May 14, 2014

“Today was the first day I was ever ashamed to be a teacher.

Today I finished administering the sixth day of New York State Common Core assessments. I was a facilitator in a process that made my 10-year-old students struggle, to the point of frustration, to complete yet another 90-minute test. I sat by as I watched my students attempt to answer questions today that were beyond their abilities. I knew the test booklets I put in front of them contained questions that were written in a way that 95 percent of them had no chance of solving. I even tried to give my students a pep talk, in hopes of alleviating their angst, when I knew damn well they didn’t stand a chance. Today I was part of the problem.”
—- Ralph Ratto, an elementary school teacher from Long Island, NY

SOL tests and Common Core Assessments are in progress throughout our country as politicians have dictated how America’s children and public schools should be evaluated.

As for measuring the nation’s schools, the best logic used against this vacuous pursuit came from Charles Murray a couple of years ago in a NY TIMES Op-Ed:

“. . . Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another? This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.

It should come as no surprise. We’ve known since the landmark Coleman Report of 1966, which was based on a study of more than 570,000 American students, that the measurable differences in schools explain little about differences in test scores. The reason for the perpetual disappointment is simple: Schools control only a small part of what goes into test scores.

Cognitive ability, personality and motivation come mostly from home. What happens in the classroom can have some effect, but smart and motivated children will tend to learn to read and do math even with poor instruction, while not-so-smart or unmotivated children will often have trouble with those subjects despite excellent instruction. If test scores in reading and math are the measure, a good school just doesn’t have that much room to prove it is better than a lesser school.”

As we have written in previous blogs, standardized testing mistakenly confuses learning with memorization and, at the same time, short changes thinking and analytical skills.

Who writes these tests? Former elementary school A-plusers? Are the questions run through a vocabulary grade-appropriate checking system? Isn’t an ability to read well a major requirement for scoring acceptably on the other subject-matter tests — and, if so, are these other tests effectively testing subject-matter knowledge? Do these tests really promote a “love of learning?”

Too many people in authority continue to believe that “The Enlightenment” is the sole path to knowledge. And, unfortunately, our children continue to be sidetracked from their natural born traits of curiosity and imagination. Consequently, learning suffers and, ultimately, so will our nation.

Politicians, with reelection in their minds, have seriously weakened America’s public education system. It’s long past time to turn schools back to our teachers so that they can, once again, focus on the disparate talents of their young students.

More on Monday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning