Why Testing?

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8 thoughts on “Why Testing?”

  1. Diana if you read the above post don’t be too offended. I’m not talking about you as one of those admins who can’t do it. You have proven yourself in the classroom at all levels and as an administrator there is none like you in the world. Your work with DPS is the stuff of legend and the entire world of foreign language education would not be the same without your far-reaching influence and dedication.

    All the same, I do feel that, since this is my blog, I get to say what I want. It’s important to me to think this stuff through and I am not afraid of a little fist fight here and there. I don’t see how we can change without this kind of lively and sometimes gnarly dialogue. Indeed, our country is founded in it. It is important for me to say that I really don’t believe or agree in any way with what you say here:

    …the next time you criticize our [Denver Public Schools] assessments with….philosophical dribble about poor unmotivated students being assessed for unworthy purposes of assessment based on the current criticism of “generic assessment for all” ….I will not be so kind….

    To me this point is about you thinking within the system and me outside of it. I’m not sure I fully understand your point, but what you think is philosophical dribble about kids is not that way to me at all. My position, my focus, is based in what kids at each moment in class are experiencing, and I believe that to some degree the vast majority of students in our nation’s schools, even the rich ones, are “poor and unmotivated” by the very nature and definition of what school has become, a testing ground that has little regard for their best interests to learn in a way that is not colored by the ugly word judgement.

    When I say that I am thinking outside of the system, I mean it and so if this discussion is going to occur within the system, I am probably wrong. I respect your position – it is that of an administrator. And you have a major metro school district to run. That’s a lot of people. But do allow, from time to time, opposite points of view that take the discussion outside of “the system”. I think that if we continue testing in the way we do, saying that it exists to inform teachers how to better instruct their students, then we will be making a mistake. I want schools to go away from testing and I want them to go away from it now because it is hurting too many kids.

  2. Also Diana you wrote:

    ..teachers need a way to show administrators what their students can DO with the language?…

    This rings false to me and it is not just because I taught in a high poverty school on the West Side. When given to kids in poverty, tests do almost nothing to show administrators what students can do with language. Their fluency in their own languages proves this point.

    Yes, with high scoring privileged kids, tests can show how much they “understand” and yes you can then design instruments to align them with the Big Brother proficiency scale indicators, but such results have a kind of false quality about them that, in my view, don’t go to the heart of human communication, but rather measure in a kind of robotic way what a kid knows after they have sat in our classrooms for a year.

    Could not the kids of poverty do as well if they weren’t put in positions where they have been, so to speak, pre-labeled for failure? Does this fact not indict the entire system of testing as biased towards those with privilege? Does this not skew the results immeasurably? Are kids of poverty really unable to score high on those tests because they are inherently incapable? Will such results enable their teachers to really change what they are doing in their classrooms to better instruct them? Isn’t this just another way that the system is rigged against the poor? Doesn’t education have some really deep demons to look into if they are to really serve all the kids, so that we can one day stop looking at them as “low” or “high”? What does that even mean when it comes to language instruction in particular? All kids can learn a language.

    Related: https://benslavic.com/blog/the-pedagogy-of-poverty/

  3. The definition of “assessment” here needs to clarified. I will only like the loosest definition of it. This means for my classroom, formative only. This includes observations of students, checking for understanding, going slow and using the ISR. Of course, we shouldn’t sacrifice gains for the teacher-student relationship. I would throw out ALL “summative” assessments whose purpose is to weed kids out and justify the latest Edu-fad from corporations.

    Ben asks, “What are the real motives for testing?”

    Money mainly. Lets look at this closely.

    There are tons of money to be made for testing companies like the college board as well as that other company that starts with a K. The system of administration (not the people necessarily) is put into place to defend its privilege and police teachers for “best practices”. Basically, “best practices” are anything the district says. Using data, the administration runs experiments on classrooms and perpetuates the stark economic contrasts. It’s all a top down system with a corporate, private captain at the helm.

    Of course, this is my formal self talking. I can rabble on and on about it. We can all feel good that we recognize the evil of public education. In fact is schooling even necessary? I used to like that books like Deschooling Society as well as Summerhill. Awesome books that I hope to read again in my lifetime.

    What I prefer now is to recognize the good and support good people. That is why I contribute so much to this blog. The revelation of this work that has revealed to me, as it was always there, is the power of imagination. It is the vision of possibility, of love. I say this because I am no longer afraid to do what I see as right. That is to inspire kids to be fearless of creating, of experimenting, of having a conversation along side with an adult. If an admin doesn’t like, I simply will not work there. I won’t support any institution that will not allow me to do it.

  4. This is so deep I don’t even know how to get myself wrapped around it or how to organize my thinking:

    “Doesn’t education have some really deep demons to look into if they are to really serve all the kids, so that we can one day stop looking at them as “low” or “high”? What does that even mean… ”

    Yes! So many demons! I find myself weaving back and forth in and out of the system. It is hard for me because I tend to mash everything all together and have difficulty separating out what should be in the system and how I must think in that way because I am part of it. It is my most challenging task as a teacher in a public school.

    I’m reading “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s taking me a long time to read it because it’s so dense and raw and I feel I want to immerse myself in the painful words so that maybe I can have a smidge of an inkling of “what it’s like” to be black and poor in this country. As much empathy as I can claim to have, I really have no idea. This book is giving me some visceral sense at least. I have to put the book down every few pages to let stuff sink in.

    I bring this up because so many quotes from the book fit right here into this thread. But I can’t even choose one. I’d have to quote the whole book up to page 32 which is where I am. Slowly slowly reading and attempting to digest. And then what…?

    A few samples (this is a memoir, written as a letter to his 15 year old son)

    “… when I was your age, each day, fully one-third of my brain was concerned with who I was walking to school with, our precise number, the manner of our walk, the number of times I smiled, who or what I smiled at, who offered a pound and who did not–all of which is to say that I practiced the culture of the streets, a culture concerned chiefly with securing the body.”

    “If the streets shackled my right leg, the schools shackled my left. Fail to comprehend the streets and you gave up your body now. But fail to comprehend the schools and you gave up your body later. I suffered at the hands of both, but I resent the schools more. There was nothing sanctified about the laws of the streets–The laws were amoral and practical….But the laws of the schools were aimed at something distant and vague.”

    “I sensed the schools were hiding something, drugging us with false morality so that we would not see, so that we did not ask: Why–for us and only us–is the other side of free will and free spirits and assault upon our bodies? This is not a hyperbolic concern. When our elders presented school to us, they did not present it as a place of high learning but as a means of escape from death and penal warehousing.”

    “I remember sitting in my seventh-grade French class and not having any idea why I was there. I did not know any French people, and nothing around me suggested I ever would. France was a rock rotating in another galaxy, around another sun, in another sky that I would never cross. Why, precisely, was I sitting in this classroom?”

    (Ironically, I believe the author at one point moved to France, or maybe lives there now…heard him on an NPR interview last year)

    I don’t even know why I wrote those here, other than to echo the part about the demons and how we really have no idea what our kids’ realities are. I don’t know any answers or solutions. I just keep asking questions. ?????????

  5. Amen to this Steven:

    “What I prefer now is to recognize the good and support good people. That is why I contribute so much to this blog. The revelation of this work that has revealed to me, as it was always there, is the power of imagination. It is the vision of possibility, of love. I say this because I am no longer afraid to do what I see as right. That is to inspire kids to be fearless of creating, of experimenting, of having a conversation along side with an adult. If an admin doesn’t like, I simply will not work there. I won’t support any institution that will not allow me to do it”

    I feel the same way, but the fact that you are young and feel this is HUGE SO FULL OF HOPE!
    🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind words jen. I am actually not that young. My wife does a lot of positive work with meditations, affirmations and spirituality. I guess a lot has been rubbing off.

  6. The entire spat between Diana and I about testing in DPS boils down to one thing, in my opinion. Diana thinks that the kids really want to learn the languages they are studying, and I think that the fact that they are being forced to sit in the class completely skews the results literally immeasurably.

    Also Diana said this:

    …your last experience in DPS negatively affected your opinions….

    That last experience was a three year stint in a 99% Latino school. This statement by Diana gravely concerns me. Diana is saying that since the kids in that school have so much poverty, it affects their desire to learn. This, of course, is true, but don’t most of the schools in our district have high levels of poverty? Then what does that say about the testing we do?

    1. Yes Ben. It’s all skewed. One of he reasons I was never accepted into a gifted school after several attempts was taking a standardized test. This included my home situation affecting my emotional health as a child.

      Well I guess the jokes on them. After a high school counselor told me that I couldn’t get accepted to a four year college, I was accepted at 5 out of 6 universities. This is after I took 5 years worth of math courses in high school!

      Now, I work at a gifted school with many Latino students. I am part of the 3 out of 21 teachers who are non-white.

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