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Education Mandates and Testing 

A few years ago, when I was gathering information for my book,

CHAOS in our schools,

I examined the CDE website

 CDE (Colo. Dept. of Education) is the governing body of public education in Colorado, and I wanted to see how the state is presenting the plethora of requirements mandated by No Child Left Behind (2001) and its offshoot, Every Student Succeeds (2009)

What I found were a lot of links

to the requirements mandated by each

of these laws.

You can explore them if you like, as I've provided the website itself if you click the menu image.

But be prepared to be inundated by what seems like a lot of hoops to jump through.

This is what bureaucracy means:

jumping through hoops.

NCLB and ESSA mandate a lot of rules for how teachers can become teachers, how their performance can be assessed, and how student testing affects everything in the system.

 

All this is mitigated by the influence of the teachers' unions, something not apparent to the casual observer because nowhere on the website are the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) or the National Education Association (NEA) mentioned.

But make no mistake;  they're there, involved in every decision public education even contemplates making.

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The top link appears to contain information about Colorado's standardized testing (RANDA), so I clicked it. What I found is that RANDA, the Colorado Performance Management System, is a support tool for the state's districts as they navigate the actual testing vehicle, the Colorado State Model Evaluation System, managed by the Colorado State Model Performance Management System.

This, also, is bureaucracy: 

multiple departments with similar missions but different requirements, all of which purportedly meet federal mandates while adding the state's individual flair.

It all seems very official, and very complicated, and I think that's the point.

The more the public believes education requires expert interpretation and intervention, the more tax dollars we are willing to send their way.

Something to think about.

Standardized Testing...
a boondoggle all its own

Why do we test people who have no skin in the game?

Testing only works for gathering achievement data if the learners are invested.  Hard to believe, but most of the so-called education experts believe all students take tests earnestly.

What??

Do you believe that?  I don't.

Years ago, the tests were mostly multiple choice, with a few short answer items and a longer essay item thrown in.  Not only that, but students took these tests by writing their answers with pencil into a fat booklet of about 40 pages. I witnessed a lot of diligent work as students bent over their workbooks, editing ideas and and changing multiple choice answers as they reviewed their responses.  Beginning in 2015, however, many schools across the country turned to computer-based testing, believing it to be more efficient and less prone to fraud.  No longer were students reviewing what they had already answered.  Testing took on a 'once and done'  mentality. Getting them to proofread their responses was a non-starter.  I might as well have been asking them to perform their own root canal!.

 

Then, when Common Core took control of our testing vehicles, the questions themselves became more cumbersome, often involving multiple parts and textboxes for explanations of answers.  Very few strictly multiple choice questions exist, and even among those, the complexity and reading level appear to be above the grade level.  Additionally, multiple choice questions often have multiple parts:  if you don't get Part A correct, what hope do you have for Part B?  (You can see an example of a third grade reading test here.  Scroll down half way.)   

 

Teachers now spend a lot of time training students how to navigate these tests and use the features of the text boxes so they can get maximum credit for their response.  Children begin testing this way in 3rd grade, when they are eight years old.  How many eight-year-olds do you know who can type?  (Or have the patience to write a well-reasoned explanation using the hunt-and-peck method...?)   

The reality is that nothing is riding on the outcome of testing for the children, and they know it. I think a lot of them are amused at how serious we teachers get about it; many of them even enjoy fooling us into thinking they, too, are serious.  Having worked with 6th graders for 25 years, I have plenty of evidence for this, some of which I share in my first book, Finishing School.

Prior to testing, our principals always give us a pep talk/admonition.

It's usually along the lines of "Walk around the computer lab so the kids know you're watching them.  And for heaven's sake, make them take the test seriously!"

How do you make someone take a test seriously? I teach in what I think is an engaging style, but let's be honest: how engaging can you make memorizing multiplication facts?  And yet, that's what learners need to do if they're to be successful at solving algebraic algorithms.  

In our current educational world, no one seems to get the concept of motivation.  

 News video on CDE's website provides statistics about how U.S. children rank among learners in 33 other countries. Supposedly, we rank 14th in reading, 17th in science, and a deplorable 25th in math out of 34 countries surveyed.  But that’s if you assume the results are authentic. After proctoring test-takers for many years, I’m not sure at all sure we can rely on those results. And here's something else to consider:  what motivation is provided to students in other countries to do well on their tests?

 

My bottom line for testing is this:

The only thing I am sure of is that you can’t assume that

just because a child doesn’t do well on a test means he can’t do well.

  The Dept of Ed. reports that only 40% of students nationwide are passing their 4th and 8th grade reading and math tests.  

But do you know what those tests look like?

That's the crux of the matter.  

What  constitutes "grade level achievement" these days?

Click here for examples of math questions for 4th and 5th grade.

 How do you think you would do on them?

Can children perform better on these tests than what' they've been doing?  Maybe.  But why would they push themselves to even try?  The results do not affect them at all, and computer tests are not fun to take.  They're not the same as computer games, people.

 

Perhaps it's time we as a society stop kidding ourselves: the only way to get an accurate measure of what a student can do is provide incentive to actually try.  Our kids currently skate by elementary and middle school, and even high school to a point.  The first time they are held accountable for the results they achieve on a standardized test is when they take the SAT or ACT.  Until that moment, nothing matters to them. Only to us, the teachers whose salaries and job security depend on those tests.  On what planet does this concept even remotely make sense?

So the next question is: What would accountability look like?  The common sense response to that is one most of our public schools won't even entertain, largely because the unions won't let them.

You can read about it in chapter 5 of my book CHAOS in our schools.

Click the avatar for info about 
the author.

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