Monday, May 14, 2007

Comes the test...

Tomorrow my school system starts the test. You know. The high stakes test. The one to see whether or not we're a good school, or whether the parents deserve to be able to send their kids someplace else.

In my state, West Virginia, the test is called the WESTEST. It's untimed. Tomorrow we'll test reading. The test will start at 9:00 am (or there abouts) and most of the kids will be finished by lunch. I believe we will test Math on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are social studies and science.

I could tell you more of the details of testing, but I figure you'd stop reading this if I did. It doesn't really matter, those details. The bottom line is that we have to make a certain score (at least in Math and Reading) in order to be seen as having made adequate yearly progress. A certain percentage of our kids have to display mastery of the subjects tested, or we're a "bad" school. Mastery is like a low "B" and the students could score in categories above mastery on the test.

At the moment the percentage of students that have to score mastery on the test is probably reasonable for our school. Next year it will be higher. Eventually (2014), every child will have to score mastery on each of the tests. That, of course, is ludicrous considering that No Child Left Behind says it doesn't matter that they child may
  • have a learning disability
  • not speak English fluently
  • have an IQ of 62
  • have recently moved to the school from somewhere else

I would never argue that accountability is wrong. The primary purpose of schools is to teach. But I've said elsewhere that it certainly isn't the only purpose.

I also agree that we need to look not just at aggregate data for a school, but at disaggregate data. It protects minorities and shows weaknesses in the process of education.

I have no problem with the test itself. My problem with the test is with the use of the test. The test is being used to eventually show that the concept of public education is flawed. The Bush Republicans want to privatize education - or at least justify the creation of a large scale private alternative to public education. And they want it to be church-based and paid for with vouchers. They are willing to use the disabled and minorities to accomplish their goal.

In two different states I've dealt with and taught children with educational disabilities from kindergarten to high school. Children have value and their disabilities make them no less valuable. Good teaching brings increases with it in the level of skills and knowledge those children have. But the expectations placed on them that they will all perform as though they have no disability is unreasonable - purposefully unreasonable. The purpose of the unreasonableness is for those behind the Bush agenda to eventually be able to say 'most public schools are bad schools and we need an alternative."

Someone recently said to me, "This is what the school year is all about." I held my tongue, but in my head I yell:

"Bull Hockey!"

This test is not what the school year is about. The school year has been about trying to light a fire. William Butler Yeats was right when he said “Education is not filling a pail, but the lighting of a fire." And George Bush's approach to education is that of the water boy...


NASCAR wife said...

Although "taboo" from what I have heard, even WITH "no child left behind", do some teachers still break their individual classrooms into groups of children based on "narrow margin of ability"? Just curious...

Greg_Cruey said...

We are constantly grouping and regrouping students for individual assignments or short groups of assignments over a week or so. As a rule we try to group students together by ability level- but not in the way you think. Grouping higher functioning students with lower functioning students allows the higher functioning students to reinforce their own knowledge and skills by passing them on to someone else. It also allows lower functioning students the opportunity to get what they need from a peer, not just from the teacher.

For testing purposes students are sometimes grouped together based on the speed with which they take tests, or based on the accommodations they are entitled to (like having the test read to them).