Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Teaching to the test

I have a love-hate relationship with teachers. My family is full of teachers and they're hard-working, passionate, intelligent educators who make me proud to say I'm related to them. I had teachers in school who inspired me and touched my life in ways that I will remember forever.

Then there are the other teachers. The ones who enter the education profession to enjoy the experience of crushing young people. The ones who are bitter, burned out, and stupid. I've had the experience of those teachers, too.

Now I have kids in school and I feel like I'm playing Russian Roulette every fall. Is this teacher an evil Orc who'll destroy my children or a priceless Galadriel who will give them the everlasting light and joy of learning. How do I know?

I know if we've got a bad teacher by the desperate and dying light in my child's eyes when they come home from school. Getting your child out of a bad teacher's class is as easy as overturning a decree by the Soviet Politburo, but I've done it four times now. I'm not popular at my children's school, as you might imagine. One poor teacher, young and cute and hopelessly incompetent, burst into tears in the conference where I demanded my son be removed from her class. If I had a shred of compassion, I would have helped her self esteem and left my son in her inept care. Compassion, I've got. But I reserve it for my kids. Her tears made me feel bad, but not that bad. Seeya, lady.

There's another way now for teachers to be assessed before I have to watch my kids suffer: No Child Left Behind, and the Colorado Student Assessment Program. (CSAP). The CSAPs are just commencing in my school and I enjoy them greatly. The teachers start sending home notes: Make sure your kids get lots of rest! Make sure they have a good breakfast! We need volunteers to pass out oranges and other snacks mid-test!

The teachers know who is being tested: They are.

Two years ago my son was furious because he failed a huge chunk of the CSAP, along with his whole geography class. All the students were angry and upset because they all wanted to get a good grade. I told my son, with a grin: "You didn't fail. The teacher failed. The CSAPS don't test you; they test what the teacher is teaching you."

This is called "Teaching to the Test" and teachers hate it. Oh, how most of them hate it. They want to teach what they want, and whether or not that prepares the students for the rest of their lives, well, that's not really their problem, is it?

My son went to school and shared this information with his classmates, who then turned en masse on their geography teacher and accused him of teaching them the wrong information. He was astonished, upset, enraged -- and started teaching the information he was supposed to teach, instead of what he wanted to teach.

The next time you hear a teacher tell you that they don't want to waste time "teaching to the test", remember who is being tested by these standards. Remember who has your children in their control, in their power, for an entire school year. And remember that if you have a teacher who doesn't teach the right information, your child will not have the foundation to build on for the next year of school. That's why the tests are important. That's what they're testing.

Keep your sword sharp for the Orcs, and don't be afraid. And if you get a Galadriel (as I have been blessed both with my children and myself) then give that teacher praise, and help, and write letters to the principal about him/her, and give them as big a gift as you can afford at Christmas and at the end of the school year.

The bad ones get paid too much, and the good ones can never get paid what they deserve. No Child Left Behind and the CSAPS will help you figure out which are which.


Blogger whit said...

I love the tests. It's especially gratifying to see the Teachers' Unions complaining about them.

They complain about "teaching to the test." That's better than not teaching isn't it?

9:59 AM  
Blogger Spindrift said...

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8:20 AM  
Blogger The Mad Fiddler said...

“Education isn’t supposed to transfer a mass of facts into the student’s brain; it’s supposed to teach the student how to learn...”

Well, I take some comfort in repeating that line when thinking about college. But our highschool graduates can’t find Kansas, or New Orleans, or Iraq on a map. Most can’t make change from a dollar without using a calculator. How many can actually write a coherent paragraph, much less assess the logical flaws in a post on the Daily Kos?

A kid hits eighteen and gets the vote... and making a choice between coal and nuclear power suddenly wonders “What is the difference between a proton and a crouton?”

“What is ‘black lung disease’ and why should I care?”

“You say HOW MANY coal miners died in mine accidents last year?”

(Somebody stop me; I’m preaching to the choir.)

For me, music has been a critical source of insight into a whole range of other aspects of life. I may not be fundamentally a disciplined person, but when I discovered how much fun music could be — especially jamming with other folks — it made me willing to put up with the drab exercises and scales so I could use the skills to have more fun.

And pretty early (by my teen years) it began to make me aware of some important ideas. I could see that some skills can take decades to master. The happy aspect of that is that you can expect to be still finding new challenges after a lifetime of learning. And over and over, it’s reminded me that most of the things of any value are accomplished by patience and perseverance, rather than by shortcuts.

As for primary education, there are a some essential skills that used to be part of the standard curriculum that still determine a child’s success later on. The social experimentation by public schools started in the sixties, and by 1968 someone had published a withering critique of the nonsense that had already injured public education. “Why Johnnie Can’t Read” is a cry of outrage that still has not been answered.

Thanks for the Blog, Bonnie. I look forward to seeing more of your posts, here and at Wretchard’s place.

7:38 PM  

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