Monday, April 14, 2008

a case for standardized testing

Normally I am an eye-rolling member of the "No High-Stakes Testing, Please & Thank You" club. Some people believe that is because my fellow teachers & I are afraid of being called out & shown up as ineffective, which is fine for them to think. I don't feel the need to launch a histrionic defense because I am confident my students are learning the things they need to know (or how to discover the things they need to know) for a successful life. Plus, I'm not afraid of giving Fs to those who choose not to learn; thanks for playing, try again later. How complicated is that for my state to understand? So, I find the whole YOU MUST PASS THIS ASININE, INEFFECTIVE, IRRELEVANT TEST IN ORDER TO GET YOUR DIPLOMA nonsense to be a) insulting and b) a waste of everyone's time & energy.

All that to say - We started a new quarter today even though tomorrow through Friday we are engaged in WASL testing in the mornings, then our afternoon schedule is shortened so that our 1st & 2nd period classes meet for an hour each Tuesday & Thursday, then 3rd & 4th periods meet for an hour each on Wednesday & Friday. It is disruptive not only to the content of the classes, but also to the mindset of our students. Some people are quite adept at the subjects on the tests in the regular classroom, but they bomb on these tests. We try (I promise, we do, despite our feelings about this type of assessment) to give the kids strategies for staying calm and doing their best work, but many are still nervous or aggravated because they are privy to the fact that WASL is poorly designed to do what it says it does.

Yet here is the part when I say "Thank goodness for testing this week." Because my two new classes contain people who, though I appreciate them and their special brand of humor as individuals away from the classroom, are catalysts for disruption. A solid 80% of my students are pleasant, knowledge-seeking Dream Teens, but the other 20% are, as a group, a poisonous scourge.

Perhaps you think I'm being dramatic. Example: In the Leadership class today, we did two activities - in one, they had to line up alphabetically and in the other, line up according to birthday. During the first activity, they could talk; in the second, I demanded silence. The first took more than 4 minutes to complete; the second, only a minute & a half. Awesome, right? And I told them so - chocolates all around and a big, YAY YOU ALL. We assessed (hey, Washington State Department of Education, look at me knowing how to see if my kids are learning stuff!); most delightedly noticed that when they weren't able to speak, they quickly developed a more effective means of working together. Leadership! Then, from the hyenas in the corner - "That was stupid though." Oh? Please explain. "It just doesn't make sense. It was dumb." Moving on. Give me the names of some leaders you know; they listed lots of famous people, including Helen Keller. Hyenas - "HELEN KELLER?! How was she a leader? A monkey can learn sign language!" Okay. Deep breath. Brief revisitation of how we have constructive, respectful conversations.

I'm kind of tired already. Did I mention we're leaving for Las Vegas on Friday?