School Today….What they don’t tell you. (Written by a teacher)

Guest Blog by  Ed Komperda

“What did you do in school today?” “Nothing.”  Ah….the generic response of children when confronted upon their parents arrival home from work. No need to press the issue.  As a 15-year veteran public school teacher, I’ll share the 411 from an insider’s perspective — with a well-deserved angle of candidness and transparency for parents and tax payers.

Your child is becoming highly proficient with filling in little circles on bubble sheets and is acquiring a wealth of knowledge on the questioning and structure of standardized tests.

Today’s students are test-taking gurus, a direct result of being instructed via a curriculum driven by high-stakes standardized testing.  A 4th grader in New York, for instance, will spend around five weeks in which they’ll be subjected to some form of standardized assessments.   This figure does not account for far more time which is allocated towards test preparation — aka “teaching for the test”.  Live in NY and thinking about moving? Don’t.  Analogous situations exist in the other states. Your child is being shortchanged of basic academic skills, life skills, crucial thinking, social interaction, and creativity as more time, effort, resources, and money are spent on standardized testing.  Currently, millions of Americans are afflicted with lifestyle related illnesses as well as financial problems, both largely due to personal choices and lack of knowledge.  Standardized tests ignore health or money management issues essential in creating competent adults who can effectively navigate our global society.  A nation-wide educational curriculum is being implemented this year known as CCLS (Core Curriculum Learning Standards) which is mirrored by the standardized tests.  It fails miserably in addressing students’ diversity and does an equally poor job in setting developmentally appropriate material for students.   The individuality of each child is neglected by the current system of excessive standardized testing.  Everyone is expected to meet the same standards.  This system gives no value or respect to a child’s special gifts.  And subject matter which poses challenges is expected to miraculously improve.  It is a failed attempt at a one-size-fits-all which simply does not fit…anywhere. It defies the principles of quality education.

I can assure you with the utmost of confidence that the hearts of teachers, principals, superintendents, and support staff are in the right place.  That said, when professionals of education — en masse, comply with and promote the process of out-of-control standardized testing, they are, albeit unintentionally, facilitating a process which compromises the education of our youth. Educators are currently entangled in a web created by those who have little interest our children’s learning.  It amounts to a strategic system of threats and bribes orchestrated by the state education department, publishing companies, and politicians.  Amidst a slew of anti-bullying legislation, teachers and students are ironically bearing similar treatment from the same sources who are behind the anti-bullying movement.  School funding is based significantly upon how students score on standardized tests.  Higher scores equate to more money for the school.  Results which are “too low” and/or do not show “enough” improvement result in schools being labeled “in need of improvement” status.  New York State, like others, decides how to ‘redistribute’ money to school districts.  Do districts with higher test scores need or deserve more money than those with lower scores and students who possess greater overall needs? The constant distractions and subsequent time constraints imposed by state testing are taking educators away from the true meaning of education.  Teachers are often forced to take time away from their students to mark the portion of the test which is not electronically scored.  This results in school districts paying for large numbers of substitute teachers] — and at times shortages of subs occur.  Our children’s education suffers, yet again. As for assigning grades to the tests, the state refuses to publicly disclose their grading procedure. That’s akin to a teacher grading your child then telling you and your child that they will not explain how they arrived at that grade. Teachers are also responsible for the students’ standardized test scores, to the extent of losing their jobs if students don’t score ”well enough” on the tests. It’s a situation of those with the knowledge and commitment to educate children being strong-armed by individuals who have no experience educating young people or in some cases moved on to publishing or government jobs after failed stints as teachers.

In the midst of a weak economy, your child has become a world-class investment for the publishers of standardized tests.  They are thriving — and making a fortune by exploiting our children.  Pearson is a company which has garnered numerous deals across the nation to create state tests.  This includes contracts to the tune of  $32 Million in NY and $468 Million in TX.  They also ‘conveniently’ print textbooks (i.e. the enVisions math series) which literally teach towards their own standardized tests.  The major buyers of these books are school districts hoping to have an “in” on improving test scores.  Pearson has spent over $2.6 million lobbying (from 2009-2011) in NY, TX, FL, and CA to promote their personal interests.  While parents invest in their children, Pearson and other large companies are using our children to invest in themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of funding surrounding education.  It’s a case of atrocious financial management, catalyzed by the aforementioned situation of bribes and threats imposed on schools. New York State has reduced funding to school districts in recent years.  Class sizes continue to increase, and extracurricular activities are cut.  Our children suffer.

The intent of school taxes is to pay for the quality education of our youth, as opposed to lining the pockets of some publishing company who has never met our children and cares nothing about our children.

Never have I witnessed a time when it was more important to take back our schools.

- Edward J. Komperda, III

 

Comments

  1. My sister is also a Maths teacher, here in the UK, and she is appalled at the way accountancy measures eat into the key task at hand of teaching children.

    US testing in its early days was not used for accountancy purpose – it’s main aim was to informally identify areas to focus on for each child. That value has been lost to a very large degree.

    I feel that those in power to make decisions on education should be ex-teachers. Rather than create such tedious, bureaucratic overloads, they would temper such measures with a large dose of teaching empathy. Alas, those in such powerful positions have rarely had experience of the ‘chalk-face’.

  2. mrmattpieroni says:

    The amount of data we are required to compile on each student is unbelievable in my district. I teach 7th grade math in the Phoenix area. Our professional development time is mostly spent filling out data sheets, calculating the areas that these tests show need improvement, and color coating each child; but never spending this time actually finding ways to improve these areas for our students. I spend my own time filling these gaps, but many teachers don’t for their own reasons.

    How is collecting and viewing data beneficial when nothing is taken from this data to actually improve the education our children receive?

    Great piece,

    Mr Matt Pieroni

    http://mrmattpieroni.com/

  3. Off topic:

    Just want to let you know, the falling snow for your page had me thinking I was having a stroke.

  4. why cant all the parents who oppose this simply not let their kids take the tests? they cant fail all those kids for lack of test scores. if there was some kind of nationwide test taking strike made by the parents, this problem would be fixed toot sweet. this tactic worked in the 60’s against the draft, it would work now against standardized tests. the problem persists because people participate.

  5. In response to J.S. I am sure the author here would agree with you but we are not talking about tests like in college. We are talking about testing exclusively in replacement of the teaching or at least majority of the teaching. I also don’t agree with your special needs statement. Here in Texas the students will take the same test with fewer answer choices but if the child can’t read on a 5th grade test they will still be given a 5th grade test with just fewer answer choices. That is riduculus for an autisic child or other special needs child that is not capable of that in a regular classroom and has an IEP that gives alternative assessment to take a test that you know they will fail.

    I am soo against the amount of testing we do and I do tell this to my admin regularyly that I don’t think the things we are expecting our kids to pass and even excell on are developmentally appropriate. And with the new STAAR test which was taken in APRIL we still have not gotten how they will be scored or how they did on the test and it is DECEMBER!!!! A college would not do this. They give you the syllabus give you what will be covered and then teach that and give the test. We are giving the test BLIND and on top of that they are trying to trick the kids by ridiculusly confusing answer choices that even I have to think a few minutes on, which college again does not do.

    Do I think we need tests? Yes. Do I think we can get some usual data from it? Again yes. But when all I have time for is test after test after test there is not enough good teaching going on. We are only teaching how to answer test questions. And I am one that will close my door and do what I think is right by the kids, but I can’t also not teach them that they will be tested constantly and how to deal with it as well.

    • You say that it is inappropriate to give a 5th grader an exam that is meant for 5th graders if that 5th grade student cannot read at a 5th grade level. Here’s my counter-argument. That child should not receive the 5th grade test, because that child should not be in the 5th grade. This is why we need tests that are outside of the control of the teacher, the school, and the district. That may sound extreme, but hear me out.

      My district has decided that students will no longer be held back a grade. Ever. For any reason. You could have a student who learns absolutely nothing in the 4th grade at all, get a zero on every assignment, and flunk every test, and yet still be passed on to the 5th grade. Why? Because this country has become obsessed with education statistics. If a school district has lower than average graduation rates then they are considered to be a bad school district. I argue against this. All this encourages districts to do is turn themselves into diploma printing presses by continuing to lower the requirements that must be met in order to move onto the next grade or graduate. In high schools this is usually called “credit recovery” or “graduation lab”.

      Now, this is not entirely the districts fault. Mainly, they are so under-funded that they can’t afford to keep kids back another year when the student needs it. This snowballs as students get further and further behind because they start the year at a a serious disadvantage.

      The answer to this problem is not to lower test standards so that the 5th grader who reads like a 2nd grader can appear to be doing fine. What needs to happen is that there needs to be a basic exam at the end of every year for all students that ensures that they have learned the essentials of the class/classes they have taken. For example, if a 5th grade student takes the end of the year exam and passes social science and math, but fails reading, then he will retake 5th grade reading next year while taking 6th grade science and math. Summer school to try and catch up should also be an option.

      Yes, this will be more expensive. I don’t really care. Right now we are having students graduate from high school who are very uneducated. We have failed these students by letting them coast. In order to save tax dollars, we have almost assured that many of these students will never reach their full potential.

      I think this is actually very much like the finals that are given in college, except on who writes and grades them. These standardized tests should be challenging, they should be revealing of a student’s academic performance, and they should have consequences for students who do not meet these standards.

      I know some teachers may balk at the idea of some state-wide board or possibly even a national board deciding if their students move up a grade level or graduate. However, you must realize that this authority is already being stripped out of the hands of teachers, and even principles, and decided by school boards that are not afraid to cut corners in a student’s education in order to save money.

      Also, just to address some other points you made, I think these exams should happen once a year, at the end of the school year. The material on these exams should be very clear so teachers know what to prepare students for. Also, these standards should be broad in order to allow instructional freedom for teachers, and teachers should have complete control of how they choose to prepare their students.

      • Well said.

        In a nutshell, the school system should be there for the child, not for the system. But it has become extremely target driven and out of hand.

        It is getting this way in the UK – league tables used punitively, and very heavy handed curriculum that leaves teachers with no time or latitude to adapt to their style and the children’s needs.

        Reversing this is the really hard thing as it is power, and not common sense or reason that holds sway.

      • I am in agreement that more students should be held back but again my hands are tied when my district says that there are too many being held back in k-1 (where they are learning some of the foundations for later on) in our school.

  6. “This system gives no value or respect to a child’s special gifts.” Are you sure you don’t mean special needs? While I am not a fan of having an extreme amount of standardized tests used in the class room, it is necessary to have some standard to which students are held. Often times, programs that state that they compensate for every student’s individual ability and learning style actually mean that they lower standards on how those students are assessed. This does not prepare them for real life. Or for that matter, college. Professors give out standardized tests that students must pass in order to receive credit for the class; they’re called finals. This is not to be inconsiderate to students, but rather to ensure that the students who do receive credit for the class actually know the material that was covered.

    I don’t understand why holding students, and teachers, to standards is a bad thing as long as the standards are reasonable and the teacher is able to decide how he or she prepares her students. For example, I think it’s completely fair to expect that student who complete an 11th grade language arts class are capable or forming a strong thesis statement for an essay and have a decent understanding of grammar. Why is it wrong to test students on this to see how they are doing? The teacher should have prepared the students to meet these very reasonable goals. How they choose to do so is up to them, but it’s not unreasonable to check and see how they are doing.

    To clarify, I am not writing in support of merit pay for teachers, and in fact I am very against it for several reasons. I also don’t believe that school district funding should be based on test scores at all. My point is that testing students to ensure that they have reached certain standards is a solid plan as long as those standards are reasonable and teachers choose how they prepare students to meet those standards. The part of the education process when teachers should individualize the education of their students is in instruction, not assessment.

  7. by the time my 3 dau got out of the public school system in oklahoma in 2003, i felt like it was all a big experiment!!!

  8. In upstate NY they dont provide kids with text books.. Its all smartboards and worksheets. No effective tools for at home learning and following an agenda or lesson plan with study. How are they going to pass tests without textbooks? :(

    • The exams have been hijacked – no longer do they measure education and development of children – they have become that education. A very narrow, almost meaningless education, where mechanical ability to regurgitate is all that matters. No wonder children leave school with a lack of ability to think independently; to be autonomous and explore and be curious and open minded by the world. No. The drive for ever more control over everything has quashed all that. It is happening here in the UK, and it deeply saddens me.

  9. I live in the UK and am trying to mount a challenge to very similar standardisation effects here. The National Curriculum has been in place here for a couple of decades, but was overly full right from the start and then too many fingers in that pie made it too sacrosanct to be questioned. All too often, the department of education operates in a vacuum, rarely engaging with the evidence base and if they do, cherry picking in accordance with pre-conceived ideas.

    You write brilliantly (I have quoted from the above in the Bad News section of my site). But how to fight against your system is harder than here because the money made by private industry will necessitate an entrenched defence if the status quo.

  10. Sandy Stenoff says:

    Brilliant! Could not have said this better. Just got in a heated debate with my child’s teacher about exactly this. We need more teachers to speak out, loud and clear.

    Thank you, Ed.

  11. dbpigtail says:

    Great piece, Ed! Do you mind if I share this? It would be a perfect sister post to my last blog post about the Common Core.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] School Today….What they don’t tell you. (Written by a teacher) [...]

  2. [...] fear of consequences has resulted in a high-stakes testing culture that is harming the education of our children.  The test prep culture has been a part of many schools located in impoverished areas for years, [...]

  3. [...] School today.. what they won’t tell you   by Ed Komperda [...]

  4. [...] School Today….What they don’t tell you. (Written by a teacher). [...]

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