One Test and You’re Not Out!

According to poll after poll, a majority of whoever the pollster spoke to agrees with the idea that kids should have to pass some kind of standardized test to graduate from high school. Until they don’t pass. Then the screaming starts.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Nevada, Florida, California and other states according to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post. Large numbers of students (12% of the seniors in Nevada, 20% in California) have passed all their courses, many with respectable grades, but will not graduate because they failed at least one standardized test.

The test really isn’t the problem, however. Here’s the real problem: “In fast-growing Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, almost a quarter of the high school seniors had not passed the exam before the most recent round of testing on May 20. Part of the problem is that many students — as many as 40 percent statewide — have never taken algebra or geometry, which are included on the test.”

Standardized tests are a lousy way to assess student learning. But who’s to blame if the curriculum has been dumbed down to the point that kids don’t even have to take the subjects that will be tested?

Are Retirements and Funerals Related?

No, this is not the start of a bad joke. This past week I went to the eighth and ninth retirement parties this school year and this particular connection formed in my warped little brain.

Our school system is probably like a lot others right now in terms of retirements. We have a lot of people who have lasted their 30 years (more or less) and are now heading out the door for Florida or wherever. And having been around here long enough, some of them are friends or long time colleagues. I certainly wish them well but to me, many of these parties seem to have a strange funerial air to them.

It’s not the retiree’s fault, of course. These affairs are planned by their friends and, like funerals (and graduations for that matter), they seem to be designed for the people attending them not for the honoree. Very often the person who is the object of all the attention looks very uncomfortable as their friends parade decades worth of their life in front of everyone. In at least one case last fall, the presentation felt like living the whole 30 years, as if the planners had lost all their summarization skills.

I’ve decided I want none of this when I decide to quit (or more likely get thrown out in the street). First of all, I doubt I will every stop teaching in one form or another. Even the cheezy tutorials and collections of links I post on my other sites (1, 2, 3) is a form of teaching. I once read about a teacher who, after 38 years, just walked out of the school at the end of the year and didn’t return the next fall. That’s the way I plan to “retire”. No muss, no fuss – just goodby. I appreciate that people have all kind of good intentions in planning these affairs. But double your efforts for the person that leaves next instead.

Now let me tell you what I think about funerals… :-)

Standing Up to NCLB

I ran across two stories of people standing up to the disaster-in-the-making called No Child Left Behind. Hopefully there will be more.

The first is the state of Maine. The state legislature is considering a resolution to tell Bush and Congress to either exempt the state from NCLB or “fully fund the high cost for states to comply with it”. What a concept – Congress actually paying for the laws they pass! To me the more important part of the story is where the resolution says that Maine already has their own standards and that they “don’t need more imposed on us by Washington”. While I don’t totally agree with the concept (we really need the basic definition of a national curriculum), we’re supposed to have local control of education in this country, aren’t we?

The second example (NY Times – free registration required) doesn’t directly involve NCLB but goes right to the kind of thinking that comes with it. A Florida kindergarten teacher is retiring rather than face the changes being forced on the curriculum due to standardized testing. By all accounts Ms. MacLeish is an outstanding educator to the point of recently being named Teacher of the Year for her system.

In her fairwell message to the community MacLeish noted that “Kindergarten teachers throughout the state have replaced valued learning centers (home center, art center, blocks, dramatic play) with paper and pencil tasks, dittos, coloring sheets, scripted lessons, workbook pages”. The NY Times article says that “the breaking point for Ms. MacLeish was an article in the paper praising a kindergarten teacher who had eliminated her play centers and was doing reading drills, all part of a push to help her school get a higher grade on the annual state report card”.

Standardized tests for kindergarten students?? Reading drills?? What the hell are we doing to childhood?