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Ah... Spring!

© 2001 Gary S. Stager/Curriculum Administrator Magazine

Published in the June 2001 issue of Curriculum Administrator Magazine

As I write this column I find myself in the most wondrous time of the year standardized testing season. All across America flowers bloom, young birds learn to fly, teachers are sidelined and nauseous children, number two pencil in-hand, hunch over tests of questionable value.

I could use this page to rail against the cruelty associated with demanding that every child pass a norm-referenced test (50% must be below average) or to I could tell the tale of the Alabama teacher who was fired for refusing to withdraw his learning disabled students from school prior to standardized testing. We could discuss the incalculable costs – human, educational and financial – associated with test-mania or what’s sacrificed when you “teach to the test.” I could report on how insulted teachers across California feel as they are commanded to remove the materials on their walls and bulletin boards prior to the next battery of testing. Instead, I’d like to share a story a little closer to home – my home.

A few weeks ago my seventh grade daughter, who for the sake of anonymity we will call Miffy, came home from school upset. Miffy loves school. She gets there early every day, does her homework, likes her teachers and gets good grades (my lack of genetic influence should be quite apparent by now). She was upset because the AB 65 scores came back that day. Best I can tell the AB 65 is a test so meaningless that they didn’t even bother to name it. Perhaps next year’s standardized test will just be called, Test or maybe Q. The AB 65 is a writing exam.

Miffy had reason to be upset. She got a 12 on the test and the teacher announced that she was the only one of his students to do so!

A 12 sounds pretty bad, but in the Through the Looking Glass World of California public education a 12 is a perfect score. Miffy’s emotions consisted of one part pride and two parts humiliation when the teacher’s “praise” turned her into sideshow attraction.

Then the fun really started!

Miffy’s friends spent the rest of the day comparing scores with one another. Some kids who only scored an 8 or a 10 were upset, a few shed tears. Miffy, a kid who loves her friends and wants everyone to be happy, felt terrible. Can’t adults understand the way such events are interpreted by children? What was the teacher thinking?

The fact that a passing score on the test in question is a 6 was lost amidst the hoopla associated with Testapalooza 2001. In other words, kids were upset and distracted even when they had achieved the goals of the test. Low-performing districts get pounded year after year based on test scores, but it’s no picnic for schools with high scores either. They are either expected to “do better” next year or the test is changed completely.

So what about Miffy? Her Mom and I told her that we are glad she learned to write so well in her previous Reggio Emilia-based school where writing was practiced and valued every day. The importance of writing well was stressed. We also explained that the purpose of assessment is to improve practice. Like most standardized tests the students never got to see their essays critiqued, the teachers did not see the work in question and the parents are precluded from seeing how their children were evaluated. All you get is a number. How is a teacher supposed to help thirteen year olds write better based on a single number? What does a 10 on Test tell a teacher?

My son came home from high school with news of the state’s second high school “graduation test.” By now we have come to appreciate that if one test is good, two must be better. However, the boy did ask a good question. “Why do they make you take a high school proficiency test in the ninth grade and if you pass it are you done with high school?”

Miffy just informed me that last week she took another writing composition test called the STAR test. I guess the test publishers are getting better at naming. Soon all three kids will sacrifice a week or so of their lives and countless brain cells taking the SAT-9 examinations. We better hit the mall and buy some new outfits for this special event.

Oh! Did I mention that the AB 65 test Miffy took was only a practice test for next year’s real exam?

Oy! Spring!

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