Our Mascots

Our Mascots
These are the happy people

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Testing is not an option

Testing is not an option.

There is a family in Frederick County, Maryland that does not want its three children tested on the PARCC assessments.  Their reasons are sufficient for them.   First of all they do not believe the tests measure what their children have learned.  Secondly, their children become very emotionally upset at the prospect of taking the tests and have had meltdowns.  Thirdly, they believe the schools have exceeded their authority by requiring that every child take the tests.  Frederick County said it does not have the authority to exclude children from the testing.  The County schools and the parents appealed to the State Board of Education.   The State Board in essence refused to decide.  The response was that there is not a mechanism for test refusal on the part of children or families.  Of course, this is a non-answer.
Let’s look at the parental concerns.  School systems have instituted pacing guides (another ruination of our children’s education_ to assure that testing time will cover all content.  You will notice the goal is to “cover” the content not to learn it.  As schools move more strongly into Common Core Curriculum, what is covered will more closely resemble what is being tested. 
As to kids becoming emotionally upset during testing, it is my belief that this situation is a reflection of the emotional state of the parents and/or the teachers.
Now to the final reason given.  Does required testing exceed the authority of the school system?  I do not know the answer to that. I would guess it is possible that at some point the courts will decided.  But we have been mass testing kids for a very long time. But I do know that since we allow parents veto power over the books their kids will read, and veto power over certain curricular elements, why can’t they have veto power over testing?
There is another family in Frederick County that has a severely disabled daughter.   Her disability is not sufficient to be exempted from the testing.  The lowest 2% of disabled children may be exempted.   However, the parents say that their child cannot read yet she is being tested on a test that requires reading.   To do this clearly makes a farce of the whole procedure.
Across the country families and their children are upset with the amount of time spent on testing and on testing preparation. One of the large issues today is the high stakes of these tests.  We are not just collecting data we are evaluating teachers, principals and whole school systems based on the results. Are these tests valid enough to have that kind of consequence?  Just because we have the capacity to measure something does not mean we need to use up children’s education time to do so.

During the days of the draft, there was a process called conscientious objection, whereby a citizen could opt out of military service because of deeply held beliefs. Maybe it is time to let children, families and school systems conscientiously object to all this testing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What did you learn in school today?

What did you learn in school today?

Many times we ask children a variation of this question.   Sometimes we ask: what did you do in school today.  Far too frequently the answer is “nothing”.  There is, of course, a wide range of reasons for this answer.  The most obvious is that the child in fact did not learn anything or at least not anything that she can articulate.  Or the truth might be that what was done or learned just takes too much energy to talk about so he won’t.  The really sad truth is that much of what she learned in school today is pretty useless for tomorrow.  And that is what is so scary because the stakes are so high.

I think it is a condition of the human nature that when we don’t know what to do about something we look for concrete measurements to make us think we are progressing or not.  And so in order to improve education we started to measure everything with tests.  We know based on incoming college freshmen testing that these young adults are no better prepared for college today than they were before all the testing.

So what should we be teaching kids in schools if not algebra II?  First of all, most of today’s students will wind up in jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.  So any notion of preparing children for specific jobs doesn’t really make sense.  Continually we ignore what employers tell us they need in good employees whether we are talking about retail sales, health care, cyber sleuthing or space travel.   We need people who can solve problems.  Doesn’t matter what kind of problem.  Does the person have a strategy for solving any problem?  As in define the problem, identify the information needed, know how to find the missing information, make an informed decision after weighing all the consequences that one is aware of at this time. 

Humans need to learn self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.  Yet how many of these skills do we learn in school.  Not too many because the results can’t be measured by coloring in little bubbles on a scan sheet or clicking on a computer screen button.  These are hugely difficult skills to learn and just as difficult to teach.  Yet their value to us as individuals is so much more important than all the “stuff” we memorize in school.  Think about this, you can’t Google self-awareness.   Oh you can, but the result you get back probably won’t help you when you try to figure out how to lead a fulfilling life.  And the way things are going, you won’t be learning that in school today either.