Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First Day of Testing For Another Year: Public School Begins With Some Fakery

It's the first "real" day of school year 2008-2009, and we've had our first day school clothes carefully laid out at the foot of the bed since trying to get to sleep early last night. Teachers included.

As a teacher trying to increase the number of days I bike the 11 miles to Jefferson MS this year, I spent last night ironing a week or so of bland teacher ensembles, collecting unmentionables in a big backpack and generally giving the impression I was flying to Buffalo for a very long boring teacher convention.

Even starting Year 15 it's a fun nervous time for me, this first day. After spending 2.5 months having had almost zero contact with anyone 12-14 years old, I'm back to having them a small band of them surround me in a semi-circle like a small army undertaking a siege armed with brand new, still-unchewed pen/pencils and laptops.

And I'm out of practice being "Mr. Key", a somewhat ill-defined role somewhere between being myself and a character fanatically obsessed, for some weird reason, with "being in your seat when the bell rings".

It'll take a while to ease back in our studied roles as teacher/student/mentor/mentee/administrator/school cop/school cafeteria lady. Give us a day or two to lose this happy nervousness and get in the groove. Although being out of the groove always seems to be just a little more fun.

Today, the first day, is always fun: everyone is well-rested, we're not sick of each other yet (not at all!), and the school bells seem quaint and nostalgic....the first day is like going back in time and revisiting school in a hazy reverie. Then it's Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, etc. and the bells and the desks and the schoolmates and the halls all revert to the Pavlovian/Orwellian existence school is really all about. But today we celebrate "fake school". Enjoy your first/only day of "fake school".

And speaking of fake and George Orwell, I mentioned yesterday I'd get into the simple math of the quantity of testing days in the modern public school versus "the old days". Using my own hazy, somewhat nostalgic and definitely incomplete memories on the subject, I seem to recall one day of school testing a year throughout my time imprisoned in the Texas public schools.

Once or twice we also had a test that had something to do with "career counseling" in which you answered a bunch of stupid quetsions and then the scores came back weeks later and told us we were best suited to pursue a career as a dental hygienist or in wildlife management.

Other than that, we pretty much had the one day of testing per year that I remember, and I remember liking that day because it meant idly filling in meaningless, unaccountable circles instead of listening to Mr. Bean talk about organic chemistry by using expressions like "but, who knows" while he pointed first to his butt, and then his nose, over and over and over again.

Today, it's different. Mr. Bean would have been fired long ago for student sexual harrassment (I'm skipping the particulars of that story for now), and students have far more than one day of standardized testing a year.

Let's take Math. Math, as you probably know, is one of the two subjects that No Child Left Behind actually cares about. Social Studies...who gives a rat's ass about Social Studies. Knowing where Poland is on a map....that's for foreign kids to worry about.

No, Math and Reading are the two subjects of concern on today's standardized tests. As such Math doesn't just receive oodles of treatment during the oft-discussed "Standards Based Assessment" (SBA) test in Spring, but is also the subject of THREE separate "Assess to Learn" (A2L..and yes, they really use the "2" in the acronym like the test is some ultra-cool text message or hip-hop band name or something) tests.

The idea of "A2L" is to monitor how well a student is doing with the required content of a subject over the course of a year. So there's a test around the beginning of the year, the middle and the end. Each of those tests take about two class days each.

So, let's do some testing day Math. You got two class days of "A2L" three times a year...that's six days of instruction. Add to that the SBA testing, which at most school ruins about six days of instruction itself (sometimes more, sometimes a little less). And let's not forget the oft-forgotten and little-understood "Nation's Report Card", the National Assessment of Educational Progress" (NAEP). This strange little test "randomly" picks 8th graders and tests the Hell out of them in many areas, Math, of course, included. We teachers don't really know much at all about this test, and you never hear about it, but for those selected at "random" to take the test...that's another day shot to Hell.

So, adding it all up, today's public school student takes at least 6 (SBA) + 6 (A2L) = 12 days of testing, plus a possible extra day of they are NAEPed. Maybe 13 days of testing out of a 180-day school year. A lot. A lot more than the "old days" surely, but 13 out of 180 doesn't sound like that much. Is it?

Let's roll that around in the 'ol "first day" brain, and get back tomorrow on the subject. Meanwhile, I have some nicely laid out "first day" clothes to throw on. Have a nice fake day, everyone.


Anonymous said...

As best I can recall, in California we had the "Iowa" tests and the "Kudor test of occupational preference". Mine said avoid any occupation that involved dealing with people. It's been a long while, but I think performance evaluation was based on something called "grades".

Anonymous said...

"... but 13 out of 180 doesn't sound like that much."

Sounds like one almost one day out of 10; especially when you take into account all of the non-test related interruptions.

Testing may be testing results own
worst enemy.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog searching for info on the number of hours spent on testing in public school. Thanks for providing some humor as I researched a depressing subject! I bookmarked you to return to later for more insights. (Also, totally by coincidence, I am from Wichita, KS, so it was strange to discover your entry about the Eagle article and your new/our old superintendent!)

Anonymous said...

And then for ESL students they get to take the NMELPA (New Mexico English Language Proficiency Assessment).
In elementary the district requires the DRA(Developmental Reading Assessment) twice a year...individually administered by the teacher to each student..so about 2-3 days per administration. Dual Language schools do this test in BOTH languages!
None of this includes the normal testing teachers do in class such as core curriculum tests, remember reading, writing, spelling, math?