Thursday, May 8, 2014

Standardized Testing, TCAP, Common Core and Why it All Sucks.

The TCAP standardized tests (aka the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) have finally wrapped up for the school year.

Have you seen the clip from the Stephen Colbert's Report yet? (You can find it here.) Kind of sums up how I feel about Common Core and the testing procedures. He just doesn't swear as much as I do when I talk about them. Because they are completely &#$*%@* ridiculous.

Essentially, students have to stop learning in about March or earlier, so the teachers can start teaching the test. Curriculum and routines are disrupted so they can concentrate on test preparation. According to the Coalition for a Better Education website, " Roughly one-third of our instructional time is habitually swallowed up by District testing, surveys, and mandates." (http://www.thecbe.org/issues.html) While that may not be an accurate estimate for all schools, it's still a healthy chunk of time each year. Which in itself is concerning; let's stop what we're doing, you know, that whole teaching crap, so we can administer these tests to see where our students compare to everyone else. Because as we all know, kids are exactly the same.
I don't know who to credit for this cartoon, but it sums things up nicely.

It seems pretty obvious. Why is it so difficult? And then there's the cost...various sources estimate that it costs about $55-70 just to administer the test, per kid (not including preparation time/costs). According to the Colorado Department of Education there were 854,265 kids in our public schools in 2012. Factor in the average 10,000 new students enrolled each year and you have nearly 875,000 students. Think about that for a minute; while I would have failed miserably at the TCAP math tests, even I can figure out how much that equals. On the low end, that comes to nearly $50 million. Imagine all the pencils that would buy.

I have yet to talk to a teacher who is a proponent of these tests. One jokingly mentioned that she has to stumble around when she passes them out, with her eyes closed because the teachers aren't allowed to look at them. And I had to laugh when I saw this:
That's my handsome 4th grader, balancing his pencil during his TCAP test. See that white area? That's where the test was physically cut out of the picture, and then pasted to a plain white piece of paper before it was sent home. So, why? To prevent me from getting out the magnifying glass and selling the information? Maybe that's not such a bad idea...there seems to be a lot of money to be made in this whole testing process.
Wait, officer, please! I swear I wasn't selling the TCAP...it was just cocaine! And guns!
If we put aside the fact that the test is based on the ridiculous assumption that all children learn and test the same, and ignore the amount of money that it takes to administer these tests, there's still the aspect that I take the most issue with; the child's emotional health.Yes, I get it. Tests are supposed to be stressful. Especially for seniors taking the ACTs, or college finals or blood tests or pregnancy tests. You know, for the things that can actually affect your life. Not every kid is academically gifted, nor do all kids test well. The schools hype up the test for so long, telling the kids how important they are, over and over, until even the calmest kid is going to be affected. And how about the kids that already struggle, and/or have anxiety issues? My son came home twice during the first week of testing because he ended up in the nurse's office with severe anxiety attacks. And one day I couldn't have forced him to school, even if I had tried. Which I didn't, because a 10 year old boy should not be crying and throwing up over a test. In fourth grade.

To make it worse, they set up a "carnival" for the students that achieved so many points on their testing. So not only did he have to worry about the test itself, he had to worry that he'd miss the carnival if he didn't earn enough points.  

It's a law that the child has to take the test. A law. We are now free to put marijuana in our cookies, but we are not allowed to make the decision as whether or not our child will take part in these tests? And what happens when we do opt out? This and this, and there are more and more cases being reported where truancy officers have been dispatched to the homes of the children who have opted out.

From the Colorado Department of Education, if a child is out sick or misses a session:
"...they are not allowed to have recess or lunch with their classmates until they have made up the missed sessions."
And  this: 
" Schools may treat parent refusals as unexcused absences and schools are not obligated to provide alternate activities for students whose parents refuse the state assessment."

Because obviously that is the best way to instill confidence and make sure our children are getting the education they need. So, what can we do?

photo credit http://www.newedpath.com




854,265
854,265

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Teacher's Lounge

Over the years I have put in several hours of volunteer work at the elementary school. I've ridden nausea-inducing school buses for field trips, and spent a lot of time in classrooms helping kids with various class projects. I've logged countless hours in the teacher's lounge, copying papers, coloring, cutting, pasting, and wishing that I had more coffee but too afraid the principal will yell at me if I get caught drinking the teacher stuff. I've discovered a few things in that time. Parent volunteers seem to become invisible when they are in the teacher's lounge; I must develop chameleon-like skills as soon as I walk through the door and sit down.
The parent volunteer remains invisible amidst the lush foliage of the teacher's lounge.
(Just to clarify, the majority of teachers will go out of their way to say hi, but there are many who ignore you. Or maybe they only ignore me. Hmm.) Either way, this is where I have learned...things. I have overheard things said about students, and I've heard things said about assorted parents. I have heard things about people I know. Normally, when I gossip and spread rumors, I like to make sure that the people present are not friends of the people I am making fun of. It's all about class, people. Come on. It's not called backstabbing for nothing.
"Ha, ha! Kids are so stupid. And parents. Parents are stupid, too."
But I get it; we all hate our jobs sometimes, and we all have to vent. And I can't think of anyone who needs to vent more than someone who is with 25 obnoxious kids all day, every day. And not just kids...kids you can't slap. I understand. However, I feel like I have insider information on the secret society of teachers. Over the years, I've watched and listened, and I've developed a pretty solid opinion of some of them. I know which ones are good at their jobs, and I know without a doubt which ones I do not ever want my kids to have. Ever. I look at them and wonder if they went to school hoping to be that teacher that no one likes, or if it was a secret talent that developed later. We're all good at something.
For example, I am good at sleeping.
The point here being that yesterday my kids got to meet the teacher they will have for next year. And we are all very happy with the outcome; they got a few of the good ones. The bribery obviously worked. So far, every year we have ended up with teachers that the kids adore. And a few have gone over and above the job, and managed to leave a lasting, positive impact on my kids. They're the ones that my kids will remember long after school is done. And that's no small feat...every teacher shows up for work, and puts in the time and the long after hours, planning curriculum and projects, grading papers, etc. But then there are the ones that do all that, AND manage to talk to the kids, not just at them. These are the teachers that make a child want to go to school; to want to learn and try harder and be better, because their teacher believes that they can. They instill self esteem where there wasn't any, they understand and listen, and they honestly care about their students. They listen when the parent has concerns, and takes them seriously; they don't whine and moan about said parent in the lounge. They understand that parents are the child's only advocate, and that we will fight for our kids and do whatever it takes to help them. They realize that for a child's experience to be positive, it takes everyone; teacher, student and parent. A teacher can make or break school for a child; and so far, every homeroom teacher (and one very, very special reading teacher) we have had has gone far above and beyond. And next year is looking pretty good, too.


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