Wednesday, April 29, 2009

STAR thoughts


Guess what.  I only reached World War 2 in my U.S. History Class.  I have a month and a half of class left and about 40% of the STAR testing questions have not been covered. 

Another classic example of the system not having a clue.

For those that think that it is all my fault that I didn’t cover all the information, I would answer in kind.

First, screw you.  It was my first year teaching the information and the first year is all about timing.  I would do better next year.  Yes I have an attitude.  Idiotic testing puts me in this mood.

Second, the test jumps all over the place and makes it difficult for the teacher to makes historical connections with students.  For instance, I had to review Colonial America all over again.  Why?  Because easily half my students had little or no clue what the Declaration of Independence was, that’s why.  Check this out:

1. Describe the Enlightenment and the rise of democratic ideas as the context in which the nation was founded.
2. Analyze the ideological origins of the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers’ philosophy of divinely bestowed unalienable natural rights, the debates on the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, and the addition of the Bill of Rights.
3.Understand the history of the Constitution after 1787 with emphasis on federal versus state authority and growing democratization.
4.Examine the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction and of the industrial revolution, including demographic shifts and the emergence in the late nineteenth century of the United States as a world power.

That’s the first set of 11th grade Social Studies Standards.  Notice that it says nothing about teaching the Revolution (only the ideology), teaching about the Constitution (only federalism and history), or the Civil War (only it’s aftermath).  Ok, so what if the students have no grasp on the Revolution, the Constitution, or the Civil War?  It makes the other stuff pretty pointless if the connections aren’t there.  So it basically took me months to set the context of the history up for the students so they understood the “how” and the “why” of U.S. History.  By the way, the next standard is basically the late 1800’s (Gilded Age, Industrialization).  I could rush everything and get it all done, but will the students really retain it?  And more over, will they really understand?  Do you realize that 3/4 of my students really had no clue about the Civil War?  What is the point of going on about 1900’s forward if a student doesn’t have any retention of one of the most important events in history? 

Well, the good news is that the students came to me and stated that most of the test seemed really easy.  For the record, I didn’t proctor a STAR test, I used the time to teach and review for my AP Comparative Government students.  So no, I’m not breaking any confidentiality issues with a test I haven’t seen.  Students told me that they felt very prepared with the information we went over.  Political cartoons we discussed were included in the test.  Document passages we discussed were in the test.  Almost all the students felt that they could take most questions and narrow everything down to two possible answers.  That’s a good sign.

The bad news was that we only had three days to review information we didn’t cover, although some students mentioned that it helped somewhat.  Many students, including those with high academic achievement, stated that the “best answer” and “second best answer” questions were much too vague.  Students were concerned that they could justify both answers (and some did in class) and that they were being put into a position on a multiple choice test to give one right answer by force.  I understand that this happens in testing, but if the whole point of STAR testing is basic concepts and simple memorization, why go through the trouble of trapping a kid in a vague question.  One kid used a (paraphrased) example:

What was the main theme about Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”?

A) The problems within the meatpacking industry

B) Labor issues during the Industrial Revolution in the United States

C) Some way off answer

D) Some way off answer

Obviously we realize that the answer is “A”, because we have studied it enough to know the difference.  But a student that is getting this for the first time is going to be confused at best because “The Jungle” is discussed at the same time as labor conditions in the classroom.  Hell, the damn standard says

“Know the effects of industrialization on living and working conditions, including the portrayal of working conditions and food safety in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.”

Again, the point is getting kids to understand the basic premise of historical events and theory.  Those vague answers confuse students that might not be academically inclined, and irritate those that can legitimately justify it.

So my first real STAR test experience has left a sour taste in my mouth (what a surprise).  While I’m all for teacher accountability, these test are only a sliver of the method to measure it.  I would trust the student that told me that Upton Sinclair’s whole point of entering the meatpacking industry was to investigate the plight of the worker, than some four answer state mandated test that locked down two vague assumptions. 

Anyway, I’m harder on myself than anyone else is.  So I guess we’ll just have to see what next year has to offer.

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