I know, let’s turn Indiana schoolchildren into prank monkeys!
While it’s true that I’ve been out of teaching for four years, and with my youngest in the second semester of his junior year in high school, I really don’t have a dog in the fight, I still can’t wrap my head around what legislators—and not just those in Indiana—are doing to children.
Before you start with the mistaken notion that I’m one of those liberal, union-loving, child-coddling, tree-hugging, GOP-hating left-wing nut jobs, let me put that to rest. I’m not. I’m a conservative Republican with Libertarian leanings who believes the federal government should not feed schoolchildren (their parents should) nor subsidize preschool (cut taxes so that one parent can stay at home). So there. Those two radical ideas might be off-putting to some of my friends, but we’re about two generations into a Great Society that has another mistaken notion that the federal government exists to take care of us. We need to get back to taking care of ourselves and get the federal government out of education.
That said, I truly do believe in public education, even though my own children were mostly educated in Catholic schools. My parents were public school teachers, and between my husband and me, we have around 45 years’ experience in public schools both in the inner city and in suburbia. Public schools should serve as the great equalizer—a level playing field—even though school funding is a complex and counterintuitive formula here in Indiana.
The takeaway? Provide a level educational playing field, yes, but hold each family accountable for how that education makes their children productive and responsible American citizens.
But back to what legislators are doing to children, because if what happens within the walls of the school are not things that are best for children, then they ought not to be happening, right? Marathon standardized testing, mandated by state and federal regulations that are tied to funding, staffing, and a school’s A-F ranking is something that happens to children, not to adults. Explain to me how making a third grader endure nine hours and 25 minutes of standardized testing is good for him. Because I’d really like to know.
In my last year of teaching, I was told that I was to “get” each of my 27 fifth graders to pass ISTEP. I laughed. Seven of my 27 young scholars spoke limited English. They might soar through the math part, but they wouldn’t even be able to read the language arts portion. In a hilarious twist of irony, these students would have the instructions read to them in Spanish, their native language, but would be forced to take the test in English.
I wonder how many state legislators could take the test in Spanish. More hilarity.
Moreover, several of my students with IEPs were not even close to reading on grade level, but they, too, were expected to pass the test. C’mon, their IEPs mandated that they would have extra time to complete the exam—all they needed was a little extra time, right?
Hell, they could still be taking that fifth grade ISTEP today as freshmen in high school and still not pass it. Time was not what they needed, fellas.
My point is this: How is standardized testing good for children? Does it make for better schools? No. Does it make teachers better? Hell no. Do teachers have any control over who walks through their classroom doors at the beginning of the school year? No! Does standardized testing eat up instructional time? Yes! Does it take away from authentic learning opportunities? Hell yes! Do I need to go on? No! Because common sense tells us that high stakes testing doesn’t do anything but create nail-biting, anxiety-ridden teachers and students, and turns school administrators into monocle-wearing, whip-bearing SS officers threatening to unleash their torrent of fury against any teacher who dares question the hours and hours of mandated test prep being forced upon them. After all, their necks are also on the line. Administrators who do not produce passing test scores shall be eliminated!
There are parts of the ISTEP exam that make sense, and there are parts of it that are thoughtful and well-written. Well, at least there were in 2009, the last year I administered the test. I’m not saying, “Abandon standardized testing forever!” What I’m saying is to be reasonable. Use the test as one piece of the assessment pie. Much of what happens to children while they’re in school cannot be and should not be reflected in the results of a standardized test, no matter how well written it is. Children’s writing, their ability to communicate, solve problems, seek out answers to questions, their technological prowess, their curiosity, and their affective learning cannot be adequately measured by a standardized test. Which is more important?
To legislators, politics are more important, and schoolchildren serve the state as their pint-sized pawns. To them, a school’s poor test results means that those children’s teachers are bad, bad teachers and should be fired, their schools nothing but dens of iniquity full of leftist commie teachers who care more about their rights than the children they refuse to educate. Fire them! Fire them all—no, better yet, parade them throughout the streets of the capital city and throw rotten tomatoes at them. Make them a spectacle, an example of all that is wrong with public education. Heads on a pike! Burn them at the stake!
And then we can turn all the public schools into charter schools, because that’ll solve everything.
And all the time, those teachers were just trying to do what was best for children.