Testing: Eating Cake, Threading Needles and Other Tortured Metaphors, Part II

Testing: Eating Cake, Threading Needles and Other Tortured Metaphors, Part II

I feel obligated to begin with a few disclaimers:  

  • If you belong solidly in either of the camps in the “education warz” or think that I should, you are going to be disappointed by this post and should probably hit “ctrl + w” right now. It’s for the best and I won’t be offended at all.  

  • My last post produced a lot of really thoughtful responses across several platforms (here in the comments, on other blogs, on Twitter, on FB and in the form of a two page letter from a colleague). I love the idea of this space being a place of dialogue and welcome your responses, even especially if you disagree.  

My last post was me thinking through a topic that I think is deadly serious. When I sat down to write, much like I do now, I didn’t (and don’t now) have a destination in mind. This is literally me publically thinking through what I think is the most important issue facing our society. I believe that schools far too frequently under-serve people who share my background (urban, male, and of color). I believe this practice drives incarceration, poverty, and shorter-than-average life expectancy. I am a teacher and I know from personal experience, both biographical (my life) and occupational (my students’ lives), the liberating power of effective schools and teachers.  Of course there are sociological and historical factors that greatly complicate public education, but again, I must make it clear that I wholeheartedly reject the geographical determinism and “poor kids can’t” thinking, whether explicit (rare) or implied (far more common).  

The more I ponder the controversies we face in public education, the more convinced I am that if you aren’t changing your mind regularly or at least modifying your stances on these issues, you aren’t really thinking--you’re simply an ideologue. And I believe that we (you and I, dear reader ) are best served ignoring ideologues, especially when they spew bile.   

On Having One's Cake and Eating it Too, Part I

On Having One's Cake and Eating it Too, Part I

Someone smarter than me... I believe it was Mitch Hedberg or maybe Louis C.K., once quipped about how dumb the saying “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” is. The punchline goes “of course I want to eat  my cake--that’s the whole freaking point of cake! Why would you ever have cake if you weren’t planning to eat it.” This post is my attempt to have my cake and eat it too, or more precisely, it’s my attempt to thread the needle between the seemingly ever expanding standardized testing regime (which I sometimes resent) and the reactionary, often angry, anti-testing movement (which I find well-intentioned, yet often very problematic).

This is my view from the cheap seats of the “testing battle” (I hate using war metaphors in public education debates, but in this case I think it’s actually appropriate). It will probably end up unfolding over multiple posts, but any issue this important is worth deliberating, rather than sloganeering over.

I read a lot of education reporting and I often find myself nodding along with much of the anti-testing argument. But then suddenly, someone goes too far and I find myself uncomfortable with their rhetoric and the unintended consequences of their proposals. I believe there is too much standardized testing in our schools. Especially, in the spring time (a.k.a. testing season) testing is all consuming. It eats up valuable instructional time, is often redundant and produces little to no useful data for practitioners in the classroom. My wife, a sophomore English and junior AP Language teacher, has spent 30 class periods over the last 6 weeks proctoring SBA exams (both math and ELA) rather than teaching in her classroom. Many of her students have missed dozens more hours retaking/making up Algebra/Geometry & Biology EOCs [(End of Course Exams) more on the Biology EOC in a later post]. I find the case of her juniors in AP Language to be especially egregious: the vast majority of them passed the HSPE (the ELA graduation requirement) as sophomores. However, they were required to stop their preparation for their upcoming AP Language exam (a test for college credit), to take a pilot of 11th grade SBA exam. That is simply silly.

However, even given all of the proceeding, I support the annual testing of students using standardized tests to provide “apples to apples” data within schools and across systems about how students, especially, students of color and students in poverty are (or in far too many cases, are not) progressing.