Tuesday, September 20

Testing

Home life is more or less officially wrecked for the week as this morning marks the beginning of three days of public school testing, the ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus; I'm not sure what the plus is), and my wife goes from skilled and caring educator to warden at a juvenile detention center. We both know she will not be a happy camper. I've already planned on serving up her favorite foods and a fully-stocked bar.

Hey, stick around. Mitch Daniels will make an appearance shortly. Maybe he'll even cut a ribbon.

Indiana instituted statewide standardized testing, in stages, beginning more than a decade ago. We now test students in grades 3-10 yearly; the 10th grade test (the one my wife will be administering this week) is a Graduation Qualification Exam which must be passed before a student receives a diploma.

And as we all know, the Bush administration, proudly upholding the tradition of a political party which wanted to abolish the federal Department of Education as little as ten years ago, has added requirements via the Infinite Justice for Left Behind Children Act designed to prove that inner-city schools are failures right before we slash their funding, put the students in a lottery to attend schools run by the private sector, and call the whole thing off before it affects too many white people.

From most teachers' point of view, at least those I know or my wife talks to, testing is a sick joke, a waste of one week out of the school year, which takes far too long to get the results back to the teacher and offers little meaningful information once they do arrive. Of course, we're talking about the high school, pass-this-or-don't-graduate test. Elementary teachers may have a different perspective, but Indiana has the longest lag time in returning test scores in the nation, for some reason.

Standardized testing used as a political weapon is a costly fraud which does a considerable amount of harm in the name of proving that public schools are "failing". It's a philosophically unsupportable position, but worse, it's a racially motivated one. We're still fighting integration under the guise of concern for underachieving students in the poorest school districts.

We've known since the Coleman Report in 1965 that the major determinant of scholastic performance is income and socio-economic level. If we want to improve academic achievement among our most disadvantaged citizens the place to start is by improving nutrition and providing health care, not by administering tests designed to slap a big red F on our inner-city schools. Now that our President has recognized the role of racism in the chasm between rich and poor, perhaps he'll turn that sharp legal mind back to education, which was once such a hot topic for him.

Oh, and Mitch? Well, he's decided that his campaign position on moving testing to the Spring was such a solemn pledge he's going to ignore the fact that the legislature turned in down and achieve it by packing the state Board of Education with people who agree. Suellen Reed, the (elected, Republican) Superintendent of Public Instruction, who favors continuing Fall testing, says the move will cost $14 million, require reworking of the tests and pilot testing for fairness, and render useless previous statistics. Daniels says the disruption will "only" amount to a year or two, and that the publisher (CTB McGraw-Hill) has written him promising to move the test for free in exchange for keeping the state's business.

[This is another one of those head-scratchers for me, since Daniels' party is the one that insists corporations don't actually pay taxes, they just pass taxes on to their customers, but they're the first one to tout some public/private bargain as providing "free" goods.]

Of course you always need to keep in mind that this is coming from a state that can't decide what time it is. And speaking of campaign promises, Mitch declared a preference for Central Time back then, but once the issue got hot he kicked it off ol' RV-1 and sped off down our underfunded highway system. I guess some promises are more equal than others.

3 comments:

D. Sidhe said...

Amen. I don't even *like* kids and I think the constant testing demands are inexcusably sadistic.
We *do* know why kids fail in school, nearly all the time. They're too hungry to pay attention, they're sick with no medical attention, they're being abused, they're stuck in a deteriorating school, they've got out-of-date (or up-to-date but politically agenda-centered) books, they have learning disabilities, they need glasses, child-to-teacher ratios are unacceptably high.
And we know how to fix most of these things, too. Not only do we not seem to be willing to do it, but at this point we're actively doing things to make most of the problems these kids face *worse*.

NCLB is the most counterproductive educational policy this side of privatization.

Pepper said...

They just closed a failing school in San Francisco. I never got it - isn't a school that is "failing" a sign that it needs more resources, not less?

I also felt that the tests were a way to punish the teachers. "Look! The teachers aren't working hard enough! It's not the fact that these kids have crappy lives that make their brains crappy! No, it's that teacher who works round-the-clock to keep up with overstuffed classes!"

eRobin said...

From most teachers' point of view, at least those I know or my wife talks to, testing is a sick joke, a waste of one week out of the school year, which takes far too long to get the results back to the teacher and offers little meaningful information once they do arrive.

It's the same in the elementary schools in PA - or at least in mine. I got a sheet of results in the mail months after the test was taken - in the summer so I had no access to the teacher - with no idea of what it was supposed to tell me about my kid. And this stupid test will determine (partially) whether she gets tracked up in middle school. It's absolutely maddening. And then they want you to be all involved with the school when all I feel is completely powerless and useless to my child.