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A concerned member of the human race

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Sound Education or Test Preparation?

Daddy, What did YOU do in the Great Test Prep War?  (when your kids were being tested to death at the expense of a sound education)

Leaving the abhorrent issue of charters aside for the time being, I would like to focus on one aspect of Albany's budget plan to supposedly limit the amount of classroom time spent on assessments and test preparation.  Yesterday, Commissioner King said, "The best preparation for testing is good teaching so let me say here and now--as loudly and clearly as possible--stop doing rote standardized test prep."  I do hate test prep.  But I do feel as if King is pointing a loaded gun at me and my school with his high-stakes tests and telling us all to discard our semi-bullet-proof vests.

Commissioner King is wrong; great teaching does not in and of itself translate into great test scores.  If great teaching was the best prep for tests, there would be no Stanley Kaplan or the like, focused solely on test prep and blind to great teaching.  There would be no multi-million-dollar Pearson, Barron's, etc.,  test review industry.  There would be no Hagwons in South Korea or cram schools in Japan. 

As long as a single HIGH-STAKES test remains, teachers and schools would be fools not to exercise their last line of defense, test prep.  In the old days, test scores mattered mostly to the students.  They were reflections of whether or not students were comprehending and studying.  Most of us studied on our own without in-school prep.  For some of us, perhaps, it was Mom or Dad who pushed us to study.  For some of us, it may also have been a teacher who inspired us.  Others of us failed to study and bore the consequences alone.

Since I started teaching, the amount of time dedicated to test preparation has grown to astounding proportions.  In aiming to hit the standards proposed by the test, the curriculum became diluted.  Test questions became easier.  We reached the lowest common denominator.  The test hardly overlaps with what I feel is important to teach.  Now, in inappropriate ways, Albany has decided to attempt to shock students into unrealistic competency levels.  When students fail, teachers and "white, suburban moms" are blamed, not the "standards."

The situation is worse than ever now.  The stakes are very high.  When students fail to meet the mark, teachers and administrators may be fired, whole schools harassed, eventually closed, and communities ripped apart.  With stakes so high, schools become puppets of test prep, sapping, in the process, a child's natural love for learning.

If I wanted to prep students for tests, I might have joined Stanley Kaplan.  I decided instead to become a teacher, to convey some of my joy of learning to my students, evoke creativity and maybe inspire a few here and there.  I wonder sadly how many have been inspired in life by the likes of Stanley Kaplan.  I am guessing it's just a few and they've all become educational deformers.  If the teaching profession becomes one of primarily test prep, it is no longer a profession.  Sadly, until high-stakes tests no longer threaten teachers, administrators and their schools, we have all become whores to a testing machine.  So sad, but so true!

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