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Test Time (UPDATED)

March 2, 2011
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It’s Test Time here in Colorado, and I have a confession to make.

When I was teaching, I didn’t completely hate CSAP time. A small part of me actually… kind of liked it.

Don’t misunderstand: I hate virtually everything about CSAP. It’s high-stakes nature distorted virtually everything my school did, from the way the curriculum was structured, to how we were asked to teach, to what we taught in the weeks and months beforehand. It even distorted how we allocated the time we spent with certain types of students, and introduced the notion of “triage” into a space it doesn’t belong. It distorted our behavior, too– once-proud professionals reduced to monitors, occasionally scurrying about with special erasers to ensure that children didn’t tear its all-important pages by erasing their own mistakes.

I hated—and still hate—the way the results are used. They don’t inform instruction (what am I supposed to do with charts and graphs distributed in July, about kids who’ve already left my classroom?), but they’re mighty useful for politicos who know nothing about education but want to sound like they do, and for other people trying to sell houses and curricula and more tests and whatnot.

I hate how they make some children feel– nervous, upset, inadequate, nauseous. I hate how frequently they misidentified and misinformed children, leading some to feel they were less intelligent than they are, and others to feel they had full command of a subject, when in truth they’d only learned to mimic its most basic requirements.

I’d hate how they were used to judge my worth as a teacher, too, but I “escaped” just in time for that.

But CSAP time did have a little bit of appeal. Proctoring most of the day, for the most of the month, meant that I spent most of that month not planning lessons or grading. It meant I could actually go home while it was still light outside, since McGraw-Hill had already laid out what I was expected to do: Pass out booklets, answer sheets, and pencils, read a robotic script, make sure nobody cheated, and collect everything at the end. The non-test parts of the day were mostly spent on snacks and recess, because the kids were usually so fried after each test session they couldn’t handle much else. Being in such a highly unnatural situation—sitting in rows, totally separate, pin-drop silent, under strict time constraints—for so long is incredibly taxing, especially if you’re a kid who finds the actual content difficult as well.

Yup, for two weeks or so, I didn’t have to plan, or grade…or think, really.

But that only appealed to the lowest piece of me; that little voice that asks for the easy way out, the piece that’s normally suppressed in pursuit of important goals. (The bigger, better piece that does the suppressing was tired and worn out from months and months of struggling against the kind of standardization the test encourages.)

And thinking of that, I wonder what kind of teaching force we’re hoping to build. Who are we hoping to attract, when we spend more and more time and money on tests that aren’t created or scored by teachers for specific students and classes, but by faraway corporations who dictate exactly how they should be administered, and temporary workers (or machines) who “assess” performance in two minutes or less? The same can be said for pre-packaged, scripted curricula. It’s maddening for the thoughtful, committed practitioner who spends extra time compensating for what the curriculum lacks (and/or struggling against demands to use it)…but it’s liberating for someone who doesn’t care to plan, or grade, or think.

As our teaching force transitions, and increasing proportions of teachers enter the classroom without having apprenticed with master teachers, without having designed and developed their own curriculum and assessments, or without even knowing that there are other ways of teaching and learning that don’t come out of a box or a district-mandated binder, the temptation to rely on these shortcuts will increase. (That temptation will be fanned, no doubt, by lobbyists and PR folks from the companies selling these “goods.”)

What kind of person will be drawn to lead our classrooms then?

*     *     *

I’m not the only one thinking about Test Time right now:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2011 8:16 am

    Thanks for the post. Your raise an important issue: the future of the teaching force. Few people talk about it.

  2. March 6, 2011 8:18 am

    Thanks for the post. You raise an important issue: the future of the teaching force. Few people talk about it. (I had to fix the typo.)

Trackbacks

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