This piece originally appeared on my site, A Small Victory.
My son, DJ, has started fourth grade and thus we begin the year of "teaching to the tests." There are three state mandated tests in this grade. The entire curriculum is built around exams that have no bearing whatsover on your child's grades or future.
The English Language Assessment Test (ELA) takes place from February 4-6. This means from September through February, the classroom focus will be on reading, reading and listening comprehension and writing skills. I am not saying this is a bad thing; I just think it narrows the curriculum down to the point where other skills are going unused.
Fourth grade teachers, at least in this district, have admitted that the state tests take time away from other aspects of the classroom; they especially diminish the room to be creative in class lessons. Emphasis is placed on the skills needed for whichever test is coming up, and there is very little leeway in expanding lessons.
Once the ELA tests are over, it's on to the math test, which takes place from May 6-8, quickly followed by the science test, the written portion of which takes place on May 13, with the performance portion coming up the following week.
These kids are nine and ten years old. The dates of the tests are drilled home to them, the impending tests are announced over and over again (we must finish this book before May, class!), the reasons for certain assignments announced (you will need this skill for your test!), and when you put it all together you end up with some seriously stressed out children.
You say, there's six hours in the school day, surely they can set aside an hour a day just to concentrate on the test skill so the other lessons can go on unimpeded. Not really.
Figure in an hour for lunch and recess and an hour for "specials" time, meaning art or gym or music. Take off another half hour for the fifteen minutes spent getting unpacked and settled in the morning, and the fifteen minutes gathering up belongings in the afternoon. That's 2 1/2 hours off of the day.
Then we have what they call "push-in" teachers, who come into the classroom for specialized reading or math lessons. That's another 45 minutes or so that the teacher does not have control of the classroom.