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.
There are kids, like my son, who are pulled out for speech or other special services. Kids are pulled out for drama or band.
Add that all up and you are left with about three hours of teaching time in the classroom. In that three hours they must not only teach the lessons planned for that day, but fill those lessons with test-specific subjects.
It’s no wonder DJ comes home with enough homework to kill the entire night. And it’s no wonder that he’s feeling stressed, only three weeks into the school year.
The spectre of even more mandated testing hangs over schools like a cloud of doom. Bush calls for tests, tests, tests. Why? What do these tests do but determine whether a district is using their state money (the distribution of which is another rant completely) to its best advantage? What does my son, who spends his entire year studying and prepping for these exams, get out of it? Will a good grade on the ELA be refecleted on his report card? No. Sure, he’s learning valuable skills, but at the expense of quality in the classroom.
I’ve been through this already with my daughter, Natalie. I know what to expect when the testing dates approach. Natalie developed a twitch two days before the test. She threw up the night before. These dates and acronyms are repeated over and over to the students all year long; when the dates are coming close, the teachers emphasize the skills needed to pass. Nine and ten year old kids should not be put under this kind of pressure. One teacher told his students that if they didn’t pass the test, the district would lose state aid.
Teachers admit that the emphasis on these tests take so much time away from the important lessons children should take from the classroom; the lessons that are taught when engaging in interactive, creative assignments with their fellow students. There’s no room for that kind of “frivilous” activity in the fourth grade classroom now.
The adminstrators are not seeing the forest for the trees. Instead of viewing each school as part of a whole district, they need to see each student as part of a whole school. Stop filling our classrooms with nervousness and fear and let the kids just learn without that kind of pressure, at least at this age.Powered by Sidelines