Myth #2: Testing is responsible for “drill-and-kill” instruction.
I will concede that there have always been ditto sheets (and I have seen the evolution from [purple masters that had to be typed and then hand=cranked onto paper to black line masters to computer worksheets) ands there will always be some drill and kill approaches. However, I can also tell you that high stakes testing has been responsible for more and more test prep. The authors of this piece suggest drill and kill are a result of: low teacher capacity, failed leadership, or excessive within-class achievement variability, not overzealous accountability.
How disingenuous. This approach is either because teachers are terrible (though they use code words) or administrators are not doing their job by stopping test prep, or it is because there is a range of achievement within the class? Let's face it: testing is a top down situation. The community expects to see kids all perform well above average on the test (yes, Lake Woebegone Syndrome). So, the school board lets the superintendent know that test scores must be high. The pressure then travels down the food chain getting stronger with every move. Why not go ahead and blame the kids, too, while we are at it? After all, it is their miserable performance, right? (note sarcastic tone here) Right now in Texas, there is a sudden about face by our leaders who are saying there is too much testing. This is not some sudden change of heart, some sudden understanding of how we have bullied kids and teachers. No, it is about two things. First, it is about the money. Across the country schools are coming to grips with the high cost of signing on to the new curriculum and/or tests. Half a billion dollars over 10 years is one estimate I have seen. Think what we could fund with that money. And the other reason, at least here in Texas? The scores from all these new tests are (or in some cases are projected to be) LOWER than before. So, let's "study" this some more, right?
You see, I have watched my 3 kids go though the test-crazed system here in Texas. They were benchmarked to death and then subjected to practice test after practice test. After the final "real" test was administered, it seemed as though instruction shut down for the year. With the advent of EOC tests now, I shudder to think how much more narrow the curriculum will become. What are the casualties when this happens?
1. Reading authentic text goes out the window in favor of the passages kind of reading kids will see on the test.
2. Authentic writing goes out the window in favor of the prompts provided on the state assessments.
3. Read aloud has become part of the skill-drill-kill routine. Now when teachers read aloud, there are questions at the end to make sure they "got it."
4. More and more pressure is placed on nonfiction without sufficient PD by those who understand nonfiction.
5. More and more professional journals, books, conferences, and the like are given over to discussion of how to address CCSS and how to increase test scores, and the "magic bullets" that ignore decades of research on what works.
The good news in all this doom and gloom? I know that there are teachers who are sitting with kids right now. They are reading aloud. They are talking to kids about what they have read (both teacher and student) that has moved them. They are writing together with kids and showing them that real writing is hard sometimes. There are teachers encouraging kids to share in BYOD and handing them iPads with eBooks and apps for books. There are teachers buying CD players to share audio with kids. There are MANY who are shopping on their own $$$ to develop classroom libraries, to make sure there are plenty of supplies for the UNprogram. And I hope they know that we are here, too, those of us working with a new generation of teachers and librarians, hoping to send them out into the world ready to DO THE RIGHT THING.
I love Jon Muth's THE THREE QUESTIONS. It has provided me with a perfect conclusion to many a PD session. When is the right time? The right time is NOW. Who is the most important person? The most important person is the one with YOU right now. What is the best thing to do? The best thing to do is to do right for the person next to you.
For all of you doing the right thing, thank you!