Stop the Insanity

It’s FCAT week in Florida, which means several things:

  1. A)vomiting elementary school students

  2. B)stressed-out high schoolers

  3. C)overtaxed teachers

  4. D)all of the above

If you answered D, go to the head of the class. You see, when it’s standardized test week in the state of Florida, time slows (if not stops altogether), kids bail, and normally sane teachers kinda lose it a little. There’s just something fundamentally wrong with all learning grinding to a halt so we can genuflect at the altar of Scantrons and #2 pencils.

But frankly, as long as we have folks like the current occupant of that nice brick mansion in Tallahassee, Gov. Skeletor, and other acolytes of the test-’em-hard-and-test-’em-often faith pulling the strings, learning will take a permanent back seat to numbers, spreadsheets, and charts. There’s nothing wrong with testing when it’s used to check progress and plan, but when test scores become the way we pit teachers and schools against each other, the kids lose.

This year, my students have lost three full weeks of instruction because of required testing practice. What could I have done in those three weeks? Taught another play. Analyzed a documentary. Directed seminars and discussions. Conducted two full sets of individual writing conferences. But I didn’t, because my kids were testing–and since they knew these tests didn’t “count,” they weren’t taking them seriously. Any parent with teenagers at home can tell you that if they haven’t bought in, they won’t bring much out, and that’s as true of standardized tests as it is taking out the garbage or cleaning that pit of a bedroom.

Michelle is Rhee-diculous. Bill ought to close the Gates to the giant testing companies who are the only entities truly benefiting from all of these new testing requirements. Last weekend, I spent two days in a group of 300+ master teachers who will conduct week-long trainings at seven different locations this summer. Those 300 teachers will reach roughly 2,ooo participants at each seminar, which makes fourteen thousand teachers who aren’t, as the common “teachers are lazy” meme suggests, sitting around doing nothing all summer. Don’t get me started on all the teachers who give up a week to score AP exams or who attend AP institutes or who plan for next year or do curriculum writing or…let me quit before I blow a gasket.

The point is, why aren’t the powers that be rounding up master teachers of all stripes–from all grade levels and all subjects, including the VITAL arts and humanities courses–and asking them what works to improve things? Oh, and while they’re at it, they can apply all the money they’re currently throwing toward the testing companies to do something substantive about children who live in poverty. I guarantee that’ll do much more for educational success than all the Scantrons in the world.

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