Sarah Blaine said:
ten years into private practice, I don’t draw on my two months of intensive bar test prep to advise my clients or manage my work. I don’t rely on essay formulas to craft my briefs, and of course I have never encountered an MBE-style multiple choice question. But the thing is… PMBR and BAR/BRI worked. Test prep works. Test prep taught me to immerse myself in the logic of the test-makers, and how to effectively game the system to achieve my goal: a passing score.
The fact that test prep works is what scares me as a public school parent, because as a parent I know that my child’s standardized test scores tell me virtually nothing about whether she’s actually mastered the academic skills she needs for a successful future.
My two months of bar test prep taught me that mass-produced bar prep can successfully raise scores: my MBE score skyrocketed when I left my inquisitiveness, curiosity, and thoughtfulness at the door, and instead immersed myself completely in the test-makers’ logic. I was willing to engage in two months of intensive test-prep because the stakes were so high: I could have lost my new job for failing the bar. Test prep was a means to an end, and it was an end I wanted (passing the bar so I could begin my career as a litigator at a large law firm), so I was willing to spend (my firm’s) money and my time on the commercial test prep courses. Thankfully, though, our (generally tenured) law school professors focused on preparing us for the practice of law, and not on preparing us for a soon-to-be-forgotten standardized test.
But what will my child gain from devoting 9 of her 13 years of public education to test prep? She might become a genius at immersing herself in the logic of the test makers, but will she learn to write purposefully and well? Will she learn to creatively attack a problem? Will she learn empathy and art appreciation and history and how to work as a member of a team?
Image credit: Bubble World, Benjamin Chun
Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.
All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.
Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.
Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?
Image credit: perfect, romana klee
Sir Ken Robinson said:
It’s not the need for standards. It’s the way they play out. . . . testing is not some benign educational process. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that is absorbing massive time, resources and cash that could be used for other things. Its a massive profit-making machine. . . . You can look at the value of there being some sort of commonly-agreed standards and some core content that could be helpful to schools. That’s one conversation. You can look at some value of some form of diagnostic testing. But when you look at it cumulatively and lay the politics on top of it, it’s just a mess. . . . People are just exhausted by this whole enterprise. . . . If you don’t implement reforms, then you don’t get the cash. It’s just trying to whip people into line. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as other countries are showing, looking for more creative approaches to education. . . .
Image credit: 10’Morgan Blacksnake, AldoZL
Diane Ravitch said:
It’s totally inappropriate to compare opting out of testing to opting out of immunization. One has a scientific basis, the other has none. The tests that kids take today have nothing to do with the tests that we took when we were kids. When we were kids, we took an hour test to see how we did in reading, an hour test to see how we did in math. Children today in third grade are taking eight hours of testing. They’re spending more time taking tests than people taking the bar exam.
Now, when we talk about the results of the test, they come back four to six months later. The kids already have a different teacher. And all they get is a score and a ranking. The teachers can’t see the item analysis. They can’t see what the kids got wrong. They’re getting no instructional gain, no possibility of improvement for the kids, because there’s no value to the test. They have no diagnostic value.
[It’s as] if you go to a doctor and you say, ‘I have a pain,’ and the doctor says, ‘I’ll get back to you in six months,’ and he gets back to you and tells you how you compare to everyone else in the state, but he doesn’t have any medicine for you.
As Worlds came to end, I realized something: experience is everything. In your life you will feel an endless amount of emotion and all of it will have been caused by the experience. We ended up only winning two matches and loosing the rest. The floor mats were squishy because they were new and so the wheels on our robot would sink into the ground. There was a team (The Pandas) and a group that was there (a sponsor) who let us borrow their wheels so that we could drive a little bit better. The rest was just being paired against teams who were better than us, and that’s completely okay. Robotics and the FIRST program isn’t about winning. Yes, it is nice to get an award for being the best but there is so much more to it.
Aside from the arena, there is also the pit area. Think of it like NASCAR for a minute and you will understand. In between matches, if something really bad happens to the robot (Linda,) she will come to the pit to get fixed…and quickly. The pit area is also a place for judges to come talk to us and a place for us to present ourselves to the general public/other teams. We decorate our pit area pretty heavily like many other teams there. It attracts many little kids and a lot of adults too… our theme is pretty much “any-age-friendly.” Gillian and I decided to mix things up this time and we would dance and sing for teams along with statue standing. We had stamps, buttons, key chains, stickers and pamphlets to give out. The team was interviewed twice while down there. Once by the people of FIRST and another time by Student News Net! The FTC played our interview on the live stream and Student News Net will publish our story tomorrow (Monday!)
At closing cerimonies Dean Kamen, Woodie Flowers, and many others gave speeches, handed out awards and introduced new technology to us. They gave a senior recognition and a small speech to all of us…we got to stand up. In a stadium of thousands it was intimidating. It was exciting and made everyone jittery for the next couple of years. It got me pumped up for the next couple of years. After that, we had the “after party.” We got to hear Christina Grimmie perorm along with BoysLikeGirls a pop punk band. We didn’t end up getting back to the hotel until around 11 PM-ish and I got home about 5 minutes about (6:00 PM.) It’s really nice to be back in Iowa around familiar things…like my bed. It has been a long but extremely successful week for the Sock Monkeys. We hope to do this all over again next year-even though I nor Logan, Caleb, and Giovanni will be there.
A HUGE thank you to Scott McLeod for letting me share the experiences of FIRST again and a HUGE thank you to my community/school for helping us get to where we are now! f
Peter Greene said:
[When advocates] come to explain how crucial PARCC testing is for your child’s future, you might try asking some questions:
- Exactly what is the correspondence between PARCC results and college readiness? Given the precise data, can you tell me what score my eight year old needs to get on the test to be guaranteed at least a 3.75 GPA at college?
- Does it matter which college he attends, or will test results guarantee he is ready for all colleges?
- Can you show me the research and data that led you to conclude that Test Result A = College Result X? How exactly do you know that meeting the state’s politically chosen cut score means that my child is prepared to be a college success?
- Since the PARCC tests math and language, will it still tell me if my child is ready to be a history or music major? How about geology or women’s studies?
- My daughter plans to be a stay-at-home mom. Can she skip the test? Since that’s her chosen career, is there a portion of the PARCC that tests her lady parts and their ability to make babies?
- Which section of the PARCC tests a student’s readiness to start a career as a welder? Is it the same part that tests readiness to become a ski instructor, pro football player, or dental assistant?
- I see that the PARCC will be used to “customize instruction.” Does that mean you’re giving the test tomorrow (because it’a almost November already)? How soon will the teacher get the detailed customizing information– one week? Ten days? How will the PARCC results help my child’s choir director and phys ed teacher customize instruction?
… The PARCC may look like just one more poorly-constructed standardized math and language test, but it is apparently super-duper magical, with the ability to measure every aspect of a child’s education and tell whether the child is ready for college and career, regardless of which college, which major, which career, and which child we are talking about. By looking at your eight year old’s standardized math and language test, we can tell whether she’s on track to be a philosophy major at Harvard or an airline pilot! It’s absolutely magical!
Never has a single standardized test claimed so much magical power with so little actual data to back up its assertions.
Image credit: Caution: Magician Ahead!, Kevin Trotman