Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pointless tests and fantastic reviews

It was a positive/negative week for Ukiah High School and my kids. 

First of all, it was STAR testing week.  Due to a variety of reasons that I won’t get into, we probably won’t pass.  Ok, I will get into one.  Attendance sucked this week.  Kids reactions to the test sucked this week.  In fact, the whole week was best represented by a single phrase that I saw on many of my underclassmen student’s Facebook pages.

What is the fucking point of this test?

From a kid’s point of view it’s a very good question.  It has no impact on the kid’s near or long term future and offers no real insight into the student’s learning.  What it does do is create a school culture that people hate.  Administrators become stressed on test implementation.  Teachers get hopeful, and then defeated when they realize that they have no control over a student that doesn’t care about the test.  Students become empowered when they realize that everyone is panicking over a few hours that mean nothing to the students progress.  And everyone becomes a used-car salesmen. Everything from money to Giants tickets to hollow threats of exile are used as incentives to students that don’t fill out the magic bubbles with focus.  It’s not teaching, it’s an embarrassment. 

However I don’t have to do much interaction with test-takers because I used the testing time to prepare students for Advanced Placement tests.  Well, those that wanted to show up anyway.  I offered my Senior Comparative Government students review sessions during AP testing and over the three days and six hours of testing, nobody came in and nobody bothered to accept my offer to Skype a review.  On Thursday I had a 120 minute class review and 16 students showed up.  It was a fantastic review session that addressed many issues while keeping students engaged, focused, and inquisitive.  Not only did we review information, but students were thinking and asking questions at a higher level of learning.  THAT is what teaching is really about.  The two hour session finished quick, or so it seemed.  The only negative of the review session was that there are 32 students taking the test.  That means that half never showed up. 

I had another good review this past Saturday.  The two hour session was focused on early AP U.S. History, something we went over during the first two months of school.  Out of 25 students taking the test, ten showed up.  Again the learning was great, but my concern over the passage of the AP tests continues.  That’s the way it will be for another few weeks.

Either way, the best of times and worst of times, this attendance issue must be addressed.  It’s killing funding, morale, and for students it’s going to impact their future.  Some of my students will not graduate because of attendance.  Others may get a double-take from their college or risk losing college scholarships. Worst off is that the future of the school is going to decided not by the bright and willing learners that deserve success, but by the lazy dregs that care nothing about an eight hour test named STAR.  

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