Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Who Do We Really Work For?

Consider this entry in the absurd files of standardized testing:

Our state has a multi-million dollar contract with a very large testing corporation. In general, this corporation has very little interest in what we have to say about anything because we are a state with a minuscule population and our multi-million dollar contract is a drop in the bucket compared to other states. For example, this company dictates when our end of the year testing takes place, and they decide that it takes place in 3rd quarter. Figure that one out.

The writing assessment has long been a sticking point, and there's been a real yo-yo of activity surrounding this assessment. One year it's changed radically, then next it's gone completely, and then next it's back in its original form with a new name.

Right now, we're dealing with the last of these.

Now, a quick aside about how testing works. For a company to score writing assessments, they have to have sample assessments for "norming." These are assessments that are put in front of a large group of scorers, and they work together to determine what is proficient and what is not, and it (hopefully) helps them weed out bad prompts.

The way that companies collect these sample prompts is through "pilots." These are test items that are given to students that don't count toward anything. The only reason students do pilots is to provide data and raw materials for the testing company.

Okay, so let's consider the current year, in which our students have already been through two testing periods, one of which is three weeks long, and are now going to complete their writing assessment. Fine.

However, for my particular grade, they also have two pilot writing prompts. That means that we are required to have three testing sessions, and only one of them actually does anything for anyone other than the testing company (and that one is highly suspect).

We're teachers, so we're trained professionals when it comes to resigning ourselves to stupid practices, but we all agree on one thing: we're going to give one class period each for the pilots. Our students already lose too much instructional time to assessment.

Then we are told that that is not acceptable. The rules of the assessment (which is not an assessment) state that they must have at least a 90 minute test window for the pilot prompts. That means that we must not only use our writing classes to administer the pilots but also two class periods of our Reading sections as well.

We fight. We complain. We make general nuisances of ourselves because we know that this is bad for students and a waste of everyone's time and energy. But, the rules are the rules. So, once again, we resign ourselves to more stupidity.

But the question remains: whose rules are they?

Essentially, a corporation is dictating the use of classroom time in my school. And what that corporation decides is that we should use class time to gather data for them. It even dictates precisely how much class time. Not only are we gathering data for them free of charge, we're actually paying them millions of dollars for the luxury.

To complain in any way that has any chance of affecting change, we would need to talk to legislators at the state level, and whatever you've heard about the big, scary teacher's unions, they're nothing compared to the lobbyists for textbook and testing companies. So, we're resigned yet again.

But it's always nice to know where your orders come from and who is making the important decisions regarding classroom practices.

Heads up, folks. Current education reform is a racket designed to continue lining the pockets of these corporations under the insidious misnomer of "accountability."

At least we know who we're accountable to.

1 comment:

  1. Our school is losing pretty much a month of being able to do much instruction. The building is too small for the kids that are not testing to be quiet enough, so we end up spending most of our instruction time outside. So, except for the testing on their day, the kids get fun projects and mostly recess. So this is at the middle school.

    Meanwhile, son took his SAT yesterday. They get 25 minutes to write and essay. Let me repeat, twenty five minutes to write an essay.

    The world is mad.