Our responsibility to ensure kids learn
The ongoing saga about testing—To test or to over-test, that is the question!—in public schools has again risen to the forefront, and talk about strange bedfellows: conservative and Tea Party Republicans agreeing with teachers. Who woulda thunk, eh?
The Denver Post, which has seemingly become the official media organ of the test-the snot-out-of-them movement, presented the decision by the state board of education to drop the recently implemented social studies and science tests as part of students’ get out of jail/school process as “lowering standards.” That in itself, to confuse testing with standards, tells one something about the Post’s understanding of the education process.
To be fair, the Post also prints counterpoint arguments—truth to power—in its letters-to-the editor section. Nevertheless, the editorial board is populated by whom I call educationists: educational theorists with little or no real-life experience of teaching in the public schools.
What the Post and other like-minded ones who hold standardized testing as an article of faith, as a yellow-brick road to the land of Oz and stellar performance, fail to grasp is that their method to improve education has failed miserably. It has bombed more miserably than any of them would on tests they once might’ve aced when they walked the hallowed halls of their high schools.
Retired Lakewood High School principal Ron Castagna takes columnist Alicia Caldwell to task calling her “another non-educator off target with her support of the failed standardized test model.”
“The very simple truth,” Castagna writes, “is that our students have a variety of personalities, intelligences, and aptitudes which need to be embraced.”
Castagna argues a “quick, result-based diagnostic student evaluation” is a better avenue to follow.
Castagna along with other Post letter-writers point to a truth as self-evident as Jefferson’s dictum that all me are created equal: Student success transcends the role of the teacher. It depends upon motivation, parental involvement and support, behavioral issues, and the impact of society from pop culture and instant gratification to acceptance of cheating as a norm (research deflated footballs on the path to the Super Bowl and Brain William’s fanciful flight in the Iraq War).
Eric Schmidt suggests we need to “make an accurate assessment of where accountability begins and stop blaming teachers for all our problems.”
“Teachers,” he continues, “have no control over what goes on at home, whether it is income, homework assistance, or diet and ‘hygiene.’”
Letter writer Dave Peregoy also draws attention to the number of students in both affluent and poor districts that come to school unprepared. It can be due, he says, to single and struggling parents not having the time to monitor their children, or “even worse, the affluent parent not caring enough to monitor how their entitled kids are progressing.”
Chaos arises as well from the overlapping governmental and bureaucratic layers all hell-bent on charging somewhere and end up doing the minuet. Steve Laudeman finds the standards set by state and federal governments and school boards and administrators “inconsistent and sometimes impossible” to attain.
Ultimately though, for the true stakeholders—students and their parents—there is no incentive to do well if the intrinsic value of doing well is not part of their values.
“Regardless of the grade level in which children take the tests,” states Rex Wood III, “all of the tests lack consequences for either students or parents: doing poorly or well or not taking the test at all has no effect whatsoever on whether a student passes a grade level or graduates. Neither student nor parents have any extrinsic incentive to do well.”
The fact is that we’re the only industrialized nation that tests all its students. Hooray for us! Now that’s democracy. So let’s quite comparing apples—us—to oranges: the rest of the industrialized world.
We didn’t become number one through drill and kill. It has been through the creative American genius, our willingness to think outside the box, or, in Thomas Edison’s case, the light bulb.
“The real answers,” Principal Castagna teaches us, “are multiple pathways: be productive individuals where skills, the arts, and doing your best are supported by school; and no one is labeled unsatisfactory.”
Finally, we need to remind ourselves education ought to be a lifelong practice and ought not to end with a diploma.
“Not all students open the gift of education at the same time, so give all students the gift of being lifelong learners,” says Castagna. “Successful students are most often supported by strong, financially and emotionally stable families. The fix is not solely the schools’ responsibility.”