Two weeks ago I gave an assignment where students read a section of their textbook, were allowed to place five bulleted facts on a note card, and use that information on a quiz. The results were interesting and bring forth more light on how testing kids and blaming teachers is quite ridiculous.
The first issue was the lack of kids who actually used the note card. I'd say about 20% (and that was the high end) of my classes took advantage of the note card to use on the quiz. This is usually a clear sign that students did not read the textbook. Believe it or not, most students don't take advantage of "cheat sheet" style assistance, even on large tests. I often hear the argument that students won't even bother to read the information in the book unless you offer the cheat sheet. It gets them into the information. I disagree. The students that take advantage are students that don't really need it. And don't tell me that reading text isn't necessary, because I read plenty in college.
The second, and more pressing issue, was the answers given for the question "Name one of the four countries that were included in the immigration to the American Colonies". The correct answers included Ireland, England, Germany, and the Dutch. About a fifth of the students gave me an answer that I hadn't expected, Mexico. I was quite taken aback. Mexico? Didn't everyone know that the Pilgrims came from England? Didn't everyone have those funny little Thanksgiving parties when they were young with funny little hats and fake pumpkins? Well, the obvious answer is no. And this is where the testing gurus don't get it. Many students, even the underachieving crowd that might be lazy and unmotivated, have a deeper understanding of historical events because of years of exposure from everything including those elementary school parties to Schoolhouse Rock. Kids that show up from another country with little or no English, and no historical foundation at all, are expected to already have good knowledge of the United States up through the Civil War by the time they reach 11th grade. To some kids, the connection with the term "immigrate to America" creates a connection to Mexico that has been ingrained in a culture that often labels them "immigrants". It was quite the awakening. The quiz was a clear slap across my face that made me realize that pacing guides will be thrown out the door, irrelevant State Standards are going to get barely more than a mention, and these kids are going to get a foundation course in U.S. History. I've slowed way down and I started with Columbus and I've moved through Colonial America and finished the American Revolution. My first test will be Friday. We'll see if slowing down works. I think it will since I'm seeing students fully engaged and interested.