1) The terrified looks on the seniors’ faces as they walk into the room to try to pass the math portion for the 8th time. I am always shocked at some of the kids that come in because some of them are excellent students. One came in yesterday who I had as a freshman. She can write beautifully and often shared her short stories, poetry, and drawings with me. She wrote for fun, loving the creative process, and earned solid A’s in English. Is this a student who should be denied a diploma? She’s passed her math classes but higher level algebra (yes, it’s on the “proficiency” test) is incredibly difficult for her. I’m not sure that’s right. Does she truly lack “proficiency”? If the point of these tests is to strike terror into the hearts of students, our legislature who mandates these tests have been wildly successful.
2) The cookie cutter approach – similar to the above comment, the test requires that we all have the same strengths. Who decided that math, science, reading, and essay writing are the four areas that an educated person must excel in in order to be considered educated? What about music? Creative Writing? Poetry? Drawing? Drama? We all have different strengths, and I think one of the most basic and frustrating aspects of working in the public school system is that the entire system does not get this. I get that basic skills are important, but the tests go above and beyond that. They are also required for a diploma.
3) The level of difficulty – I doubt that many adults, even those with college degrees, could pass it, especially the math portion. I think it would actually be fun to give it to the legislature one day, score it, and see how they do. I can guarantee there would not be a 100% pass rate, though I’m sure they consider themselves quite proficient. Yesterday at lunch, one teacher, who had to read the math test aloud to students with special needs (who are also required to take the test), was shocked at the level of difficulty and commented that the language is not language that is used in the everyday workplace. Why integers and not numbers? I know there is a difference but is it crucial to know that to be proficient in math? Maybe it is but I’ve earned a master’s degree, a good job, and a passing grade in college calculus, and I couldn’t tell you. What exactly is “proficient” and who decides? I would like the legislators who think these tests are the answer to be the ones who have to read it aloud to a student, one who is trying not to cry, when he asks, “can you please just read the question one more time?”
4) Scoring makes no sense. Last year, the state lowered the requirements to pass the math and raised reading. My high school had an 85- 90% pass rate on the reading test on the first time the kids took it until they lowered the scores. Last year it dropped to about 65%. Why did they do that? Were too many kids successful? Nobody was able to answer that question. Now, I not only have my kids read great literature and free choice novels but also boring articles, just to practice. Most of them say the reading is not that hard, it’s staying awake and focused for the two hours it takes to read random, boring passages about fascinating things like pyramids and deep sea ocean creatures that is the most difficult part.
5) Lost Instructional Time – we have to test for four days, two hours a day. Only the 10th graders and those who haven’t yet passed take this test. Those who have passed, sleep in. Lucky them. They also aren’t in school, learning anything. It’s over six hours of lost time, not including all of the class time we spend discussing test taking strategies to try to calm and prep the kids.
Now that I’ve had my rant, I will admit I do not know the answer. I don’t know how to fix the educational system, but I do know that it must start with the individual students. We MUST figure out a way to offer students choices and recognize that all of them have different strengths and interests. I am not saying that students shouldn’t be able to read, write, or perform basic math functions. They should. I am saying that we need to have a variety of paths to achieve success, not just the one size fits all approach we have now. It clearly doesn’t fit.