Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Industrial-Strength Industrialized Education.

It's almost Testing Season.
If you are a junior in high school, you have a plethora of tests to take.
ACT and SAT tests.
Advanced Placement Tests.
State Tests.
Oh, and there's also the California High School Exit Exam, which is written for seventh-and-eighth grade curriculum, but if you've failed it you need to take it again.
Kids also have benchmark exams that are district-wide.
I tell my ninth-graders to give the juniors cookies and speak softly and not to make swift, jerky movements around them at this time of year.
All of the kids hate this time of year.
Most of the teachers do, too.
Because if you haven't managed to get to Standard 406.b.1 because you actually slowed down to keep the kids with you, you are pretty much screwed, and so are the kids.
They get labeled "Below Basic," "Basic," "Proficient," or "Advanced" on the state tests.
Teachers get labeled, too, even if the kid has made enormous strides in the school year. It doesn't matter where the kid was at the beginning of the year, because they all need to be in the SAME PLACE AT THE SAME TIME by the time Testing Season rolls around.
I don't mind assessments. The ones I write show me what the kids get and what they don't get. We all benefit. I can adjust my teaching.
All of these tests make a lot of money for a lot of people.
And they get together and discuss tests and most of them have Studied Education but few of them are actually teachers. Real teachers who want what is best for kids.
And administering all of these tests looks good on paper.
Looking good on paper makes adults feel good.
I tell my students, Here is the Important Thing. I paraphrased this from To Kill a Mockingbird.
People of character do the best they can with what they have.
That's it. That is the Important Thing.
Do your best.
You are more than a piece of paper.
You are a human being with intrinsic dignity and you contain endless possibilities.
And maybe someday education will become something we do with kids, not to them.


  1. the adults need their numbers, they think they mean well, but i agree. individual improvement and teachers gaging tests to identify student strengths and weaknesses are what we need! no labels! work at their pace and find their own place when they graduate.

    (hs math teacher =)

    1. Thank you for your comment, Tara. And rock on with that math teaching and YOUR assessments.

  2. Good post. As a teacher of teachers (and now an author of kids' books), I say, Hear. Hear.

    1. Hi Nancy. Thanks for your comment--write on and teach those teachers well. :)

  3. I'd want you to teach my kids! Great post!!

    1. Flattered, DL. Teaching is a sacred trust, for true.

  4. Preach, sister. This is why I leapt at the chance to create an arts elective: TV Writing and Production. My kids are learning things like Who's On First and that for a long time the Perfect Television Family in this country was white (and it's still upper-middle class). There are standards for the study of television in New York City, which is brilliant, and they are not, as yet, tested, which is brillianter. I am planning a unit exam (what does Who's On First have in common with that scene from Taxi where Jim takes the written driving exam and tries to ask what a yellow light means? Write a pitch for a "perfect family" show that blends two cultures.) I want to see what they know and understand. I can manage to find that out on my own, though--sorry, Pearson.

    1. Boy howdy, I wish we had an elective like that. What a brilliant unit--yay for knowing about Abbott and Costello and writing a pitch for a show that reflects our pluralistic society. And isn't it wonderful that They haven't figured out how to test Fine and Applied Arts? We can work our standards at the pace that works for the kids. Thanks so much for your comment. It is very heartening.

    2. I am actually part of a study (in a different subject I teach) that is trying to figure out how to test the arts. The attitude of the folks running it, which makes sense I guess, is that if it's inevitable, we might as well try to show Them how to do it properly. Which is great for us here and now, less great for people other places and later who will probably be instructed to do things in Just Such a Way because it worked for some of us here and now. But at least the "us" is made up almost entirely of actual teachers in actual classrooms--better than Them doing it. And I can keep inventing untestable electives till the cows come home :)