Buzzzzzzz.


In the wonderful world of modern education, we are absolutely awash in buzzwords.

Multisyallabic, mellifluous, alliterative and for the most part meaningless.  Sometimes when I try to insert them into my conversations at work, I kind of gag a little.

As you probably know, its the first month of school. I have been with my new crop of children for seven school days now (although two were half days, so I guess its really only six.) In my perfect educational world, I would still be getting to know the kids at this point. I’d be sitting with them while they read the books that they brought from home, so I could find out who likes fiction, who likes science books, who clings to comic books (ooops. Scuze me: “graphic novels”.)  We would take walks in the woods near the school so that I could listen to the children chat, and find out who is a natural leader and who prefers to follow.  In my warm and fuzzy perfect school, children would write me a letter filled with all of the questions that they have about life in the fifth grade, and I would encourage them to add their suggestions and wishes. That’s how I would learn who enjoys writing, who is a creative writer, who needs spelling support and who needs to relax and learn to love the written word.

Alas.  I am not in charge, and this is not a perfect educational setting. It’s a public school in the year 2012, and instead of spending time fostering a caring and safe community of kids who love to come to the classroom, I am spending precious time on “formative assessment” designed to “inform my instruction” and “gather baseline data”.

Translation? I am testing the living crap out of everybody.

I have already given a five page, 40 problem “Placement Test” in math.  It took an hour and a quarter of classroom time.  Know what I learned that was supposed to “inform my instruction”?  The kid who told me that she is scared of math did poorly.  The kid who told me that he works on calculus at home with his Dad did very well.  The two students who receive special education support for math didn’t manage to finish (but already feel bad about failing). The rest of the kids need some review and repetitions of the hard stuff.  Whoopdie freakin’ do.

I have administered a three page spelling inventory which I now need to spend roughly four hours of the weekend analyzing and scoring. What will I learn?  That the kids who misspell common words on their classroom work need to learn how to utilize sight words and the kids who omit consonants needs some work in analyzing sound patterns. Can I please have my four hours of weekend back?

And on Monday I need to start administering 24 reading “assessments”.  Individually.  Outside of the classroom. Which means leaving the other 23 little munchkins in the classroom on their own.  AHAHAHAHAHA!!  And each “assessment” takes about 15 minutes, which means six more precious hours of what could be learning time spent listening while kids  read boring little books about topics that don’t interest them.  All in the name of “informing my instruction”.  Even though it doesn’t actually inform anything!

I have 25 years of experience as a speech/language pathologist, which means that I can listen to a child read and tell you how much of his poor fluency is impacted by poor articulation, irregular breathing patterns and weak auditory processing.  Forgive me, but the boring little book passages don’t show me any of that.

Now let me be clear (as the politicians would say): I am not averse to testing when it serves a purpose.  For example, I have a student who was born in Pakistan, spent three years of school in Massachusetts, then returned to Islamabad for grade four.  I don’t know what his skills are, and I don’t know how much his first language is impacting him.  He is a student for whom the “Placement Test” was valuable; I can meet with him now to go over the topics that he missed, and that can tell me what he needs to learn and what he simply needs to review.  That, my friends, is “informing my instruction”.  And I have a student who struggles mightily with spelling, although her reading is on grade leve.  I would have gladly given her the spelling inventory so that I could do a deeper analysis of her weak areas.  If I didn’t have to spend so much time assessing the kids who we all know read at grade level, I could also give her a phonology evaluation, and that would tell me whether her weaknesses are visual or auditory.  See?  Those tests have value!

The pack of tests that I have to give to every student are only meant for one thing:

Under all of the new laws and mandates, teachers now have to prove that every single child has made progress in every single subject every single year.  Emphasis on the word “prove”.  So we test, then we test again, then we spend another 25 hours of what could have been learning time testing them all again.  In addition to the six days of state testing which are also lost to teaching.

So, “formative assessment”, “informing our instruction”, “summative assessment”, “deepening understandings” and “making adequate progress” are all a bunch of empty buzzwords.  What they mean is this:

“We don’t trust you teachers at all.  We don’t think you understand kids, and we don’t believe that you would recognize progress if it bit you in the ass.  Go give another test.”

I am one pretty sad teacher today.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Amen, sister! You took the “buzz” words right out of my mouth! Thank you for sharing our solidarity–it makes it all tolerable (just maybe) knowing we’re not alone. Now, to take our profession back!

    Seriously, though, “testing the living crap out of everybody” is beginning to make me feel like a war criminal who somehow manages to live with the guilt by uttering the gutless “I was only following orders” defense. This political-fingerpointing-gone-policy-making testing frenzy is ruining teaching and learning. I’ve watched the ever-increasing ill effects for two decades now. What to do, though.

    Thanks for making light with such a heavy burden on our teaching hearts. I’m smiling!

    Psst! I snuck in some of those old-school, authentic, student-centered, informal assessments (how do you like “them” buzz words?) you mentioned–I asked questions about their likes, dislikes, interests, preferences, etc., we talked, drew, wrote in journals, ate lunch together, and took breaks when we needed them. But what’s written in the blogosphere stays in the blogosphere, right?

    Yes, I administered the assessments. I tested the you-know-what out of every one of them. I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I wasn’t doing my job, which I actually wasn’t doing because my job is to actually TEACH, not just TEST! It’s just too bad they don’t let me do what I do best. I miss being a teacher, a professional who is trusted to bring out the brilliance in each one of those beautiful children.

    Keep posting, please, and thanks!

    Reply

    • Wow, your reply is a blog post in itself; you need to get it up there!!!
      I did all of those “authentic, student centered” assessments, too, and next week I am having lunch with four kids a day to just relax and laugh together! Thank you for making me feel better; want to start a school with me???

      Reply

  2. You are so right! I have to administer a 45 page (yes…45) reading assessment to a bunch of 6 year olds. These 6 year olds are supposed to be coming to me reading at this level: “Where is my hat?, said Ben. Ben looked and looked” This would be considered quite good. What does this test look like? It has a 2 page reading passage that talks about cells in plants. Really? This test is supposed to place the children in approaching/on grade level/or beyond levels. I can guarantee all it will tell me is that none of them are reading at that level. So are all of them below grade level? I doubt it. What I can promise you is that they will probably all be crying by the end of it. When I complained to our curriculum person, I was told that this test will show growth over the school year. If they all do bad in September, it will look good in June that their scores have improved. OK, so that helps ME come evaluation time, but does it help the kids in any way? I don’t think so. But who asked me 🙂

    Reply

    • GAH!
      That is really horrible! Why don’t the assholes….I mean….”administrators” in charge recognize that a weeping child is NOT giving a valid response?
      We have come so far from what evaluations were ever designed to accomplish. I’m so sorry!

      Reply

      • I teach children with emotional impairments, so I’m hoping to only get crying. I may get chairs thrown 🙂

      • I applaude you for what you do! So few people out there understand the reality of thrown chairs, bites, kicks, pencil jabs……or the reality of sad, angry, frightened children who have so much more on their minds than literacy.

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