Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Assessment Winter Solstice

It somehow seemed fitting that on the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, I found myself in a meeting with a few principals and department facilitators answering inane questions from the PA Dept. of Ed. about how our school handles local assessments for students who do not meet proficiency on the state tests in math and reading. In lieu of a state graduation exam that has been approved but not funded, PDE is asking critical questions about local proficiency assessments, particularly in math and reading.

I say inane, not out of indifference to the students, but to the tests. These tests measure so little and yet the stakes are made higher with each passing year, amounting to narrowing of curricula, demoralizing learning communities, and stigmatizing administrators, teachers, and students alike. What's worse is that the students who are not demonstrating well on these tests have the most to lose from added efforts to teach to the test. The majority of these students are already maxed out in the schedule to get the minimum graduation requirements. To add required remediation classes to their schedules, squeezing out technology, art, business, or consumer economics or any core discipline elective, seems like insult to injury. For several such students, there are not enough periods in the day to teach to the test. Everyone in our meeting shrugs "what can we do?"
Students have no voice in this, let alone professional educators. Parents and the general community are led by the media to believe these test results matter more than teaching students authentic skills, practical knowledge, real application, creativity, problem-solving, innovation, fine arts and true science. Those of us who know the damage these tests do seem least equipped to appeal to those who promote them. Test lobbyists are much more organized and funded than test recipients. It seems there is no hope but for the hope that state and federal leaders drop standardized testing as a model.

Brrrrrr! It's cold out here in Western Pennsylvania.

Image Credit: Jon Young UK. "100_00626" (Sun and Silhouetted Trees) . 27 Dec. 2006 24 Dec. 2008.

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