Friday, November 25, 2016

Teaching to the Test

Johnson & Richer - PARCC

This text was a little difficult for me to relate to since my school does not have PARCC testing.  The closest I could relate to it was my few years teaching in a public school in Florida, especially because a lot of my students experienced the same struggles.  Majority of my class was made up low income families with quite a few ELL students in the mix.  Many of my ELL students immigrated to Florida the same year that I had them in 5th grade.  The fact that I am bilingual should have been beneficial to my students but I was not allowed to teach them in Spanish because of the standardized tests they
had to take.  Since the tests were to be given in only English, the class was to be taught in only English.  I found this out the hard way.  In an effort to make my students learning experience a more positive one, I made them vocab lists for each subject area, with key words in English and explanations of the words in Spanish so that the students could associate an English word with a concept rather than more English words they do not understand.  When my principal got word that I was doing that, I was reprimanded and told to stop immediately because the students were supposed to be taught only in English so they could develop the language.

As Johnson and Richer mention on pages 12-13, the teachers who took part in the survey expressed concern with regard to the pacing and curriculum and being forced to teach to the test.  I definitely could relate to that in my school in Florida.  My 5th graders were tested in math in science and so that is basically all I taught from August until March.  We also taught reading skills, but we taught it through Science based readers.  My students did not even know what their Social Studies text book looked like until after their testing was over with in March.  By that point, we had pushed through the whole Math and Science text books, so we reviewed those subject areas occasionally but mostly did Social Studies all day long from March - May.  Not only was this a crazy approach to the curriculum, but the Social Studies lessons were mostly lost because 1. we literally did lesson after lesson all day long and 2. the students could certainly "feel" and understand the vibe that once testing was over, the school year was basically over.  After being pushed so vigorously for those seven months, they were "checked out" as soon as testing finished.  

The teachers who were surveyed also expressed concern in their lack of trust for the testing company and RIDE.  “​In addition to feeling ethically compromised, a distrust of RIDE and Pearson was evident in the data. One educator reported that RIDE officials told parents that the PARCC would need no extra practice or preparation, but they told teachers the opposite.” (14) I could definitely see where this would be disheartening for the teachers. It seems like a business deal between RIDE and Pearson, and Pearson is telling the parents what they want to hear but then behind closed doors, telling the teachers that they have to teach to the test. It seems, they want the parents and students to feel like they are NOT being taught to the test but they, in fact, are. It makes the whole process seem very fake.

I did really like the potential solutions Johnson and Richer give on page 17, especially the last three solutions.

"2) Offer authentic opportunities for teachers and educational researchers to help plan an assessment system based on the local and diverse student population;

3) Create political structures that ensure meaningful teacher participation and resist corporatization in educational policy; and

4) Work to alleviate oppressive political and economic structures that disproportionately harm students of color and from poverty, thus leveling the playing field." (17)

The key to these solutions is that they focus on the diverse student population. The biggest problem with this standardized testing is in relation to the students who are coming from lower income families. In one of our first class discussions, we talked about the achievement gap vs opportunity gap and I think it's very fitting that we close out the semester with this exact same concept. Typically the lower performing schools are coming from the urban areas. In the suburban areas, the students who perform the lowest are typically the students with lower economic status. In some cases, there may be a language barrier that prevents the child from succeeding to his/her true ability; in other cases, it may be that the student's home life may not reflect the ideals that are being taught in school. In either case, just like we teach our younger students that you must always compare "apples to apples," the same holds true when we compare the results of these tests. It is not fair to use the same scale to measure every student - when every student is so different.

"Meaningful teacher participation" is so crucial. These tests basically shut the teachers down and turn them into robots just teaching the material and curriculum that will be on the tests. The teachers are the ones in the classroom working with the students for countless hours. The teachers are the ones who know the students far better than any booklet with bubbles can dictate. They/we should be involved in determining the most accurate way to asses the students.

If solution 4 could be achieved, then many other problems would slowly but surely dissipate as well. If the playing field for an education were level, then eventually the job field would also be leveled off and so on.

These solutions seem to increase in difficulty with each progression. To have meetings would be a fairly easy task (in comparison to the other 3) and the fourth solution is definitely the hardest plan to put into action. At the same time, the first option would likely contribute the least immediate change because the people can talk all they want, but if no actions are taken, no changes will happen either. The last solution is the hardest one to make happen, but if (and when?) it happens, it will definitely cause the biggest changes. 

This video teaches students how to TAKE the PARCC test.  There is so much information needed just to take the test.  That is not even touching upon the information that will actually be ON the test.  I am all for technology but even using a computer for the most basic mathematical things frustrates me; watching the math tutorial part of this video makes me want to cry.  

This next video is interesting because it is posted by "PARCC Consortium." 

The first thing that caught my attention with this video is the tone of the video.  It makes it seem like everyone is in favor of these tests and that they are in the best interest of the students.  More interesting than the video, are the comments listed below the video.  The tone the video takes are completely bashed with all the negative comments, by frustrated teachers, frustrated parents, and nervous students.  Of the 27 comments, 25 are negative and 2 could possibly be considered neutral.  At least one of the comments even mentions how the test attacks the student's self confidence.  

As I said in the beginning, my school does not have to deal with this dilemma of testing because we are a private school. However, I can say that when I first accepted the job, I took it figuring that it would a "foot in the door" type scenario and early on when I looked into public school positions with a high pay scale, once I talked to people in the system, most of them warned me about all the testing stuff that goes on. Ultimately, I (obviously) decided to stay at my private school and that is my plan for life at this point.



  1. Hey! I used your blog post to help write mine, and referenced your video "What is PARCC" in my post.

    I appreciate your honest response as a private school teacher who does not currently use state testing. Your story about FL reminds me of the little boy in the video you and Marissa played. If we're going to do or use anything we want to do our very best, and use all resources accessible. Standardized testing doesn't care about those factors. In NC we were very much a teaching to the test district, and the teachers were okay with it, because these EOG's have existed for years. In RI, I'm not sure of the teacher's side just yet. I know my cousin opts her sons out of PARCC, just because she can.

  2. The following statement of yours is so true.... You must always compare "apples to apples," the same holds true when we compare the results of these tests. It is not fair to use the same scale to measure every student - when every student is so different.

  3. Hey Stef!

    I thought your efforts to help the boy in Florida were commendable, it is our job to make our students' experiences as productive as possible with the resources we are given and can create. I just wonder how the ELL students would do if they were allowed to take these tests in their native language. I question if it is a money factor or those creating the test believe only in English as a language in this country. I feel many of our ELLs are labeled as bad or slow readers because of their test scores. If the test was in their native language, we could at least see where their reading skills are truly at to plan better instruction for teaching them English.