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Standardized testing... yawn



So Yesterday after I got out of class I noticed a flyer about a lecture to be held regarding "The hundred Languages of Children." Well, being only a few weeks away from co-fatherdom I decided I'd drop in on that lecture, thinking it was going to be about children... what with the topic being the hundred languages of children.... as you can probably tell, for the most part it had very little to do with children. It was mildly interesting to down right sleep inducing to watch Mr. Pence talk about his work with aboriginals to form an education system they would be happy with, but considering for the most part it had very little to do with the topic at hand I was none too pleased. Then I looked at the program and saw it was to be two hours long. I was very displeased but too polite to walk out right then and there. Eventually the speaker wrapped his way back around to the topic, about how children should be allowed to be children, enjoying the wondrous surroundings and so forth... something it hardly takes however many decades of study this man put into it to realize.


Then came the question and answer period and the first question I cringed... immediately reminded of how childish an adult can be... in fact... adults seem quite worse than children could ever hope to be at times. After this long wonderfully boring lecture the only thing that was on this questioner's mind was how horrible it is to accomodate statewide standardized testing in the classroom. What an ass to bring this up in a lecture where it was not even vaguely touched on and had nothing to do with the man's work nor the work mentioned by the other two speakers.


What's going to follow is my counterrant to all the teachers in this state raving about standardized testing.


I was raised in the Virginia Beach City Public School system, where I was faced with standardized testing nearly from the beginning. As early as third grade I was filling out bubble sheets (though these were graded by hand), in fourth grade i took the Iowa test, in fifth I took stanford 9, which popped up again here and there over the years. Took the STAR reading/rithmatic tests, all these were assessment tests which IIRC had no affect on me passing or not, but had me numb to the concept of standardized testing by the time I reached the SOLs that did. For those unfamiliar with SOL meaning anything besides shit outta luck, The SOLs were standards of learning tests designed to make sure that students weren't getting free rides through their classes. They were all multiple choice tests on which a student could take as much time as he or she pleased to remember whatever info was being requested. These tests were for all non-elective classes except English, Which meant for history, math, and science classes you were greeted with an SOL at the end. I tooko IIRC three of these in middle school for high school courses I'd taken then, and both years I attended Virginia high schools. Had I not moved I'd also have taken the literacy passport test, which as with all the others I was equally unconcerned about and which the teachers showed only a vague concern for.


What I noticed in moving to Florida is the huge difference in attitude about standardized testing. In VA, the teachers took an approach to it as if the test were just in the normal flow of things, that it ought really not concern them too much because it only tested material which they were supposed to be teaching anyway. They absolutely did not ever project their fear onto the students, even though some showed a vague annoyance, they were confident in themselves and their students and with that attitude the students at the schools I attended were likewise confident. In Florida the atmosphere is entirely different. Teachers are angry, frustrated, and often project the fear of failure onto students who likewise get anxious about the testing. They seemed and as I'm finding now four years after moving to florida, still seem to expect their students to fail. Now... I didn't come in at the lower levels of the florida education spectrum, so I can't speak to the actual difficulty of the tests which younger students dealt with, but at the high school level there is one standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or FCAT.


This test was not really that difficult and could be taken twice a year until passed. I came in with zero preparation for it, in fact with counter preparation from having come from a state with different standards and a different approach to learning as well as what should be learened, took it, passed with ease and was highly confused at the views others were taking on it. The FCAT isn't a monster. It tests a students ability to read and write... using questions the likes of which I'd seen since at least the third grade, questions like "what's the main idea of this paragraph." When it came to the math end, I was at a disadvantage because apparently fl puts considerably more focus on geometry... but they also supplied all the necessary formulas so knowing algebra this was not too much of a problem. The other thing they put more focus on was pencil to paper math... for years at that point, anything that could be done on the calculator had been done on the calculator, so it took a few minutes to get readjusted to that which I considered to be archaic mentality.


If I an outsider could come in and pass this test with no preparation and no worry... why are those who had been preparing for it for years as worried as they are? The answer, I believe, lies in the attitudes of those who are supposed to be preparing them. I find it highly unprofessional of those teachers to handle things the way they have. Their worry about the test should never have been projected onto the students, worry should never have been hinted at by the teachers. Their job is to teach, and to create an environment where learning is to occur. All the pretty pictures, posters, and sheets of colored paper in the world won't do a damned bit of good if they hold an attitude of failure when it comes to the essential part of their work. Confidence in the students' abilities should always be projected, even with those who are struggling it is the confident will of a teacher to work with that student, to show that student that someone believes in him or her and will work with that student because they know that student can achieve the goals set. Instead what I saw was whining about having to teach to a test, about how learning shouldn't have anything to do with apparently knowing the material, and, frankly, stupid things being brought up. "What if the student just has a bad day when they have to take the test?" - answer... they'll have ample opportunity to retake the test then.


What I find most disturbing about the FCAT has nothing at all to do with the actual test. Rather, I find it diturbing that so many teachers believe their students would fail. I find it more disturbing that they would show that belief to the students. I find it more disturbing still that so many teachers would be so unprofessional about it as to discuss their hatred for the tests openly and at length with the students when they should be easing the students' worries. Students have enough to deal with when it comes to their own anxiety about tests, they don't need their teachers' anxiety too.




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