Anthony Cody at the Living in Dialogue blog has asked questions about a teacher's stance on standards.
..."And the promise of national standards is usually linked to a case for national standardized tests that will allow all our classrooms to be compared by the same tests."
I couldn't agree with Anthony any more about that... I'm not opposed to either standards or being standardized tested...but I can't think anyone believes that something that flows so far away from the neighborhood school can reflect anything remotely needed by the students who attend that school. How can Washington ever hope to create standards that will reflect my neighborhood???? While I'm sure many places are similar to my neighborhood there are many, many more that are not. And I'll bet you lots of money no one is going to care about what Kansans think are important for Kansas citizens to know....we don't have enough electoral votes to have political clout, we're not California or New York who seem to rule the news media's attention and we're not Washington DC. Why would we want something that isn't developed with our children in mind?????
Anthony also raises the concern about how the push for testing has driven content further down into the grade levels. I haven't seen this trend in my state. What I have seen is a huge realignment of what's being taught. For example, I teach 6th grade and we have always wanted students to know how to do long division when they arrive. We didn't want them to know fraction operations...that's what our curriculum is all about. But the 5th grade teachers preferred to teach fractions than long division. (Can you blame them???who wants to teach long division??? kids hate it and fractions are way more fun) That really wasn't happening consistently, teacher by teacher and from every feeder school, before every year testing. Now because it's on the 5th grade test, our students are coming with those skills.
Where I've seen the problem arise is in science tested indicators. The state walked away from inquiry science...you know science that kids do....in favor of testing discrete bits of facts. That has pushed teachers to "read" about science way more. Who thinks reading about science is science????? Sure reading to build background knowledge is essential...but it is NOT in our country's long term best interest to have kids think that science is reading the chapters and answering questions at the back. It's about doing science...thinking, analyzing and so on. But that kind of science is hard to test, expensive to test and probably very hard to accurately measure. It's also something that is time intensive.
You can't ask elementary school teachers to raise math and reading scores AND do science and do social studies. Too much. There aren't enough hours in the day for them to become expert enough to do it all. Right now most elementaries aren't doing much with science or social studies for fear of not getting enough time in for math and reading.
How is that something we should want for our kids?
Anthony also raises the issue about college prep. He says....
"The emphasis seems to be to prepare students for college entrance exams. Only a third of our students graduate from college, so why should we build a system that assumes its only purpose is college preparation?"
This is true for his student population but not for my student population. Almost 90% of our kids go to college and many go far beyond. This takes me back to my first point which is how is national standards going to help Anthony's students and my students at the same time.
But truth be told, I'm sick to death of being told that the middle school's job is to get them ready to take the AP tests. I think the middle school's job is to be responsive to transitioning students from being little kids into young adults, to helping them stay curious about the world, about building their confidence in themselves as intellectual beings, trying on new hats (what if they are really a musician, or an actor or a seamstress or an artist or a photographer), about becoming responsible for themselves (study wise and behavior wise) and helping them thing about big things (literature, citizenship, mathematics, science, humanities to name a few). Not getting them ready to take AP courses. What's the big deal??? I think it's all a big chase for prestige that based around another dumb nationalized test or a measure that HSs and the administration types can brag about. For the students I teach HS is not the end of the path, it's more like the beginning. Why burn them out if they have 4 years of college, and many years of professional school or grad school in front of them??? Isn't the place they'll need to be competitive and super smart is there...not in HS????? Would you really want your own child APing out of a class, going to a super competitive college and then floundering around as a college sophomore? Would it be much better for them just to do freshman classes as a freshman...and do well? Talk about the Hurried Child? David Elkind needs to write another book about hurrying our children through HS so they can wander about college!!!
Anthony this is a great blog entry. Much to be read and reflected upon. Almost too much for me in holiday prep mode.