Despondent – adjective Feeling or showing profound hopelessness, dejection, discouragement, or gloom.
There is a part of my brain that understands accountability. I understand the desire to find out what students know. Are our public schools doing their jobs? Are we preparing the students for their futures? Our children are precious and we want some assurance we are doing the right thing for them – spending taxpayer dollars wisely. I get all that.
How many people have had to watch students’ faces as they are testing? The vast majority really try. They fight to stay focused and concentrate. They write, and erase, and outline and plan – and write some more. In the span of five hours you can actually watch the light go out of a student’s eyes. You can watch them throw up a wall and say, “screw this!” Tears should not be part of education. They can’t get away from my room fast enough to escape the unpleasantness. It would be fascinating if it were not so sad.
I spend all year trying to develop a growth mindset. I try to get students to find joy in learning. I try to get them to see education as an opportunity to learn about the world. It’s amazing how much damage can be done in a few hours. How many of us have experienced a betrayal? Do we remember the joy of being in love? Do we remember how those many moments of joy were undone by a single act? Can we remember the scar that remained after the fact? That’s how I see testing. Standardized tests are a bludgeon that destroys the joy of learning.
Compare and Contrast
Yesterday during school I administered a standardized test and witnessed the effects mentioned above. A few students came in after school to start building their high-power rockets. In two hours I watched students read (and re-read) with purpose. I watched students collaborate. I watched planning. Students argued - then learned a little about conflict resolution. I had an opportunity to talk to boys about their attitudes toward girls, self-concept and respect for others. The girls saw a male teacher respect their ability.
Students learned that sometimes sharing is more productive than competing. Students learned a little about relativity - 5minute epoxy means you only have 300 seconds to get things right. They realized five minutes of testing and five minutes aligning parts don’t seem equal. They learned the need for dry fitting and rehearsing their movements. They measured. They calculated. They experienced conflicting instructions and made a decision, unsure of the outcome. They experienced joy in learning. They didn’t want to leave.
Which experience do we want for our children? How did the standardized test measure any of the wonderful things that occurred in the after school activity? Was the stress and frustration of testing worth the effects it had on the students?
I’m all for accountability, but there has to be a better way. If people wonder about what my students are learning I wish they would simply take the time to come visit my class. I wish they would come make the assessment in person.
I will show up tomorrow and try to begin the process of rebuilding attitudes and mending minds. I hope I make some progress before the next round of testing…
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