Today teachers in my school district get to stand in front of our students and say the following: “Hey kids, you are about to take a test that is almost meaningless. It doesn’t count for anything, but we want you to do your best because…….well, just because.”
And the kids laugh, and bubble in scantrons like the one above that says “YOLO”.
Yes, it is that time of the year again where teenagers across the country are subjected to hours of grueling multiple-choice tests they do not want to take. Many of them do their best, many of them do not, and many of them don’t try at all. The insanity of STAR testing truly does capture the ultimate irony of education and teacher accountability: We evaluate students, teachers, schools, administrators, and school districts on a test that means nothing to the students taking it.
Have you ever met a teenager? I think most of us have, and for most people, the experience isn’t a pleasant one. That is why people look at me with such a morbid curiosity when I tell them I’m a teacher. It isn’t the idea of teaching that scares them, it’s the idea of being around teenagers for more than a few minutes.
Based on your knowledge of teenagers, I think we could all agree that when faced with a test that means nothing, we can all come up with likely responses from a 14 year old.
“Yeah, sure I’ll try my hardest—SYKE!”
To highlight the idiocy that is education in this country, I have come up with a variety of analogies that capture the pathetic irony of this situation. Here goes:
Testing students without accountability is like:
- Lawyers getting rid of billing hours, and going with an honor system for their clients.
- Evaluating Horse Trainers by observing the horse while it is sleeping.
- Giving out an Oscar for Best Picture based only on bad takes that never made it to the final cut.
- Predicting the stock value of a corporation based on urine samples from the janitorial staff
- Getting rid of streetlights and all street signage—or just not having anyone heed them. People will drive courteously on their own I’m sure. Ever been to Latin America?
- Getting rid of Accountants period (Get it? Their job is to make people Accountable) People will just pay taxes when they feel like it.
- Getting rid of redemption values for recycling.
- Testing students without accountability is like handing someone a flyer they immediately throw away.
- The Fear of God without the God part
- Measuring the effectiveness of a football team’s coaching staff based on how well the players play Grand Theft Auto on XBOX.
- A doctor waiting to do a check up until the patient has died. WHAT’S THE POINT?
The scenarios on the list above are ridiculous. You’d have to be a moron to consider doing things that way. They defy all common sense. But that is how we do things IN ALL THE SCHOOLS IN THIS COUNTRY!
And I haven’t even talked about how our students are assessed on multiple-choice questions in an essay world. Follow me? Especially as an English teacher—and I’ve said this before. Over the course of the year students in my English class write 10 persuasive essays, a research paper, 10 autobiographical narratives that tell the story of their lives, poetry, and multiple literary analysis essays based on books we read. Each one of these papers goes through THREE drafts and the final is typed in MLA format. BUT WHEN IT COMES TO STAR TESTS, THEY ARE NOT ASKED TO WRITE! ANYTHING!
And last week I tried to go to a middle school to recruit students for AVID, which helps put them on the college track. The principal got mad because I was going to take up 15 minutes of test prep time for those students.
Of course, we do get some actual data from these tests. Yes, the more advanced students seem to score higher and the struggling students seem to, well, struggle. But in the end, our jobs and the status of a school should not depend on a test that does not matter to those taking it.
John Festerwald has an excellent blog called The Educated Guess, and I think he comes to a couple of conclusions that should be the takeaway every year we have STAR testing as it is. Here are his thoughts:
- Don’t give high school subject tests unless they count for something for the students, such as part of their grade (the results would have to be in sooner than summer, however)
- Don’t evaluate high school teachers on the subject test scores of their students; a significant minority isn’t taking them seriously. (Has anyone seen studies estimating this?)
Eventually we will move on. I’m sure Arne Duncan is working on it. One day we will look back at all this and laugh. We’ll say things like, “Remember back when we just used to give the kids the test and it didn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah,” someone will reply. “And they would bubble answers in patterns like YOLO.” And on that day we will laugh and think about the dark ages, and wonder if we even had internet back then.
But that day has not arrived. So here we go again…