The letter below is from Beth Beynon, a mother in the UK, distressed at the impact of testing on her child.
Please, NZ, trust us that have seen both countries’ education systems first hand when we say NZ had it right in the first place by having in-class testing that was not made public or used to label children.
Please don’t let the already poor National Standards mutate gradually into this horror story – which it will, if we just sit by sighing and muttering but fail to stand up and be counted.
Testing should be there to inform the teacher and the student about what is learned already and where they might go next. It is a learning tool. It is not a labelling tool. Or, more accurately, it shouldn’t be.
Read the letter and consider where NZ is going:
“Dear Prime Minister,
So can you tell me why she has spent today in tears? Why she’s lying on her bed sobbing, because she knows she’s not good enough?
There’s a part of me that barely has the energy to write this. To ask you why you insist on putting 10 and 11 year olds through a system that takes nothing of child development or good pedagogy in to account, or why you put relentless pressure on schools to up their expectations, so what was once seen as good progress is suddenly a failure. But why bother? Why bore you with analogies of weighing pigs that nobody fed? You won’t listen to highly qualified education experts, or even people who, you know, actually teach. So I’m under no illusion that you will listen to me.
I do however want to tell you what is happening in my house tonight.
My funny, intelligent, artistic daughter has received a message today.
The government has told her so.
And that’s not good enough.
The fact that she has rhythm in her soul, a stunning singing voice and takes people’s breath away when she dances, the fact that she thinks about the meaning of life and loves to ponder the great questions like why are we here and what our purpose could be, or the way she cared for her dying Grandmother – painting her toe nails and singing to her, the way she puts her younger sister into her own bed because she woke with a bad dream.
These things that make the whole person that my daughter is. It’s all irrelevant.
She’s just average. And that’s not good enough. You’ve told her so.
Another one bites the dust.
Thing is Mr. Cameron, my daughter is wise to you. At eleven she has learned that SATS are just a game.
“I’ve not learnt anything this year Mummy,” she told me during the harrowing and stressful weeks leading up to the SATS “Just how to pass some stupid test for the stupid government”.
From the mouths of babes, Mr. Cameron, from the mouths of babes.
And so here we are. Your SATS results are in. You can number crunch to your heart’s content. You can order schools from best to worst, rank them, categorise them and make them work for you. Numbers are clever , aren’t they? Look what they did for bringing all those children out of poverty! Clever old you.
And meanwhile my daughter will go to sleep tonight despising a government that has squandered a year of her education so they can tell her she’s no more than average. And that it’s not good enough.
Oh, one more thing. She brought home her Grade Three ballet certificate today. She got a distinction.
But I don’t suppose you’re the slightest bit interested in that.
~ Beth Beynon
This is what happens when testing is done for political rather than educational reasons.
No-one in their right mind wants a testing regime that leads to so many distressed children who are doing perfectly well but now believe themselves to be ‘less than’.
As teachers, we must think seriously about what we are being complicit in, and we must ask ourselves when we are going to say “Enough”.
American students face a ridiculous amount of testing.
American teachers face ridiculous formulae using test scores to determine their pay.
Certain companies benefit hugely from this set-up.
Welcome to the global education reform movement – GERM.
Here, John Oliver explains how standardized tests impact school funding, the achievement gap, how often kids are expected to throw up. Enjoy.
I think this analogy to capitalism pretty much applies to education, too.
Student A is given a healthy home, good food, adequate medical care, a computer, internet access, books galore from birth, educational games, trips, plenty of discussion and questioning with adults, educational TV programmes, museum visits, art gallery visits, pencils, paper, felts, toys that encourage creativity and experimentation, and more.
Student B has poor housing, inadequate health care, few if any books, few if any educational toys, few if any educational visits, little if any discussion and questioning with adults, non-educational TV programmes, few if any visits to museums or galleries, and little chance to explore, create and experiment.
Student B usually loses the testing and exam race compared with Student A.
At which point student B and his teachers are deemed to have been lazy. Or useless. Or both.
At this point, those in Student A’s world push for more tests. Tests that their companies will benefit from but which do nothing to help the student B.
And the cycle continues.
Rigged game, much?
Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good test. Especially the PROBE reading test – all those quirky squiggles we have to do, not too erroneous for the student, and bingo, a reading age and pointers towards strengths and weaknesses. Hurrah.
Same with maths – administer a test or two and lo and behold you have the student’s maths stage.
And in New Zealand primary schools we are still very lucky to be able to test one on one with our students in a relaxed way. We can discuss their test and their results right there and, should we wish, set to work on the goals immediately. It’s very useful.
I’m not so keen on the National Standards bit, but the tests themselves if done sensibly and well are actually really helpful.
I’ll tell you why: Because politicians worldwide have gone test-crazy and it has not a jot to do with improving education.
Nicky Morgan, UK Education Secretary, yesterday announced a “war” on illiteracy and innumeracy. Yes, a war. Because apparently teachers aren’t trying to teach these things anyway, despite the many hurdles, so it needs threats and a war cry to get anything done…
Or, it could be that there’s an election looming and she’s talking through her hat. There’s always that.
Either way, Ms Morgan has found a magical and ingenious way to change the fate of these illiterate and innumerate kids! Are you ready for this – you need to be seated (possibly with Rescue Remedy to hand, or wine) …. Ms Morgan insists that by age 11 all children must get 100% in a times tables test.
No wiggle room.
Yep, time tables will solve everything apparently, but only if every kid gets every single one right.
Special needs student? Learning in another language? Battered? Hungry? Disengaged? Drugged up? Got dyscalculia? Tough, it’s 100% or you’ve failed. Well, way to go, Ms Morgan, you clearly know something about pedagogy and about learning that escaped Piaget, Ken Robinson and most of the teaching profession.
I should mention at this point that Ms Morgan couldn’t answer the cube root of 125 when asked recently, and today refused to answer basic multiplication questions posed by journalists. Hmmm… was it that tricky 7×8 that got her, I wonder?
And if the students in a school don’t ALL get 100%, what then? Well then the school will be forcibly turned into an Academy, of course – yes, you guessed it, if in doubt, privatise.
All this despite Academies in England getting terrible exam results compared with non-Academy schools.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Almost like the test is set impossibly high to facilitate forced privatisation… Gasp!
And then we have the USA.
You know education reforms have gone cloud cuckoo land when 6 year olds are being given standardised tests sat in rows at computers, having to manage the computer, the mouse, follow the written instructions and all in silence. No one-on-one friendly teacher testing in a calm way for these kids – or teachers.
And then the results are sent off to a testing company. They aren’t there to discuss or to inform the student or teacher about strengths or weaknesses. How can that possibly be considered a good way to run an education system?
And if you don’t think that’s bad enough, consider the special educational needs students and ill students forced to take these tests. Or the dying student. Yes, you read that right:
Last year, Ethan, who was born with brain damage, has cerebral palsy and is blind, was forced to take a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test over the space of two weeks last year because the state of Florida required that every student take one.
Now his mom has to prove that Ethan, now in a morphine coma, is in no condition to take another test this year.
And Ethan’s not the only one:
“Fourth-grader Joey Furlong was lying on a hospital bed, hooked up to various monitors for pre-brain surgery screening, when a teacher waltzed through the door holding a New York State standardized test”
Or the 6 year old US kindy student who was:
“…denied a bathroom break in her kindergarten class and was forced to sit in her diarrhea during a test session at school.”
Yes, the global education reforms march steadily on, creating a crisis via rhetoric and ridiculous tests so they can justify privatising schools. And all the time there are children, parents and teachers in the mix who are being very badly served and who are fighting tooth and nail for some sense to come to the plate.
Is in any wonder I’m feeling testy.
Here is the longer and more in depth story of the test the kindy kids had to take, blogged here.
The kids are five years old, and it’s a Californian kindy. Even aside from how wrong testing kids at this age is or how ridiculous it is to test them this way – where how they do the test is a barrier to showing what they know – and the fact that the tests were not administered the same for all classes, thereby undermining the argument that they are indeed standardised …. the big question is this: is administering any test in a way that stresses teachers, parents AND students really and truly necessary? Of course it isn’t.
This is not education, this is data collection. It does not serve learners – it serves the companies that make the tests and the administrators and politicians that promote them. They should all be totally and utterly ashamed of themselves.
“”Today my kindergarten took a test called the Common Core MAP.
We had been told to set up each child with their own account on their numbered Chromebook. The Teacher on Special Assignment came around and spent about an hour in each class doing this in the previous weeks.
We didn’t know exactly when the test would be given, just that some time on Thursday or Friday, the proctors would come and test. I set out morning work for my kids today but before the bell rang, the proctor arrived. I quickly swept off the tables and she said we’d begin right away. I went out to pick up my class.
While the proctor set up the computers (disregarding what we had done — that hour the TOSA spent in each class was unnecessary), I went through the usual morning routine. Parents who happened to be in the room scrambled to unpack the headphones, which had arrived in the office that morning, and distribute the computers. We started a half hour later. The kids were excited to be using the computers. That didn’t last for long.
The test is adaptive. When a child answers a question, the next batch of questions is slightly harder or easier depending on the correctness of their answer. The math and language arts sections each had 57 questions.
The kids didn’t understand that to hear the directions, you needed to click the speaker icon. We slipped around the room explaining.
Answers were selected by drop and drag with a trackpad, no mouse was available. A proctor in one room said that if a child indicated their answer, an adult could help. Other proctors didn’t allow this. I had trouble dragging and dropping myself on the little trackpads.
Kids in one class took five hours to finish. Kids were crying in 4 of 5 classes. There were multiple computer crashes (“okay, you just sit right there while we fix it! Don’t talk to anyone!”).
There were kids sitting for half hour with volume off on headsets but not saying anything.
Kids accidentally swapped tangled headsets and didn’t seem to notice that what they heard had nothing to do with what they saw on the screen.
Kids had to solve 8+6 when the answer choices were 0-9 and had to DRAG AND DROP first a 1 then a 4 to form a 14.
There were questions where it was only necessary to click an answer but the objects were movable (for no reason).
There were kids tapping on their neighbor’s computers in frustration.
To go to the next question, one clicks “next” in lower right-hand corner…..which is also where the pop-up menu comes up to take you to other programs or shut down, so there were many instances of shut-downs and kids winding up in a completely different program.
Is this what we want for our youngest children?””
So, New Zealand, this is where the madness will lead us if we let the reformers carry on their merry path of obsession with DATA DATA DATA collection at any cost.
Testing children to find out where they are at is necessary – teachers test all the time – we always have done. The teacher should do it routinely and without stress as a normal part of learning, so that both teacher and student can see what needs to be learned next. The abomination outlined above is something else entirely.
When you next hear about some supposedly essential reforms or changes to our education system, ask yourself who is pushing the changes, who stands to benefit financially before assuming they are for the good of the kids. Often, they are for the benefit of business. Just ask Pearson, or Gates, or Murdoch. Or Banks.
Don’t let your child become a data point in a business plan.
Teachers in the USA – join BATs in fighting these reforms.
Teachers in New Zealand – join the Kiwi BATs to raise your teacher voice.
We already have teachers, principals, academics, and the RAINS Project all warning us how National Standards are leading to a narrowing of the curriculum, but if you still doubt the effect of benchmarks on WHO teachers are pushed to focus on, then read no further than this warning from a colleague in the USA:
Today we had a grade level meeting about the NWEA scores for the fourth grade students at my school. We teachers were all given printouts of our students’ most recent scores: RIT bands, percentiles, the whole shebang.
Then we were instructed to highlight the students in our classes who had scored between the 37th and 50th percentile. These students, the admin informed us, are the most important students in the class; they are the ones most likely to reach the 51stpercentile when students take the NWEA again in May.
Making the 51st percentile is VERY important to CPS [Chicago Public Schools], and thus to principals, literacy coordinators, test specialists and teachers-who-don’t-want-to-lose-their-jobs.
It might not be important to individual students, their parents or anyone else, but it is life or death in Chicago Public Schools.
We nodded, wide-eyed. These students, our guide continued, should be your primary focus. Make sure they get whatever they need to bring them up to that percentile. Sign them up for any and all academic programs, meet with them daily in small groups, give them extra homework, have them work with available tutors…whatever it takes.
What about the kids at the very bottom, one teacher wondered, the kids under the 20th percentile…shouldn’t they be offered more support too? The admin squirmed a bit. Well, they don’t really have any chance of hitting the goal, so for right now, no. There was silence.
Left unsaid was what might, could, will happen to any school that does NOT have enough students meet that magic number. No one really needs to say it. We all saw the 50 schools that got closed down last year. We see the charters multiplying around us. We’ve also seen the steady stream of displaced teachers come through our school doors as substitutes. We know that we could be next.
This is what happens when politicians take over the education system and it become more about benchmarks, milestones and arbitrary standards rather than being about educating each and every child so that they can achieve their best.
It’s not education, it hoop jumping. And it stinks.
There is no greater pain for a teacher than not being able to help their students.
No, I lie. There is one worse pain, and that is when they are banned from helping their students.
You want to see just how far down the road of madness neoliberal educational policies can lead us? Look no further than this amazing piece by Dylan Garity.
He says it better than I ever could. Just click the pic and watch…
Testing should inform the teacher and student about where the student is now, and allow them to plan where to go next.
It should not be a stick with which to beat either the student or the teacher.
A letter from Diane Ravitch. The things Diane says here apply to all teachers fighting creeping (and sometimes sprinting) reforms in education:
Dear Members of the Badass Teachers Association,
I am honored to join your group.
The best hope for the future of our society, of public education, and of the education profession is that people stand up and resist.
Say “no.” Say it loud and say it often.
Teachers must resist, because you care about your students, and you care about your profession. You became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of children, not to take orders and obey the dictates of someone who doesn’t know your students.
Parents must resist, to protect their children from the harm inflicted on them by high-stakes testing.
Administrators must resist, because their job is changing from that of coach to enforcer of rules and regulations. Instead of inspiring, supporting, and leading their staff, they are expected to crack the whip of authority.
School board members must resist, because the federal government is usurping their ability to make decisions that are right for their schools and their communities.
Students must resist because their education and their future are being destroyed by those who would force them to be judged solely by standardized tests.
“Children commence school at many different points along the language learning continuum. What they know about reading and writing on school entry is more a measure of their pre- school literacy experiences than of their intelligence. Curriculum begins with what the children know, not some mythical Prep or Grade 3 standard. It is the teacher’s job to find out what each child knows, what his interests are, and to teach from there. It is grossly unfair and anti-educational to set the same expectations for all children of the one age.”
Amen to that.
A well researched, well argue piece warning on the dangers of national testing and the insidious tendrils of the corporate testing machine…
Lorraine Wilson Lorraine Wilson was the first Guest Writer for The Treehorn Express on 3 Feb. 2013. Remember her dynamic description of education as a ‘processing of oranges’? She presented the brilliantly persuasive tableau that clearly delineated the differences between EDUCATION AS A CHILD-CENTRED, INDIVIDUALISED operation and EDUCATION AS A STANDARDISED, MASS PRODUCED one, the latter process using the ‘the processing of oranges’ as its model. The article referenced C Leland & W Casten: Literacy Education for the 21st Century: It’s Time to Close The Factory [Reading & Writing Education].
[I’d like to see this tableau lined up against my Pasi Sahlberg sponsored one in Submission No.83….the almost last one. I’d also like to read a critique of either tablet or both.]
Lorraine’s submission to the Senate Inquiry, below, needs to be read by all teachers who are concerned about the treatment of teaching literacy…
View original post 3,615 more words
“Hi! It’s me! Yeah, that teacher who got way too much press just for quitting his job.
What kind of world do we live in where a teacher leaves and is celebrated by his colleagues and several dozen parents for just up and leaving?
Well, we live in a world where teachers don’t really fit in any more. You see, there’s a cohort of three groups of wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing (and school-bus-yellow superhero capes) that have decided that they know better than teachers how kids learn.
In fact, they’re very good at spreading the idea that teachers are to blame for failing schools, teachers get paid too much, teachers have pensions that are crashing the economy, and teachers like to get a little too friendly with their students. Oh, and they tend to just up and leave when the heat of standardized test pressure gets too high (I was actually accused of that).
But let me tell you the truth….”
The man talks complete sense.
He knows what teaching is.
He knows what learning is.
HE SPEAKS UP.
I love him.
Who in New Zealand would like to do the same for our teachers, before we end up in the same pickle the USA is in?
We need your voices now.
The fight against standardised tests that inform nothing and nobody and just waste time and resources is gathering pace in the USA just as NZ is implementing such measures.
Be warned, NZ; this path the National/ACT government is taking us down is grave folly and does NOT improve student learning or performance.
Read about US teachers saying NO to standardized tests here: Ballard High School Teachers Say NO in Solidarity with Garfield Teachers.