Sunday, March 27, 2011

State Test Craziness

Oy! I'll be semi-happier after the April 25 week when our math TAKS tests are over. For the last forever amount of weeks, I've been tutoring 3 sets of kids, once a week, during advisory, strictly for this test. And last Friday some words came out of my mouth to my group of tutees that now have me thinking.

I didn't want them to think they were just in there because we thought they'd have a high chance of failing. That's definitely not the case. And, I guess I'm a product of the "feel good about yourself" school of growing up .... though from what-all I'm reading, I have to think about how I offer THOSE words of praise. So after we went over some material, I said something to the effect of, "okay! we're going for commended!" and I went on with going over problems.

Well, a 10th grader in that group came up to me afterward. She's a diligent, hard-working, come-in-for-tutoring if she thinks she needs it kind of math student. It does not come easily to her at ALL, and I had her last year for algebra and this year for geometry, and I've seen a great improvement in her algebra skills this year after her having time to absorb it.

Anyway, she came up to me and said, I'm really discouraged about this math TAKS. I haven't been commended on the math portion since the 5th grade. She's passed every year, but here we are, a higher performing school, and the message we're encouraged to give is, "don't just PASS, go for commended!". So not getting commended is apparently the new failing for these students. Crap! It didn't occur to me until that moment how students may feel every year when, yes, they may pass, but, oh no, I've let down my teachers by not being commended.

I don't know how successfully, but I told her that one of the main reasons we've been saying that (in my opinion) is to get the kids to try and do their best, and I already see she puts out her effort on every question she goes through, and that's the type of diligence that's going to get her far in the world, not the "oh yay! I passed and got commended on a state test." ... It's even telling that she's stressing about the 10th grade TAKS, and it's not really as high stakes for the kids as the exit level in 11th grade.

Regardless, here's another bad side effect of these tests and what we may seem like we expect from the kids all in the name of some outside random measure of "are we doing our jobs as teachers" test.


  1. Karen5:41 PM

    I teach middle school math in Virginia, and we're struggling with the same test craziness (only this is definitely not a high performing school). We've got kids coming in for Saturday math remediation for 4+ hours each week until the May test date. Our challenge is convincing the kids that this isn't punishment for being bad in math--that we're doing this because we care about them and think they have a chance to be successful with some extra help.

    I think it's having a negative effect though. Kids are so burnt out from math class, math remediation class, being pulled out of electives for math tutoring, and now math Saturday school that they're just done. :(

    I am so proud of some of these students for the leaps and bounds they've made this year (some have made up 2 grade levels of math), but all they're hearing is "not good enough".

    Darn state tests :(

  2. Holy Cow! Saturdays and missing electives? Sounds like cumulative torture for everyone. I've worked at schools where they did that, too, so I know it's "done". This depresses me.

  3. This is all completely ridiculous. This country needs to stop this craziness. I've been tracking a film called Race to Nowhere--it's a documentary and has a web site--I'm just about ready to jump on board.

    For those math intervention Saturday kids...try something different to get them excited. I started blogging about our math and it's getting their attention.

    Ugh--it's all just too much!


  4. Irene,

    Thanks for the "Race to Nowhere" information. The website IS compelling. Why isn't THAT movie making headlines instead of the apparently teacher-bashing "other" movie?

  5. Anonymous2:29 PM

    Standardize testing frustrates all parties involved but until we come up with a more efficient model I am afraid we are stuck with it. I am actually a pre-service teacher in Tennessee. I wanted to let you know that quite often you inspire me (and many lesson ideas).

    To help lighten the mood I offer this joke that I read this morning from some other awesome math person's blog.

    What do you get when you cross a sherpa and a mountain goat?

    Nothing, you can't cross two scalars!

    This too shall pass.

  6. Anonymous8:35 PM

    I went to a wonder math workshop yesterday.. It was done by, very good and i learned tons about the foundation of math and why our kids are so screwed up....

  7. Anon1:
    Hah! "can't cross 2 scalars!" I haven't thought about those types of math terms in AGES.
    Thank you for cheering me up.

    Amen to strong foundation in the basics. I just realized a ton of my 10th graders don't know the "common" algorithm for long division. They only know the "forgiving method". Eek!

  8. When I taught middle school I accidentally invented the "A B C respectable roll" when a hard working student didn't make the "A B Honor Roll." It stuck.
    But... that was real grades. Nuthin' I could do to make those "high stakes" (stakes through what body part?) tests make sense.