusing and often result in students missing some of the open-ended responses.  The state hasn’t changed the wording of their directions by a single word, as near as I can see, but they have instituted the new rule forbidding me to point out a blank section to a student.

A cynical person might wonder if the state wanted students (and teachers) to fail the test.

More and more, this test assesses not what students know so much as whether they can follow directions.  (Again, insert cynicism here about what kind of citizens the government wants to create.)

Three students raised their hands during the math test on the first day to ask me the same question:  “It says for me to explain my answer. Am I supposed to give the answer, too?”  An adult might think that’s a silly question – how can you explain the answer if you haven’t identified it?  But this is a serious question from a fifth grade student who is trying very hard to follow the directions.  And as I said, THREE kids asked me the same thing.

Thanks to test security measures, I was unable to tell them what to do.  “I’m sorry,” I said each time. “I can’t help you.”

I’m only your teacher, after all. I’m not supposed to help you …

20 comments:

  1. When I took the GRE for grad school I found out that my school of choice didn't even use the score from one section. As I took the exam I wondered if I should even complete that part or save my energy. Not the same as what you are pointing out but crazy nonetheless.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That just seems silly. Ya- I do wonder what their goal is with those kinds of regulations.

    ReplyDelete
  3. those are the stupidest things I've ever heard. And we wonder why our kids are falling behind...duh!

    ReplyDelete
  4. But, Dianne, don't you know educating kids to actually think instead of just following directions leads to--horrors!--a thinking electorate later on? *wry grin*

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just one more example of our government "helping" our society. And we wonder why things are going from bad to worse.

    ReplyDelete
  6. So, I could fill a whole book with my complaints about standardized testing. The short version is my daughter's dyslexic and I feel like those tests kill her soul!

    ReplyDelete
  7. The pressure caused by the unseemly amount of importance put on these standardized tests borders on the insane. Counterproductive, at the very least. It makes no sense to forbid teachers from clarifying the directions for students, but on the other hand, there was a huge cheating scandal in Atlanta City Schools, in which teachers and administrators from numerous schools were systematically erasing and correcting test answers over a four-year period. The fall-out from that mess still hasn't settled.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is so frustrating, on so many levels. I've always hated standardized testing. Now I hate it even more.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's sick how much red tape smothers a teacher's ability to teach or better yet help. Sad but still a great post. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. *hugs* for the testing irritations.

    Your post on Sara's blog was wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  11. hi miss dianne! thats a kinda scary post. its feeling like cause of all those dumb test rules teachers cant be who theyre sposed to be. part of teaching is helping and for sure answering questions is a big part of that. i just real sorry youre feeling soooo frustrated.
    ...hugs from lenny

    ReplyDelete
  12. UGH! This just burns me up, Diane. My eight year-old (who's in the gifted academy and consistently on the high honor roll) has been talking about the IREAD-3 for months now because of all this crap. You know what her biggest fear is? Not filling in the little circles properly. GAH!

    And now I read this from you that teachers can't even help them? Don't get me started... :o|

    ReplyDelete
  13. As a parent, I have no words.

    That's all I can muster without stumbling into my own diatribe of disgust with these tests that seem more focused on following directions versus encouraging the ability to think.

    Yes, I said that ugly word: Think...oh and to make it worse: Think for themselves

    ReplyDelete
  14. I personally don't think kids under 11 should be tested in this way at all. My 8 year old still struggles to read - in a test he would spend all his time working out the question!

    I think individual assessment would be much better. A teacher knows her student and can tell if they are making the grade! Or is that too simple?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I skipped the dark and read only the light. I enjoyed your post on Sara's blog. I'm a plotter/pantser. I plan out the story, then write with the plan in mind, pantsing along, allowing the story to take shape. If I get stuck, I go back to the outline to see what I'm missing. Kind of strange, but it works for me. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I feel your pain! We do provincial testing and it can be the same kind of thing. It breaks my heart to say "I can't help you" - totally breaks my heart!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Here in England, pretty much most of my daughters' school lives seems to have been working toward preparing for standardised testing. As far as I could tell, at primary level this seemed to consist mostly of working on past papers. If I hadn't worked with them at home, I'm not sure they would know anything outside of that narrow parameter.

    ReplyDelete
  18. It's so sad that people who have no idea about what it's like in the trenches, make the rules.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Oh wow. This is just sad. I'd be so frustrated. The public school system just keeps getting better and better.

    ReplyDelete