Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just Say No

The week of April 15th, my 8-year-old 3rd-grader Saya will be forced by the munchkin leader of Bloombergistan to take a three-day English test, followed by a three-day math test the week of 4/22 – the preparation for both having dominated her classroom for most of 2013, clearing time away from art, science, history, games, and music. Saya's a pretty good student, getting mostly As and Bs (or 4s and 3s as they mark it these days), while not taking anything too seriously. If she were to fail either of these city-enforced tests (score notices won’t come in until the last week of the school year, making summer plans impossible), she’ll be made to take 8-weeks of summer school in order to repeat the tests in late-August. If she fails either test again, she’ll have to repeat the 3rd grade.


I’ve seen sample versions of both tests, and while the math part seems pretty honest, the reading exam stunned me. Not only did it scan as something near junior-high level (sorry, middle-school), I’d bet two-thirds of American adults would fail it. In the sample, the first story to be analyzed is Leo Tolstoy’s “The Gray Hare”: a hare in winter-time plays with his companions, searches for food, and watches the sad people. The last paragraph:
The dawn was glimmering in the east; the stars grew less, and the frost vapours rose more densely from the earth. In the near-by village the women got up, and went to fetch water; the peasants brought the feed from the barn; the children shouted and cried. There were still more carts going down the road, and the peasants talked aloud to each other. The hare leaped across the road, went up to his old lair, picked out a high place, dug away the snow, lay with his back in his new lair, dropped his ears on his back, and fell asleep with open eyes.
The questions:

-- In detail, describe the hare.

-- Why does the hare keep moving through the countryside?

-- What is the hare's goal for the day? Does he reach his goal?

-- How does the author use the word sugar?

This is not Count Tolstoy writing for his children.

There’s a fight-back beginning. (Sadly not in P.S. 139’s district). A growing revolt against the expanding use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states – at all grade-levels. Parents have started refusing to allow their children to take the exams. School boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems. Hundreds-of-thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests. Superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. This corporatized “No Child Left Behind” end-all, be-all stranglehold is a perversion of what a child’s education should be.

Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle have banded together to boycott mandated tests called The Measures of Academic Progress – an action that’s serving as a flashpoint in the growing revolt. A video by Storyline Research & Productions about the moment it all started at Garfield High, and the problems with The Measures of Academic Progress – and all standardized tests, in school or out: