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Teachers testing my patience

Several years ago in Massachusetts, the people decided they wanted to implement a state-wide standard achievement testing program for junior high and high schools students. MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) has been around for a couple of years now, and seems to be working out all right.

There are occasional glitches, however. Some of its opponents say that education is an analog process, and the tests are digital; it's hard to quantify "learning" and "achievement" in a simple numerical formula. The process of turning a child into a well-educated and well-rounded adult cannot be simply reduced to numbers and measured on an arbitrary scale. They say such tests can give false impressions and force teachers to "teach to the test" instead of working on the bigger picture.

I have a hard time arguing with them, and they very well may be right.

But I also don't care.

There is an old saying: "he who takes the King's coin plays the King's tune." All public teachers are hired by and paid by the people, through their elected representatives and duly delegated officers. The people said a few years ago that they are greatly dissatisfied with the results they are getting for their money, and wanted to see some proof that they were getting their money's worth. And considering that the stakes in this matter are their children and their children's future, their concerns are certainly understandable.

The MCAS, like all standard tests, is designed not to measure overall achievement and education and growth, but progress and achievement in certain areas and knowledge of certain facts. It measures these because these are the factors that lend themselves to ready measurement. And it focuses on the matters that the commissioners of the test deem most important.

If this leads to teachers "teaching to the test," so be it. At least in that case, we can rest assured that the students will have what the test-makers (and the people who hired the test-makers) consider the bare minimums to receive their diplomas. And if nothing else, "teaching to the test" is still teaching.

I was reminded of this when I read this story in this morning's Boston Globe. It seems that five times as many teachers have been accused this year of helping students cheat on the MCAS than were last year. (If anyone goes to the link and sees what the actual numbers are, consider this a practical application in statistics and the manipulation thereof.)

The violations alleged range from minor to outrageous. Some teachers who make what can be argued are technical violations of testing protocols are removed from administering the tests until they complete re-training. And those found of gross improprieties can be fired and stripped of their teaching credentials.

I, personally, can't wait for that one to be handed out.

For all the praise and admiration given to teachers (a great deal of it deserved), it boils down to a simple fact: it is a job. When one works for another, one follows the rules laid down by one's employer or one finds someplace else to work. If you don't think the rules are fair, you are free to argue them. You can even argue them with your boss's boss -- in this case, the voters. If you think they are illegal, you can try to get the government to back you up.

But no one -- not even a teacher -- can just blithely ignore them, violate them, and write their own rules with impunity.

(Update: link added. Doh!)

Comments (14)

Jay- I could find no link i... (Below threshold)
Brian the Adequate:

Jay- I could find no link in your post.

So right! "teaching to t... (Below threshold)

So right! "teaching to the test is still teaching".

This is one of the bogus complaints about NCLB also. If you talk to teachers, they will nearly all claim this a major problem for the profession, but personaly they would not do it. You do the math.

Great bit, Jay.

I also remember about 15 ye... (Below threshold)
Corky Boyd:

I also remember about 15 years ago, Massachusetts gave compentency tests to all existing teachers. About a third flunked. The expected solution was to give additional training so all teachers would pass.

Massachusetts found a different solution, they dropped the test!

Jay Tea, I completely agree... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, I completely agree with you (which is why I risk being tarred and feathered by a few of my colleagues).

If a test is measuring a set of criteria, the set becomes the content to be taught. Why shouldn't we teach to the test? That doesn't mean we don't teach BEYOND the mere facts to analysis and synthesis, for heaven's sake!

The only thing that exasperates me is that when test scores are released, Joe Q. Public doesn't always understand what they mean. I wish that scores would be correlated to the student's ability index, grades in a subject, and attendance.

There are some students who simply CANNOT perform higher than a basic level because of their limited ability. Some students do very little learning regardless of my "brilliant" teaching. Some students miss more days than they attend. These are factors outside my control. and I hate that they are not taken into consideration by test scores.

Conversely, a student with a high ability index and great grades and attendance should perform at the top of the scale. If that student only achieves a mediocre but passing score, that's a big red flag that will be missed.

Teachers have a tough job a... (Below threshold)

Teachers have a tough job and, as individuals doing that tough job, I praise them. Lord knows I would throttle most of the lil snots teachers put up with all day long. But, as a group of unionists aggressively pilfering the public coffers to perpetuate their job security, political power, and bias on the curriculumn, I despise them.

You state, 'There is an old saying: "he who takes the King's coin plays the King's tune." All public teachers are hired by and paid by the people, through their elected representatives and duly delegated officers.' This is a fact highlighted every year when we all pay our property taxes, but in practical application, it does not translate. The public school teacher, administrator and board member is of the arrogant attitude that the public is working for ~them!

This attitude and the money that grants them this power is foolishly handed over year after year, generation after generation, by an unsuspecting public. Go to any national NEA union rally and the contempt for reformists, activist parents and those that promote school choice is palpable to the point of nausea.

The remedy for controlling this public school / unionist monster is to remove its source of food - tax dollars. Return the money to the people that earned it (the tax payer) and let them decide how and where is best to educate their children.


So, who do the teachers wor... (Below threshold)

So, who do the teachers work for? The school system, the people of the district via the elected school board, or the union?

Hmmm.Life is a tes... (Below threshold)


Life is a test.

Each and every day we all encounter, endure and deal with a myriad of tests of varying difficulties. Some tests are of ethics. Others of morals. And still more of our cognitive abilities, experience, skills and knowledge.

If a child is incapable of handling tests while in school, is the derived adult capable of handling tests in life and employment?

Teachers that try to push the meme that tests don't really reflect reality are full of crap.

Maine has the Maine Learnin... (Below threshold)

Maine has the Maine Learning Results, which are very much like the MCAS in Massachusetts. I agree with Goddess and most others here. There is NOTHING wrong with knowing what needs to be taught, and being certain that it is taught. However, I believe that each student enters my classroom at a different level (I teach computers). Therefore, I always tell my students that they are to excel based on their OWN knowledge - not concerning themselves with the criteria that we need to cover - that's my problem. Each student is to move as far beyond where they started as possible - enjoying it fully and working on REAL LIFE projects - not the nonsense that the computer textbooks ask me to cover.

Lucky me - and I don't say that sarcastically - I also homeschool my five kids, so I get to use the same premise at home. Let's use life to learn, and the texts as a guide. Is it better to work on two dimensional worksheets, or play "store", for example, to learn how to make change, pay bills, etc. I can teach the same general idea to my four kids still home, ages 5, 8, 10 & 14, at different levels of learning.

Same thing in the computer lab - I currently have a class of students: 3 senior citizens who were recently laid off but are taking classes through Unemployment, 2 teen moms; one gentleman who builds computers for a living, but wants to learn the software end; 2 ladies who want to change from production to office positions, and one ESL student from Brazil who wants to learn both our language and how to use a computer.

Yes, they are an VERY diverse group of students, but they are having a BALL learning PowerPoint, Excel, Access, digital photography, etc. Each one has taught the rest of us in the process of presenting a PowerPoint slideshow, for example. I now know how to tell if a lobster is male or female, because one of my students and her husband are lobster.... persons :)

Okay, I've gone on WAY too long. But it IS possible to "teach to a test" and still fully enjoy teaching, and have students who fully enjoy learning.

Some of the requirements ar... (Below threshold)

Some of the requirements are stupid, though. North Carolina's End of Grade tests require improvement each year. That's impossible when students are exceptionally intelligent - there aren't enough points added each year to fill the quotas.

Also, the End Of Grade tests are ridiculously easy. Really. One year a 23% grade was considered passing (On a test with 5 multiple choice answers).

The school system also calibrates the test such that 80% pass - regardless of how the students did. The test's results mean nothing because of their statistical tricks.

"The process of turning a c... (Below threshold)

"The process of turning a child into a well-educated and well-rounded adult cannot be simply reduced to numbers and measured on an arbitrary scale."

Frankly, I wonder how much of the problem is that the schools are expected - and the teachers union and the Gramscian crowd expect them - to produce a "well-rounded adult." It is NOT the job of the government to produce a well-rounded adult. It is the job of parents. If we restricted the school curriculum to actual academics, I believe the kids would have a better chance of passing the test.

We started homeschooling two years ago, and my 16 year old is now testing at post high school levels for everything but math - and she's above grade level for that.

The biggest problem with st... (Below threshold)

The biggest problem with standardized tests is not the tests themselves. It's the fact that teachers are trying to cram facts, skills, and concepts into students who should have learned such skills years ago in order to prepare them for a test. They're wasting class time (about 2/3 of the school year in PA) teaching what should already be known. It's a big fat waste of time.

Perhaps if teachers focused on teaching instead of other BS liberal agenda like sex ed., student self-esteem, etc., then we wouldn't have this problem.

SilverBubble - I agree with... (Below threshold)

SilverBubble - I agree with you completely. However, since I work with dropouts who are (finally) returning to get a GED or Diploma, and also oftentimes with teen parents, I find that self-esteem is a huge piece of the puzzle. Why, however, can't self-esteem be a part of the academic picture? Give an assignment, allowing something they excel in or are passionate about to come into the picture. If, for example, you have a kid who loves to take engines apart and put them back together, perhaps he needs a hands-on assignment versus the bookworm or the knitter or the dancer.

Maybe I'm getting too homeschooley on you all, but that's what it's about - giving the kids something to really get psyched about. At home, for example, we've done entire thematic units, hitting all of the subjects, on lighthouses.

If any of you have a kid who isn't learning in public school, I encourage you to look into homeschooling. We are going into our fourth year, and I wouldn't send these kids back to public school period, end of story.

And if they EVER find a way to properly teach sex ed so it really works, I'll be out of a job. No more teen moms! LOL.

Candy - While I agree with ... (Below threshold)

Candy - While I agree with you that self-esteem is important, in my experience, the way the schools deal with self-esteem is generally to tell kids they're perfect just they way they are and when they screw up it's not their fault.

The way I gained self-esteem, and the way my daughter has gained it, is to do the right thing and be praised for it. I suspect that's your way as well. Serious efforts get praised and good work gets praised, and kids earn a justifiable sense of pride. It's just not like that in the public schools anymore, mores the pity...

it's hard to quant... (Below threshold)
it's hard to quantify "learning" and "achievement" in a simple numerical formula. The process of turning a child into a well-educated and well-rounded adult cannot be simply reduced to numbers and measured on an arbitrary scale.

That's a lie and they know it. If any teacher tells you this, then you ask them if they give tests and quizzes to their students. It's the same thing. Then you ask them why colleges require SAT or ACT tests for applicants.






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