Opinion: The Uncommon Core [Education and Testing]

I haven’t seen Louis’ video yet, but at this point in time Common Core appears to me (an elementary school teacher) as this: a really nice idea with miserable execution.

Having just completed a ‘dry run’ of the CMAS test here at my own school (a responsibility that fell fairly heavily on my shoulders as the K-5 technology teacher), I don’t know entirely how to feel. I don’t know who’s designing these tests; they don’t seem to be people who have looked into what a real classroom looks like.

The questions don’t reflect the diversity that is a fact of life in public education (how fair is it to test a Pakistani refugee child on English idioms? Answer: it’s not, nor does it tell us anything about how this child thinks learns, or what she understands).

The testing window in our state is going to be open from January to May (in other words, half the year) because we need to test 600 students and we have 60 capable computers in the building. Each test (Literacy, Math, and either Science or Social Studies depending on your grade level) takes three 90 minute sessions to complete; so 3 (3*90) = 810 minutes. Thirteen and a half hours. (Fun fact: the average attention span of a child in minutes is equal to that of their age. And you want 9-year-olds to test for 90 minutes. RAHAHAHAno.)

Because this testing will become so important and now takes place online, elementary technology classes will likely have to place an additional emphasis on typing skills – necessary, but not precisely encouraging of the critical thinking skills our students really need.

And this is all aside from the massive technology needs (we’re a very lucky school with a great deal of working and updated technology) that low-income schools will be unable to provide, the network problems that made the process difficult and painful for administration, and the thousands of unanswered questions from parents, students, and even administrators. Oh, and the loss of time for actual useful testing like NWEA’s MAP test.

Louis CKFor all the money, time, personnel, and planning that is going into these massive testing programs, why can’t we hire, educate, and send out assessment people to TALK to students, to see how they learn, what is working, and how they as an individual are being served. Standardized – as the word itself indicates – doesn’t tell us about each student, each individual child.  It makes a child a commodity, a thing.

This system is collapsing under its own weight.

I’m hardly the person to know how to fix this. My place is on the front line; I stand alongside my students – trying to show them how to learn from quality websites, use their instincts to stay safe, and showing them that anything you want to learn, someone on the internet can teach you, wants to teach you. I can clearly see examples of systems that work: look to Finland, the best schools in the world – The Smithsonian: Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful? & The Atlantic: We Created a School System Based on Equality.

Take the money from all this testing, hand it off to schools to better train their teachers, to provide classrooms that are physically larger and class sizes that are smaller. Provide us with the tools to teach innovation, creativity, problem solving, and initiative, and our students will find their own ways to “multiply and divide numbers up to a hundred by the time they leave third grade.” Give them the tools, and they will do it. Teach them to learn, teach them to teach themselves, and they will find success. I’ve watched them do it. They can, if we just let them.

I’ll keep trying. However I move forward, I will keep trying. For them.

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