Tag Archives: testing

Are you Preparing your Students for Life or the Test?

Are you preparing your students for life or the test? This notion is something that I thought I was addressing in an innovative way when I was in the classroom. I told my students that yes, I was preparing them for that grade level and the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test, but more importantly I am preparing them for life. There are times that I would introduce a concept and say this information or process is not just for the TAKS test but for life. Life meaning however the students choose to live their adult life. In whatever capacity, job, financial status or family situation. I would often say there is more to life than testing and more to school work than test preparation.

As in many states, high stakes testing is the focus of curriculum in Texas. Professional development sessions are always centered around ways to improve test scores and add value to the student’s academic achievement. From day one to the last day, we are talking about preparation for TAKS for the current year or follow year. And previous year if incoming student achievement is significantly impacted from former teachers’ classrooms. When my oldest niece was in third grade, she said she was sick of hearing about TAKS. Unfortunately for her, that was just the beginning of hearing about TAKS. Fortunately she gets commended ratings and achieves a nearly perfect score on the TAKS test (we are so proud of her!) but it is sad that this is the ‘condition’ education is currently in.

In one of the emails I receive for various Diigo groups, a link to the following blog post was shared by Kevin Prentiss, “Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech“. I apologize but I do not recall who shared the link. After first read, I stopped and thought about the sentiments of the student’s valedictorian speech. I read it a second time very carefully and was so impressed with what the student said. The student, Erica Goldson graduated as valedictorian of Coxsackie-Athens High School, and gave the following speech to her fellow students. Thank you Erica for posting your speech on Sign of the Times:

Here I stand

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.”

To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

Welcome to the Machine

Image by courosa

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!

After reading this student’s speech, I hope that I not only prepare my students for success on state standardized tests and curriculum but also prepare them ultimately for life in a huge, bold way. I hope I convey the importance of developing outside (of school)  interests and take time to explore those interests turning them into lifelong passions. I hope that I instill a love for learning and seeking knowledge and never stifle creativity, fun, or the desire to take on new challenges in life. I totally see my niece falling into this rut. She is well behaved at school and does well on classwork and TAKS. She is a teacher’s dream but is learning her dream?

*Note: Images from PhotoXpress.com and courosa/Flickr.

Teacher Uses Webcam to Deliver Lessons

While reading one of my email feeds, I came across a story that I found fascinating about a teacher who is out on medical leave and is using a webcam to conference online with his students. Frank Wilson, government teacher at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, recently had knee surgery and didn’t want his students to fall behind while recovering. Wilson is a veteran educator of 47 years and teaches his Advanced Placement (AP) government students from the basement of his home.

According to the article in the Columbus, Ohio newspaper titled “Government teacher conducts class from home basement“,

With the support of Watterson administrators, class was in session live from Wilson’s basement.

The Web cam allowed Wilson to see, teach, and carry on discussion with his students from his basement, Winters said. They could see him on the projector screen, and he could see them on his computer.

“My students all have Tablet PCs, and our government classes are almost paperless,” Wilson said.

“We use the computers for everything, including testing online.”

“To be honest, this program has allowed me to continue to teach,” he said, adding the classes went well with minimal disruption.

“I could not have done this without the support of our technology department and individual staff members who were willing to sit in the classroom and take attendance for me.”

For liability purposes Wilson had an adult in the classroom at all times but I can certainly relate to being concerned that your students will not progress or lose direction whenever you out. Twenty years ago when I  first started teaching we were out of the classroom for staff development quite often. It was always difficult to pick up the pieces upon my return and leave meaningful instructional activities while I am out. Several times throughout my career, I have been asked to step in and take over a class while a teacher is ill or on maternity leave. A teacher cannot risk not having students adequately prepared for performance on high stakes tests and trust part of the preparatory work  be done by a substitute teacher. We all know good subs are out there although they are hard to find and keep for an extended period of time. The idea of using webcam to minimize a loss of instruction is a novel idea, although not brand new.

Teachers/trainers have been using webcam/videoconferencing equipment to provide distance education for a number of years. The number of virtual high schools is growing by leaps and bounds and the use of this technology greatly benefits small, rural districts that have limited funding and a lack of teachers specializing in the math/science content areas. I have become a huge fan and proponent of using this medium to enrich instruction and started a wiki to serve as a repository of resources, training and discussions at http://caisefiles.wikispaces.com. I would love the opportunity to teach or facilitate a class online – certification issues and not having a master’s degree have hindered me personally in this area but the opportunities are out there.

While Wilson finishes recuperating at home, his students are benefiting from the interactive technology he is  using to deliver his government lessons online. The success of this venture comes from the support of the administration, network infrastructure to facilitate this endeavor and the dedication of the teacher and students. A deficiency in any one of those areas will severely impact the project but when each piece comes together to provide interactive and quality instruction to students there is no finer instrument to provide distance education.


“This is a test – just a test – of the Emergency Broadcast System”

All of us have heard or seen the tests conducted by the emergency broadcast system and had there been an actual emergency when we would have been notified of how we were to proceed. I liken this to the approach of testing in Texas. I was reading the post entitled, “Severe Weather Testing Protocols” from the ‘Fractions Speak Louder than Nerds’ blog. The district I was recently affiliated with was notorious for going overboard on the preparation of the building for the testing environment going to the extent of covering book cases, all posters – even motivational – as they had words on the posters or book spines and those words may help students with something on the test.

Personally, I don’t see that a poster saying, “Be true to yourself” or the 55 Rules of Ron Clark to be testing aids of any kind but hey, you do what you gotta do. Trainings and simulations of TAKS assessments are drilled into us to prevent being notified of how to proceed in the event of a testing emergency.

The extent the educators go to that are mentioned in this fellow blogger’s post about protecting test booklets and materials is humorous. We laugh because we can relate to having to protect, monitor, count, check out, check in, lock up, pass out, collect, alphabetize and many other things that I didn’t name regarding the handling of the testing materials except looking at the test booklets.

If a student throws up or does the unforgivable thing of bending their answer document or even worse- spilling something on their booklet or answer document – all is lost and you are signing away your life on all kinds of forms to prove something bizarre happened and you weren’t just taking a peek at the content of the test. Don’t you know TEA just loves to receive answer documents or booklets inside of a sealed ziplock bag with vomit or other unknown bodily fluids dried to the pages of the student’s test booklet. I just hope the incident requiring the ziplock bag with the contaminated test materials was sealed before lunch…especially since it may be several weeks before TEA gets the special delivery of dried vomit on a test answer document. How fun is testing in Texas!?!

“This is a test – just a test – of the Emergency Broadcast System”

All of us have heard or seen the tests conducted by the emergency broadcast system and had there been an actual emergency when we would have been notified of how we were to proceed. I liken this to the approach of testing in Texas. I was reading the post entitled, “Severe Weather Testing Protocols” from the ‘Fractions Speak Louder than Nerds‘ blog. The district I was recently affiliated with was notorious for going overboard on the preparation of the building for the testing environment going to the extent of covering book cases, all posters – even motivational – as they had words on the posters or book spines and those words may help students with something on the test.

Personally, I don’t see that a poster saying, “Be true to yourself” or the 55 Rules of Ron Clark to be testing aids of any kind but hey, you do what you gotta do. Anything that can be prepared for is covered in the 150 page manual that contains the oath that you sign agreeing not to read the contents or commit any act that you shouldn’t or you will be notified of how to proceed as in the tests conducted by the emergency broadcast system.

The extent the educators go to that are mentioned in this fellow blogger’s post about protecting test booklets and materials is humorous. We laugh because we can relate to having to protect, monitor, count, check out, check in, lock up, pass out, collect, alphabetize and many other things that I didn’t name regarding the handling of the testing materials except looking at the test booklets.

If a student throws up or does the unforgivable thing of bending their answer document or even worse- spilling something on their booklet or answer document – all is lost and you are signing away your life on all kinds of forms to prove something bizarre happened and you weren’t just taking a peek at the content of the test. I know TEA loves to receive answer documents or booklets inside of a sealed ziplock bag with vomit or other unknown bodily fluids acting as an adhesive on the pages in the test booklet. I just hope the ziplock bag with the contaminated test materials was sealed before lunch…especially since it may be several weeks before TEA gets the special delivery of dried vomit on a test answer document. How fun is testing in Texas!?!

What Would You Do?

As I reflect upon this coming week, I am reminded that every third through 10th/11th grader is taking at least one version of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests this week. In Texas, state testing is a huge deal. From the time the kids hit the door in August until this week not a lesson, activity, class period, or conference period goes by without a mention of TAKS preparation or testing. I am going on my 19th year of education in Texas and when I started teaching we administered the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS). Then we administered the TEAMS test. I forgot what the acronym represents. After TEAMS we went to TAAS which is the Texas Assessment of Applied Skills (I think that’s what it stood for.) Now we administer TAKS, and not just TAKS, but TAKS-A, TAKS-M and TAKS-I which all have to do with level of achievement for the students in the special education program.

Don’t forget the bilingual tests: TELPAS and RPTE. Some students also take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. If a students is recommended for the GT program they take additional tests to determine their level of ‘giftedness’. If a student is struggling additional tests are taken to determine if the student qualifies for additional instructional support or modifications. Students in third, fifth and eighth grade must pass the reading and/or math portions of TAKS in order to be promoted to the next grade.

In high school students take the end of course exams. If a students is in the IB programme even more assessments are required. If a student is taking an AP course, additional testing is required by the Advanced Placement Board. To graduate students must pass the exit level of TAKS and take the TASP (don’t know this acronym) test to enter college. Test after test. No wonder we have low graduation rates at the high school level.

When my oldest niece was in the third grade two years she had just taken the first administration of the third grade TAKS reading test. At the third, fifth and eighth grades, students can take up to three administrations to pass the reading or math portions of TAKS. Anyway, she had recently taken the test and received commended status with the comment to me, “Aunt Kim, I am already sick of TAKS testing!” I hated to inform her that she had just crossed the threshold into the world of testing in Texas. It had only just begun. She said we take tons of practice tests in class, have tutoring, and all of our classwork is about getting ready for TAKS and she was tired of ‘…TAKS, TAKS, TAKS!” (her words although I agree with her sentiments.) I embraced her and said, “I know how you feel.” We nodded our heads in agreement and went on with our visit. My niece continues to excel on classwork and TAKS but would really like to learn more about science and more challenging topics that aren’t as strictly confined and taxing as testing for TAKS (how about that alliteration English teachers!).

A friend of mine from SAISD, Greg Rodriguez shared with us through Diigo an article about a teacher in Washington state that refused to administer the state test to his students. Subsequently the teacher was suspended without pay and written up for insubordination that found its way up to the superintendent of the school district. While I concur with his feelings and admire his tenacity to stand strong and firm in his convictions, I am not sure that I would be that strong. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not take things lying down and have been described as a ‘nonconformist’ at times for doing things ‘my way’. As another week of TAKS testing, training, administering approaches, I wonder if I will get to the place of the aforementioned educator and take a stance against administering the TAKS. What would you do? What would it take for you to stand on your convictions and go against the status quo?

There is a fabulous book that I usually read to my students the day before testing to lighten things up. The book titled, Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finch. After I read it to my students, regardless of the grade level, I follow up with a PPT of test taking skills entitled, “Testing Mrs. Caise“, in honor of the book I just read them. Check it if you are ever looking for a humorous way to review test taking skills and take away some of the doldrums of TAKS preparation. And during this week, take a moment and think about Carl Chew in WA and ask yourself the question, “What would you do?”