Test All The Things! - Blog! - Two-Fisted History

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Test All The Things!

 

'Life's a forge! Yes, and hammer and anvil, too! You'll be roasted, smelted, and pounded, and you'll scarce know what's happening to you. But stand boldly to it! Metal's worthless till it's shaped and tempered! More labor than luck. Face the pounding, don't fear the proving; and you'll stand well against any hammer and anvil.'
                                                                                          -Lloyd Alexander

Yes, we need to ensure that our clients are picking up and understanding what we're teaching them.  In our modern world of Education, however, we don't have 'clients' anymore.  At least, not as far as school districts, and state & federal education boards are concerned.  So yes, I suppose by their rationale, we have an overwhelming need to test our 'widgets.'  And believe me, test them we do!

Between the ages of 3 and 5, when a child is typically in Pre-K or Kindergarten, they have begun to develop 'actively.' By that, I mean that they are at a peak time time for developing motor skills and sating their inexorable curiosity by continually exploring the world around them.  It is at this point that they begin their exposure to the cold world of sterile education.  These inherently active children are made to sit for hours and, to ensure that they are meeting the federally and state-mandated targets for what the government feels that a toddler ought to know, must be tested and assessed to guarantee that they meet or exceed the mandated level for their age.  After all, testing is far more important for a widget that the government expects will fill a role as a cubicle-dwelling corporate cog with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, than a toddler allowed to develop their motor skills and release the natural kinetic energery with which they are endowed.

Not that the situation gets any better once our toddler grows, mind you.  Ahead of them lies years of pointless government testing; their irrelevance clearly indicated by the attitudes and actions of the schools, districts, and states administering them.  For example, in the Broward and Miami-Dade School Districts, the over-hyped Third Grade Florida State Assessments used in determining which students would be promoted from 3rd to 4th Grade, was disregarded after hundreds of students were discovered to have failed.  Both districts promoted all of their 3rd Graders regardless of their score.

What then causes a further disconnect is that, for all the bluster that is given by Districts, as well as State & Federal Education Departments regarding the importance of assessments, is the chaotic, haphazard, and poorly-thought out way in which they are produced and administered.  In the 2014-15 School Year, at least one middle school in Broward County spent just under three months in testing.  Not every day, mind you.  Some weeks it would just be Sixth Graders, others Eighth Grade, yet others Sixth and Seventh Graders, etc.  Due to poor planning on the part of the school administration (well, at least the administration), State Assessments had a number of 'hiccups.'

Florida had abandoned paper-based testing.  As a result, the first week of testing took longer as teachers set up laptops for waiting students: powering them up, logging in, getting onto the secure testing browser, etc.  The remedy for this was for teachers to set up the students' computers as soon as the teachers came into their classrooms in the morning.  This led to at least two more problems.  The first of these was that the sheer number of students logging in jammed the servers of the secure testing facilities, preventing the students from accessing the tests. 

The second problem was that, while the test was supposed to be administered over a four hour period, the batteries of the laptops only kept them powered for three hours.  Add the minimum 90 minutes that the laptops had been on between the time the teacher had turned them on in the morning and the start of the test, and the result was as you might imagine.  A student would get halfway through the assessment, and then their laptop would die.  This is not the most conducive way to run an assessment, and, as a result of further poor-planning and the reactionary (rather than pre-emptory) nature of Administration’s attitude towards problem-solving, students and teachers lost a great deal of valuable instruction time as bells were held for all grade levels to provide a quiet atmosphere for testing.

Now that I think about it, one has to question the wisdom in assessing students who lose months of instruction because they need to be assessed. . .

Further examples of the haphazard way in which today's mandated assessments are managed (mis-managed?) can also be found in Florida.

Several years ago, Florida became paranoid that students weren't knowledgeable enough in American government and politics, and thus needed to be rigourously trained in the subject.  This was a great idea in theory.  The execution, however, left much to be desired.  In the end, the End-Of-Curricular (EOC) exam designed for 7th Graders wound up being a confusing jumble for the students who were reading at a pre-primer level; many of whom could not even spell their own names.  The experience further strained teachers whose positions and salaries depended on how well students could complete this exam.

For all the anxiety that the approach of the Civics EOC brought, at least in one school, the test was invalidated due to poorly thought out execution.  The EOC was supposed to be administered over a four hour period.  Testing began as scheduled, but the school failed to take into account that the exam would be held during the students' lunch periods.  For whatever reason, their lunch period was unable to be held after the test, and the only solution that the testing coordinators could come up with was to give the 7th Graders a lunch break in the Cafeteria during the testing time.  Of course, this social mingling of students who were in the midst of testing invalidated the EOC for all present.

At the end of the day, district and state testing is just a numbers game.  The district, state, and federal parties involved in education are more assessing the schools and teachers than the students.  The schools, in turn, are more willing to skew any data that the former groups might believe is useful for collection and analysis.  In the end, this may make both students and teachers realize a futility in modern Public Education and, ironically, make both students and teachers 'career ready.'  How much longer until we hear Peter Gibbons's reply to the Bobs in 'Office Space':

'Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.'

Echoed in our schools by both teachers and students?  As Freeman Dyson said, 'We must be careful not to discourage our twelve-year-olds by making them waste the best years of their lives preparing for examinations.'

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