Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How is your school doing (Or What is the point of standardized testing)?

The PA Department of Education has a page entitled "How is my school doing?" If you are interested in how your school district (or others) is doing, I encourage you to check out this link. The information goes beyond the typical standardized test results; things such as drop-out rates, attendance, and teacher qualifications are also included.

I gave the reports a quick glance and was dismayed, though not surprised, to see how poorly my district is performing. To be fair, I just don't know a lot about No Child Left Behind and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP); my opinions are based on what little I have read and the opinions of others. But even so, one thing I have questioned and struggled with is the dreaded standardized test, which, of course, is how the academics are rated/ranked.

In fact, this week Jordan and her schoolmates are taking the Terra Nova tests (I think most or probably all the state public schools take the PSAAs instead). I could read up on the differences between the two, but, really, what is the point? I will say this, however. I came across a site called Teacher Complaints, which pretty much is for what you would assume. One complaint said that schools are sending kids home with books on how to pass the PSAAs; the author suggests that if the school's curriculum was standard and the teachers were able to teach it, there should not be a need for a study guide for the test. I can understand that point, but I also have to consider that most complainers on this site probably have an ax to grind and are just a wee bit biased and subjective. But anyway.

I don't know how learning can be adequately measured for everyone. Just because you can fill in some ovals and, in some cases, guess correctly, does not mean you have learned what you should have. Conversely, you might have learned pretty much everything the teacher has taught but struggle with tests such as these. Or maybe you learn and understand the lessons when they are taught but have trouble retaining the information. Sure that is a bit of a problem in and of itself, but forgetting what you have learned and not having learned it to begin with are not the same thing. And what if whatever is on these tests is not really what the kid should be learning?

So what is the answer? I am certain throwing more money at the problem does not always work. My school taxes have gone up over 20 percent in the nine years I have lived here, yet my school district's rankings have dropped (I have kept track of rankings only since 2005). That said, money should solve some problems. More money means you could hire more teachers, which results in smaller class sizes, which often translates to more learning (or at least more kids learning). And if you had more money, you could upgrade technology, books, etc. History is literally being made every day. How can we be sure the kids learn about more recent things as well as the events from the past few thousands years and prior? Time and money hinder that. When I subbed one day last year, I taught a lesson on the worst oil spill in the US, the Valdez spill in Alaska. The problem was just a few weeks prior to my subbing, that spill was eclipsed by the Gulf spill. It hurts my head to even think about rapidly changing technology. Is Pluto a planet? Can humans do much if anything to prevent climate change? Did Al Gore discover the Internet?

Once again, it appears I have just rambled on, solving nothing. But let's face it: the highly educated, super-smart people who are paid to solve these problems have not done such a great job, so I shouldn't be so hard on myself. Still, I will press on and try to figure out what I can. In the meantime, know this: Teaching is difficult. I think every person should have to spend a day or even several days in a classroom, to see firsthand what goes on. That might be a good place to start.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

To your $ point- paying the teachers more each year should not make them better teachers. If so they are doing it for the wrong reasons... Some schools/teachers probably teach to the test so what does that prove about those schools. Our educational system here is BAAAD.

Facie said...

Anonymous: For the most part, I agree with your point about teacher pay. Getting a raise did not mean I became better at my job; I was working hard to begin with. And I did not slack off the years the company struggled and we we did not get a raise, or worse, had to take a pay cut. I remember staying late when I was almost 9 months pregnant and at a 25 percent pay cut; the work had to get done so I stayed to do it (and fortunately my kid waited until the next day to come!).

Of course not everyone is like that, and if people had the opportunity to make more money, most would take it. Speaking from experience, teaching is hard work. Most teachers deserve what they make and more. I wish there was an easy and accurate way to weed out the bad ones, though.

As for the bad educational system, obviously different schools are, well, different. But from what I understand, as a whole, our country is lacking.

Bill Applegate said...

Do NOT get me started on the PSSA testing. I do not want to bag on Teacher’s…I know it’s the system but basically we are educating our kids to all be mediocre.

The smart kids are bored…and the kids that need the help don’t get it because everyone is worried about making the PSSA standard. The educational system is rally going downhill quickly and unfortunately our kids are the ones paying for it.