Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To test or not to test .. that was the question

Last week was the first in a series of multi hour tests that my 4th grader has to take that are state wide.  It is all part of the Common Core curricula and implementation that is hitting nation wide.  I am not sure I have ever been more proud of how involved and dedicated parents are with either their incessant support of the kids who took it as well with the opt out that so many chose.  Both parents who had their children take the tests, encouragement and instilling pride for doing their best, and parents who opted out because they felt the test was not how a year should be focused on teaching to this test or the biggest basis for the fantastic teachers they saw with their kids.

Common Core is one of those things, like so many healthcare act comes to mind immediately, where the government identifies a need and develops a solution.  The need is real - children in the States like everywhere deserve to have a school curricula that matches the areas that will be important for their future.  This is not mine or even older education time - comfortable as that is for too many - across the US the standards and curricula should be the same and finally there does need to be measures and accountability for both the schools, teachers and parents.  There the idea and solution is actually quite good.  I mean who could really argue with that ?!! Now go forward a little - a little more - stop because here we are and here is what is happening from my point of view. Here is where the government fails a lot .. somewhere the goal with solution devolves into some sort of bureaucratic screw up that makes everyone miserable and loses the focus on the good idea it actually is.

The curricula - it is convoluted, I could see the merit of learning multiple ways to understand problems and to be less rote and more deductive but you still need to have a good base.  You cannot be Sherlock Holmes without having learned to look through a magnifying glass first.  The teachers do not seem that well equipped yet and somehow no one thought of how much change management would be needed to help caregivers.  This is an area that can be corrected though, as teachers do this more often they will be better equipped to do this - parent workshops are needed.

The tests -- ahh contentious.  My son took the tests for a variety of reasons.  He took it because he is the kind of kid that would stress at not taking it, because he felt ready, we placed mild emphasis on it - take it do your best kind and I think it is a worthy lesson from my perspective.  In life there are many, many times when something will seem unfair to complete, difficult and tedious and I feel that kids today are a little lacking in learning to deal with anything that may upset them.  It is ok to not let everyone be a winner - you learn a lot from disappointment and how to move forward and do better.  A critical skill in life is learning to navigate the difficult.

The tests - a measure is needed on how well the kids are learning and how the teachers are doing but implementation, implementation, implementation ---- you get a fail from me on this one.  I remember taking state testing but believe, could be wrong so one of Google freaks find out, that we took 1-2 weeks of testing for about 3 -5 hours worth once a year.   These kids are taking 9 - that's right 9 hours of testing.  This test is poorly written, this is evident from the books they are bringing home too - sometimes the question is so poorly worded or even outright wrong that I shudder, ummm attention to detail not only to the dollars being made on this would be nice.  This test is a large, overweighted part of teacher evaluations.  Now here is the kicker in NY the teachers' union is very strong so it is hard to dismiss a teacher.  I do not believe you should judge them based on one test but even when you do what a waste and what anxiety for what? The union won't be getting rid of them based on this - and rightfully so.

The emphasis on one set of tests, which by the way are also not given back until after school is over, is just a poor way to manage this.  Sure test kids, test them more frequently for shorter periods, use their tests to identify areas they need help in, watch progress.  The teachers and administrators need to come together to identify a fair but stringent evaluation method for teachers.  They are incredibly important in how a child learns and perceives learning so let's make sure the ones who do a great job, most of them, are differentiated from the ones that do not, small minority.  I have the pleasure of knowing teachers as friends, the appreciation of seeing the ones who my kids have - these are really well equipped people to add to the development of what would be a more adequate way to evaluate performance - so how about they get involved. 

Let's be honest about the kids  - school performance is not a result of the school only, poverty and parents (or whoever is taking care of that child) are more influential in education than any one method of teaching or test.  Schools that are underperforming should be given funding and monitoring to see how they can reverse the cycle of poverty.  The people taking care of these kids need to be brought in and made to understand that they are responsible for being partners in this - you will not fix all of it but think of the impact if you even change 20%.

So yes I am not against Common Core per se what I ask it that is reviewed and revised with Common Sense.



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