Make sure you have a number two pencil and do not open your booklet until I tell you to do so. We’re going to talk tonight about testing. Let’s begin.
Didn’t you always dread that word? TEST. It was like the ultimate punishment for being a kid. I’ve always been a good student, but I had to learn to work within the system. I had to learn to study what my teachers wanted me to know. I had to learn to follow directions and fill in the appropriate blanks. And I had to learn to answer quickly. Heaven forbid you should think about your answers! I hated being timed. Even in college I remember asking a professor to please stop telling us how much time we had to complete an essay. It just made my brain freeze to hear the words!
Tests tend to ask the dumbest things, especially if they are written by teachers. I hated sitting in a tension-filled room wondering what bizarre bit of knowledge I had failed to study this time. I once had a teacher whose favorite test question was “who is the author of your text book?”. Of course word leaked and everyone learned that bit of trivia and she had to find a new question. I’m sorry, but there is a science to creating tests, and most teachers haven’t studied it. That’s why it usually takes an expert, or at the very least a group of teachers, to write a really effective test. Even then, tests aren’t always a measure of what a student knows. I remember taking a test in college that was supposed to measure what I had learned in my first two years as a student. It was one of those professional, standardized, national, whiz-bang tests that was going to tell the college how they had fared in preparing me for the world. Every junior had to take the test because there was some recognition and money for the college tied to the final scores. Well, the math portion of the test MUST have been written in a foreign language because I didn’t understand a word of it! So I decided to do what every self-respecting student does; I randomly selected answers. Of course I did it in a slow, methodical way that kept pace with the rest of the test so I wouldn’t look like a jerk by finishing in two minutes. I think I used the A-B-C-A-B-C answer pattern. I remember my shock when I got the results of the test! The passing grade for the math portion was 60 and I got 67! Think about that for more than a minute and you’ll understand the cosmic implications of my score.
Tests are supposed to have a purpose. Most simply indicate that you have spent sufficient time and effort in a class to be given a passing grade. Some measure your ability to perform a task. Others test your readiness for a career. Some measure your worthiness to receive fame or fortune. Some are even designed to target your weaknesses so you can be given extra tutoring. We give a lot of those in elementary school.
We’re testing our kindergarten students this month. We’re giving a standardized language skills test. Then a state-mandated test designed to identify those students who need extra help. Then our regular checklist of skills for their report card. One of the tests is new to our staff so we had to go to a workshop to learn how to give it correctly. I have to study my workbook this week to make sure I remember everything about the language and timing of the test. I have to have a sub take over for me so I will have the time to give the test. All of that costs money. And to tell you the truth, I’d rather have the money to spend on my class than have another way to test them. But our president doesn’t want any child left behind and he’s decided that more testing is the way to make everyone “accountable”.
When all of the testing is finished I will know which of my students need extra help with basic skills. I’ll know which of my students need some extra challenges because they are ahead of their peers. I’ll know which of my students are really too immature and unskilled to be in kindergarten this year. I’ll know which of my students are developing the skills they need in order to start reading by the end of the year. The ironic thing is that I already have all of that information without giving the tests. I’ve worked with these children for over a month. I’ve talked to them, listened to them, and observed them. I know which students need help. Now I need the help.
The sad part of testing children and identifying who needs help is that we can’t afford the “help” part. Or at least we say we can’t afford it. And I’m not talking about my school or my district or even my state. Look around. I’m talking about our nation and where we spend our money. Each time our president commits another billion dollars to some “worthy cause” I wonder how and where he’s printing the money because we didn’t have it the last time we asked for it for education. What helps children is more adults, more supplies, and more time. We need assistants in every classroom. We need more teachers so we can have fewer students in each class. Those two changes equal more time for the teacher to spend with each individual student. More supplies mean that students can have books and activities geared to their particular needs, not just those that can be used by the “majority”. Those things cost money. We can test every child to determine what they need, but if we aren’t willing to give it to them, what’s the point?
You may put your pencil down and close your booklet now.