Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Principal to parents: We will produce effective test takers, not critical thinkers

I get a little tired of everyone in the school system blaming someone else for its problems. But sometimes they are right. Take, for example, this New York principal, who, in a letter to parents, tells it like it is:
One significant issue as we move into this new school year is that we will, at times, find it difficult if not impossible to teach authentic application of concepts and skills with an eye towards relevancy. What we will be teaching students is to be effective test takers; a skill that does not necessarily translate into critical thinking – a skill set that is necessary at the college level and beyond. This will inevitably conflict with authentic educational practice – true teaching.

Unfortunately, if educators want to survive in the new, Albany-created bureaucratic mess that is standardized assessments to measure teacher performance, paramount to anything else, we must focus on getting kids ready for the state assessments. This is what happens when non-educators like our governor and state legislators, textbook publishing companies (who create the assessments for our state and reap millions of our tax dollars by doing so), our NYS Board of Regents, and a state teachers’ union president get involved in creating what they perceive as desirable educational outcomes and decide how to achieve and measure them. Where were the opinions of teachers, principals, and superintendents? None were asked to participate in the establishment of our new state assessment parameters. Today, statisticians are making educational decisions in New York State that will impact your children for years to come.

. . .

Of additional concern to me is the relationship between children and their teacher as we move into an era where teacher job status is based upon student assessment scores. Guess what, some children will become more desirable than others to have in class! And, conversely, others will be less desirable. There, I wrote it! That concept is blasphemy in our school where teachers live to prepare children to be productive learners and members of society. Teachers state-wide are worried that their relationship with students might change when they are evaluated based upon their students’ test scores. Teachers want to educate students, not test prep them for job security.
Read the whole thing. (C/o Diane Ravitch.)

I respect principals and teachers who do what they can to push back against the harmful practices that are – he’s right – being forced on them from above. One thing they can do is speak up. It’s nice to see someone doing it.

Again, there is lots of blame to go around, but there is no one more directly responsible for the effects of high-stakes testing than our state legislators. Will our legislative candidates confront the effect of state policy on the day-to-day reality of our schools? So far, not many of them have been willing to answer my questions about the issue. Here’s my post in the Patch about it.

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