“Betty Bought Butter, But the Butter Was BITTER…” (Or Wait…Maybe I’m Just Bitter)

I’d say we’re about halfway through the year, no? One might even refer to this as a “midpoint” or “mid year” or the “middle of the school year.” All those terms would be accurate. And if one was giving, let’s say, a midyear assessment, this would be the time of year they would considering administering said test, right? I mean, perhaps the “mid year assessment” which is to be completed mid way through the year doesn’t have to be given on exactly day number 90, but, you know, somewhere close. Somewhere logical. I, for one, always gave midyear assessments in the first couple of weeks of February before vacation. That way, I could take a couple of days of my vacation (That’s right, I said, “TAKE A COUPLE OF DAYS OF MY VACATION,” to all you people out there who are about to poo-poo our glorious vacations.) to analyze the results, make small groups and adjust my instruction accordingly. You know, because I rocked. And because doing it this way was a billion times easier than trying to get all that work, thinking, list making and planning done in my classroom since someone had apparently installed a revolving door that people I considered Wastes of Time loved to use freely.

(Mrs. Mimi got her bitter back. You know, to balance out all the touchy feely stuff. I have RANGE, people!)

Why am I making such a big deal out of the middle of the year you ask? Because I was staring blankly at my computer screen waiting for my dissertation to write itself allowing my mind to wander down memory lane, thinking about what I would be doing if I was in my classroom right now. And then I remembered this little gem of a story…

These days, schools are obsessed with data. School systems are also filled with people who don’t come in contact with children, have never taught a child and whose job description may or may not be deemed as necessary by people like us. You know, teachers? Put those two things together and viola! You get mandates for teachers to test test test the daylights out of children all so someone can shake a paper, hold up some numbers and say, “See?!? Look what I did!” When really, what have they done? But that’s another post for another day.

You may be thinking, “This Mrs. Mimi person has some balls? How can she just make accusations like that??”

Because friends, I have seen this point in action. Last year, the Bacon Hunter proved my point like a true champion.

You see, last year, the midyear came and went. So, I happily gave my own (useful, teacher created, thoughtful) assessments and considered myself lucky to have bypassed all the other crap. I figured, “Hey, let’s just let sleeping dogs lie.” and kept my mouth shut. After all, I can’t be expected to do everyone’s job, now can I?

And then it was May. What one might refer to as the end of the year. The final portion of the school year. Our last few weeks together. Time to wrap things up. However, you want to phrase it, it is pretty undeniably THE END (as is evidenced by increasingly hyper children who spend their private reading time gazing out the window at all that sunshine and teachers who begin packing up their classroom a month early).

In rare form, the Bacon Hunter swept into our team meeting one day and declared, “You need to give the mid year assessment this week!”

To which we replied, “WTF?”

JUST KIDDING! That part was in our heads. I meant to write, to which we replied, “Uh, come again?”

(dropping stacks of TEN PAGE assessments on our desks) “You MUST give the mid year assessment this week!” (And BOOM! went the stack of papers as they crashed into my desk or maybe that was the sound of my patience finally giving out…)

“Um, I mean call me crazy, but shouldn’t we be giving some sort of final assessment instead?”

“You will be, in two weeks.” (More enormous stacks of paper are now dropped in front of us as rain forests everywhere wept from the sheer devastation. Or wait, was I crying?)

(I’ll pause here so that you can pull yourself together. I know I needed a moment.)

“So you’re saying that we’re giving a TEN PAGE mid year assessment, followed by a TWELVE PAGE final assessment just two weeks later?”

“Yes.” (Boom! The papers crushed me to my very teacher soul.)

And guess who got to correct all those little gems? (You are the big winner if you guessed ME and MY SPARE TIME.)

Maybe I need to go back to school and take another class (Wait a minute…) but I always thought that the point of assessing children was to get a snapshot of their current learning so that you could adjust future instruction. Here was the reason we were given. Cuz, you know, we asked.

“I just need to have all this data on file. End of discussion.”

AHAHAHHHHHHH! On FILE! Of course! It needs to be ON FILE! Well, that sounds totally valid. We have drawers to fill people! Gear up those number two pencils!!

So my little friends, dreaming about fun in the sun, were subjected to four days (because that’s how long it takes to get though TWENTY TWO PAGES of math test) of testing. At least two of which were totally, utterly and wholly unnecessary. And all because they needed to learn that valuable lesson…that lesson written of in Mother Goose rhymes and Aesop’s Fables…you know the one I’m talking about, right? Say it with me now, “Good boys and girls go to school and pay attention so that one day they can pass a test.” Lesson learned.

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  • All that testing was what encouraged my son to quit teaching…and he was good.

    Kids are tested to death…and we all know it. The only ones who don't seem to know this are the ones who mandate the testing.

    It comes from the state houses and from the Governors' offices, from the US Congress and from the Oval Office. Why on Earth we allow someone without any training in Education, without experience in teaching – in essence, without any education credentials – to be the US Secretary of Education is beyond me. But we've done it twice in the last 5 years (Margaret Spellings – B.S. Poli Sci. Arne Duncan – B.S. Sociology). Spellings claimed that she was qualified because she was a mom (I kid you not) and Duncan never even attended a public school…

    The politicians and business folks (Bill Gates, for example) who claim to know so much about education simply because they went to school, are very hot on Scientifically-Based or Research-Based education. None of them, however, can tell you the scientific basis, or the research basis for using standardized tests to decide whether students should graduate from high school…or should be promoted to the next or be retained in their current grade. You know why? Because there is none.

    The glut of standardized testing in the US has not improved learning one drop. It has, on the other hand, frustrated teachers, increased student drop out rates, and lessened the time we can teach.

    I'd like to change places with Arne Duncan for just one week…let him work with the students I work with…help them in their struggles (without the benefit of my 30+ years of experiences and training) and see how much standardized tests help him. I, on the other hand, would spend the entire week gutting No Child Left Behind (aka No Child Left Undamaged), Race to the Top (aka Race to the Edge), and doing everything I could to return a little sanity to public education in the US.

    "Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts." — Albert Einstein

    February 2, 2010 at 8:20 pm
  • As always, Stu, your comments are more than thoughtful. However, today, that quote at the bottom? Best. Quote. Ever. Pulled out my fave Sharpie and jotted it on a Post It as soon as I finished reading. Thanks!

    February 2, 2010 at 8:21 pm
  • The issue of testing is one of my buttons and when it gets pushed I can't be responsible for my ranting…it is essentially my whole blog…which is why my family has (nearly) given up on reading it. "Oh…Dad's foaming at the mouth again about testing!"

    I do have lots of good quotes, though (many of them on the blog…as a matter of fact there's a good quote there from Mrs. Mimi)…and it's because there is so much logic…so much reason…that disputes the "common knowledge" that 1) schools are failing, 2) reformers (like Gates, et al) are the ones who will save the profession and our children and 3) that standardized tests are the solution to all problems, so lets have more of them.

    We have to be the constant thorn in the side of those who threaten to destroy public education. We're the ones who are there every day. It's up to us.

    So…here's another one from another great source…it's not Einstein, but it works for me.

    "At a time when children are overwhelmed with tests, when NCLB has turned schools into test-prep academies, and when education is facing severe budget cuts, the last thing we need is Race to the Top with more standards and tests. If we are interested in picking up an extra 500 million, all we need to do is drop the state high school exit exam. Exit exams don't work: Studies have shown that that state exit exams do not result in improved academic achievement. In addition, recent research done by scholars at Indiana University has shown that state high school exit exams do not lead to more college completion, higher employment, or higher earnings by graduates. In fact, researchers have yet to discover any benefits of having a high school exit exam."

    —Stephen Krashen, Sacramento Bee online, Dec. 8, 2009


    February 3, 2010 at 12:13 am
  • Another question. Does this Bacon Hunter person read your blog and if so, will you have a job when you go back to school!?

    February 3, 2010 at 12:13 am

    February 3, 2010 at 12:13 am
  • Ginger – I'm not she reads it, but she knows it's there. The book too. To protect the privacy of my students, colleagues and school, I left at the end of last year. I'm not going back to the same school. And no, I don't think she'd welcome me back with open arms. The decision to leave was 60% about my personal growth as a teacher, 30% about the book and 10% about a move my husband and I were fairly certain was going to happen and didn't.

    Mark my words, though, I'LL BE BACK!

    February 3, 2010 at 12:15 am
  • Stu….you're a genius. As a veteran teacher (30+ years and retired working part-time), I've seen the testing mentality morph from "hey, let's look at…." to "if you can't measure it, it doesn't exist." The Ivory Tower Syndrome from our policy-makers and even our teacher-trainers is shameful. I think it should be a requirement that, once you leave the classroom, one year is spent BACK in the classroom every three or four years — REGARDLESS of your title. It would be justice to have university professors, along with state school superintendents and school board members (! gasp!) racking up clock-hours with actual student contact.

    February 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm
  • I HEAR you, sister. My favorite part is that we analyze data, analyze data, analyze data, and admin says, "What can we do to help you meet the needs of your struggling learners?" And I fall for it EVERY TIME! I say things like, "oooh, smaller classes, more support, less testing and more instruction, yadda yadda yadda…"

    But does it change? Uh uh. In fact, we'll probably lose teachers and gain more students in our classes. But we'll just wait until they have us analyze data and ask us again. Because we know that if there's one thing that data is good for, it's further analysis! Why would we USE the conclusions that we've drawn from our data to implement specific plans for improvement when it's so much more GRATIFYING to just wax poetic about it? Hmmm????

    February 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm

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