I don’t know how many of you have attempted to take the sample standardized tests offered by PARCC online, an acronym for the Common Core testing monster that has invaded our schools and turned the learning process into a living nightmare. If you haven’t, you should. Aside from the fact that Pearson appears to be “monitoring” children as they test, or that the test itself was designed by corporate business looking to make a buck (and there are many other shady issues where that’s concerned that I won’t get into here) there are monumental problems with the test itself.
I chose to take the sample tests for four reasons: 1) I wanted to be informed 2) I wanted to see for myself exactly why this standardized test in particular is so damaging 3) I wanted to completely understand beyond a shadow of a doubt what I’m standing up against 4) I wanted to protect my child’s right to a well-rounded education … and her constitutional right to her privacy.
The only sample tests I managed to gain access to were the 4th and 7th grade levels. The reading sample consists of 30 multiple choice questions and three essays. I didn’t even attempt to try the math samples. Even I know those would have kicked my butt.
So let’s talk 7th grade reading. Remember, this is only the sample which is available to the public.
First, I was asked to read around ten paragraphs from the novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, after which I was given multiple choice questions. One such question asked me to identify the theme of these ten paragraphs. Keep in mind, it was such a ridiculously short excerpt, it was laughable that anybody would think students could gain true insight into the work.
Now, let me just add for clarity’s sake– I taught English literature for quite a number of years; not once did I ask my students to identify the theme of a handful of paragraphs from a novel they had never been exposed to until the day of the test. That in and of itself is stupidity in the making. And sadly, the students will check the bubbles while never truly experiencing the sadly beautiful tale of Edmond, Dantes, and Mercedes. They will never know the story was set in France during the Bourbon Restoration or the rich history surrounding the novel with Napoleon’s return to power during the Hundred Days period. Why? Because they have only ten measly paragraphs at their disposal for which they are to find a theme. What a shame that the historical significance of a great work is flushed down the toilet by a standardized test.
Second, I was asked to read at excerpt from a play, the title of which has slipped my mind simply because it held no meaning for me. I’d never heard of it, and the reading itself was confusing as the excerpt again was pulled right out of the middle of an entire work that needed to be read as a whole. I read the excerpt three times and still didn’t understand its ending. Again, I ask why? I’ll tell you why: continuity is a vital element in the learning process. Apparently . . . not so important to standardized test writers.
I could go on about the other readings, but I won’t. It’s more of the same. So let’s discuss the next disturbing element. The questions.
Each multiple choice question contained 4 possible answers. Although these are not the exact questions, these are typical of the questions found in the sample.
“In paragraph 2 of the previous reading, what does the word ‘scale’ mean?”
a) to run quickly b) to sleep until noon c) to climb the flat surface of a wall d) to fly in an airplane
“Which part of the sentence clues you to its meaning from the context in which the word appears?”
a) “… scrabbling up the rough surface in record time.
b) “And she was livid, too!”
c) “… as he stretched to his full length.”
d) “… until the sun set behind them.”
I find two distinct problems with these questions. First and foremost, the students are told exactly where to find the answers. As if they aren’t intelligent enough to skim the very “short” excerpts themselves to find the vocabulary words. This method was repetitive throughout the test. After a time, I realized that I didn’t have to read very much of the excerpt at all to find the correct answers. And so, I never really knew the context of any of the readings. Our children, too, will manage to figure that out. There will be a lot of skimming for answers with no real understanding of any of the passages. And how, pray tell, does this equal learning? It teaches one thing: to fudge, to cut corners, to take the easiest possible road. And the students will not gain a single piece of knowledge in the taking of this test. Appalling.
I also take issue with the fact that the right answers were so blatantly obvious as opposed to the other three. Am I clear?
Now, I must view this dilemma from the opposite end of the spectrum. We do have children in our schools who will struggle with this test. Answers won’t be blatantly obvious to this set of students, and they will feel frustrated and denigrated and worthless. They will enter the testing arena with fear in their little hearts over whether their score will make or break their favorite teacher’s evaluation. Bottom line… these tests are not created to benefit the test takers.
Unfortunately, students have become a commodity for schools these days. They need them. They ask “What can our students do for this school? How can we ensure that they will make us look proficient? Meet AYP? Receive high evaluation marks? It literally sickens me when I think of this role reversal in our education system. No longer are public schools designed for the benefit of nurturing and guiding young minds. Of fueling curiosity with knowledge. No longer are teachers allowed to meet their students where they need to be met, push the ones that need a little push, fall back and walk hand in hand with the ones who need to catch up. No. Standardized tests have made sure of it.
I highly encourage any parent still on the fence to make a visit to the PARCC site. Take the test for yourself. And then, take a stand for New Mexico’s children.