“We are not going to spend time on this chapter because the state test doesn’t have questions related to this topic”
Wow! Talk about messing with education. The teachers are now trained to teach to the test 100%, ignoring or just touching lightly on very important themes that have a serious impact on our daily lives. The so-called core subjects, I would certainly prefer a less limiting label, are in every teacher’s mind as the classes that will make them accountable for our students’ progress. They are, of course, English, Math, Science and Social Studies.
Now if you are teaching Art, PE, Dance, Music, French, Spanish or any of the multiple additional subjects, many of which are disdainfully called ‘electives’, it is understandable that you might not feel important in modern high school education. Special Ed is of course the poorest of all ‘cousins’, a constant thorn in the side for regular classroom teachers who are faced with more work and differentiated curriculum. Granted, I exaggerate a little to make a point in this scathing paragraph. A few classroom teachers cooperate fully to educate students with special needs, and a few non-core area teachers, in band especially, work enthusiastically to train these wonderful kids. But the bottom line is doing well on state testing or risk the wrath of academic intervention by powerful bureaucrats.
I fully understand and justify regular teachers for focusing almost completely on objectives that are included in the final test. Why indeed risk a paycheck by teaching outside the box? Why teach what kids need instead of what the state decides they need? I also understand the clamor of politicians wanting teachers to be accountable, just as executives in a private company must show they are increasing the bottom line. But extreme measures such as using state tests as the main tool to judge the effectiveness of our public instructors seems to be totally unfair. After all, what most educated people desire for us teachers is to make a difference in a kid’s life. Getting a 100 in Math hardly qualifies as making a difference; getting grateful thanks from parents does. Getting a smile and an effort from some kids also does. Yet the state says that only cold numbers count, as if the human spirit could be measured in inches.
State tests not only loom like a black cloud over our educators’ head, they also curtail instruction time severely. The whole month of December will be ‘lost’ to testing, and to vacation of course. And that’s just for the first semester. When districts talk about 180 days of instruction time, they leave out all the state testing days, which can easily amount to more than 20 days. Again, it’s no so much the amount of time but rather the quality of teaching. Sometimes it is more beneficial to stay after school and offer academic tutoring; these special moments may allow unique bonding with certain ‘difficult’ teens and really make a difference in their future endeavors.
Our public education system requires a complete overhaul, not just a coat of paint to hide the imperfections. That means focusing on literacy from the get-go, that is from before first grade. Dedicating a whole year to teach only English, perhaps after elementary, would not be a waste of time; on the contrary. Everything we teach has to do with reading comprehension and so far, most of our high school freshmen struggle mightily to decipher a textbook, thus causing endless delays in instruction not to mention poor grades. Testing should be reduced to a minimum to focus almost exclusively on students’ performance in class. Fear has never been a good motivator and state tests do exactly that, to both students and teachers.