My youngest child is taking the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test this week, and for the millionth time, I am wondering what the point is. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was designed to impose the insanity we endure here in Texas on the rest of the country.
Somewhere along the line, someone decided that all kids should be able to pass the same test to prove that they mastered skills that the teachers were supposed to teach. Standardized testing is not something new. We took standardized reading tests on a bi-yearly cycle. After the test, the students got their papers back with a raw score and a grade level. It was very cool to read on a fifth-grade level in second grade, and even cooler to read on a tenth-grade level in fifth grade.
After the standardized tests were scored and recorded, we were divided into reading groups, by level. This allowed the teacher to give more attention to the kids with problems without making the kids without problems sit through a lesson umpteen times. It seemed to work, and almost all of us learned to read on grade level or better.
And then came the self-esteem crowd. Their thinking was that if children were segregated by their reading ability, those who had lower reading levels might get the idea that they weren’t as bright as the rest of us. So reading groups, and later tracking, in high school had to stop. The thing I noticed way back in first grade was that the kids in the lowest reading group also got in trouble a lot. I connected those dots early on. Back then, I was convinced I knew which was the cause and which the effect. These days, I’m not so sure.
First they did away with the reading groups and everyone read together. When eighth graders must wait for a kid who reads on a first grade level to “get it,” the quicker ones get awfully bored. The entire class can bog down completely depending on the mix and the ability of the teacher to match all the learning styles in the class. Then came social promotion. We can’t have sixth graders driving to school, so they let them become seventh graders without making them master the skills they needed to be seventh graders.
Later, somebody noticed that illiterate kids were graduating from high school, and got their panties in a wad. Oh no! Some children cannot read! We must fix this. And they decided that the problem was that there were no standards. Committees met and brain-stormed. Task forces formed and made recommendations. At the end of all the work and time and millions of dollars, they had a list.
Johnny should be able to read simple sentences and to add and subtract 3-digit numbers at the end of grade one. Thank you, Sherlock Holmes. It took 20 years and millions of uneducated kids passing through the system to learn what all teachers knew 30 years ago.
Onward march the task forces and committees. We must make sure children meet our standards. They must pass a standardized test at certain intervals. Thus the TAKS was born, and I rue the day. The difference between the standardized tests I took and the ones my daughter takes is the use to which the scores are put. When I took the test, the teacher knew where I was. She could place me on a time line with respect to what I knew and what I needed to learn. My daughter’s teachers, on the other hand, think they know whether their job is done or not. The principal thinks he knows how well the teachers are performing by the aggregate results of the test. If a large proportion of the kids pass, the teachers must be great teachers, and if a large portion fails, the teachers are to blame. The superintendent of schools thinks that she knows how the principals are doing by their schools’ test scores; and the state board of education thinks . . . you get the picture.
The net effect of all the prognostication is that the kids get forgotten. The teacher worries about the test and squanders valuable time teaching kids how to pass the test. Who cares if they can pass a test? They need to be able to read. They need to be able to cipher. They need to be able to use reason and logic to solve problems and make decisions. They do not need to know everything about everything, but they should be able to find out almost everything there is to know about anything and present that information in a concise, intelligible manner. Now I’ll let you in on a secret: the test ain’t helping.
Someday, we will discover the other thing the teachers of 30 years ago knew and took for granted. If a child cannot keep up, it is because she needs more time. Keeping her working on the skills she needs to acquire today is not leaving her behind. It is letting her catch up.
- ► 2006 (15)