Tag: assessments

A Test by any other Name

Assessments. I’m not sure we had these back when I was a kid. I mean, we had them but everyone called them tests.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel the new name (in use in the education system for a couple decades now) more accurately reflects the purpose of these “tests.” As an English major, concise and clear language appeals to me.

However, I suspect that was NOT the reasoning behind the change.

There’s this black hole called test anxiety. Therefore, if we don’t mention tests, the anxiety will be alleviated.

I’ve seen this hungry beast (test anxiety) in action. People forget everything they studied. Draw a blank after reading every question. Nervous fingers click the pen: out, in, out, in, out. Fingernails, erasers, collars become fodder for repetitive chewing.

It’s crazy. Once you finish your education, how often do you face tests? Okay, that will depend on your profession, but those with test phobias aren’t likely to even go there.

As an educator, assessments can be a valuable tool. They assess (thus the name) what a student knows before a unit of study and what they learned after one. Provided they don’t suffer from the dread of examinations.

Because, let’s face it, the name change isn’t fooling teenagers. Maybe the younger kids can be trained away from test anxiety with an array of assessments levied rather than sitting for tests.

Many secondary schools have begun basing grades exclusively on assessment scores. While I understand the mentality behind this ( they shouldn’t pass Algebra if they haven’t learned 60 percent of the objectives), it invites teenagers to fail.

Teenagers are generally opportunists, seeking the easiest way to get where they’re going. Why do you think all the video games have cheat guides and cheat codes? This isn’t a claim that teenagers cheat on test—I mean assessments—but that they will shirk the assignments leading to the assessment because “they don’t count toward the grade.”

Yes, I’ve actually had students tell me they weren’t doing the work I assigned because it wasn’t going to be graded.


“But it prepares you for the assessment, which is your grade.” I’m using a reasonable tone of voice as I say this.

Shrugs. “I know how to do it.”

“Then why not do it. Practice makes perfect. It can only help.”

Sometimes an argument ensues. Other times, the response is another shrug.

As a substitute teacher, what can I do?

“The expectation is that you’ll spend class time working on this.” Yes, I admit, the teacher voice is starting to leak out by this point.
Because the majority of teenagers don’t care about an absent teacher’s expectations. Even if they know you’re going to let the teacher know that they didn’t work on the assignment.

Nine chances out of ten, the student wouldn’t be any more productive for the regular teacher.

Which makes me wonder: what are they learning about following guidelines? Will they have a better work ethic for an employer since they’re working for a paycheck?

Is there a better way to encourage students to apply themselves to the assigned tasks? Many aren’t even concerned about their grades.

All of this came to mind today while a classroom full of freshmen took an assessment in their English/language arts class.
What are your thoughts on tests versus assessments? What should “count” toward high school grades? (Maybe we should do away with them altogether, but then colleges will have to change their admission standards.) What’s your brilliant idea for encouraging students to learn?

Why I’m Glad I’m Not a Kid: Part One

Recent trips into the classroom at one public school where I work has inspired a series of blog posts. In fact, it’s reminded me to be thankful I’m not a kid these days.

My main job is to be a writing superhero. My alter ego works as a substitute teacher in local middle and high schools. There are plenty of things there to inspire my creative side, as many blog posts attest.

Unfortunately, all is not magic and unicorns in the realm of public education.

I’ve known this to be true for many years. It’s the main reason I decided NOT to pursue a degree in education when I went back to college in 2010. But in the final weeks of the school year, it was reiterated to me.

Why am I glad I’m not a kid?

Because education in the 21st century is all about meeting regulations and ranking well on state assessments.

Back in my day, school was about learning to read, write, do sums (and other math you never use in real life) in a social environment where you were expected to get along with everyone.

Learning at School?

Isn’t school supposed to be for the purpose of learning?


And not learning how to bully others. Or make excuses for late homework. Or perfect the art of doing as little as possible.

Believe me. Spend a few days in the average public middle school, and you’ll start to wonder.

Who decides what kids are taught in school?

Did you say the teachers? You’re wrong if you did.

Not even the school board has the ultimate power over curriculum.

Nope. Big Brother gets to say what will be taught in school.

Or else.

The fact they require kids to spend weeks and months learning things that do NOT help them understand their culture or prepare them to be an adult isn’t even the worst of it.

It’s not?

High school teachers and counselors in our school district have been heard to say, “Middle school doesn’t really count.”

So, what are they doing there? Why are we wasting six or seven hours of our time hanging out in classrooms?

Every day of school should be preparing kids to be responsible adults. Primary school should focus on the basics of reading. Once they get to third grade, throw in the basics of math. Without those two things, they’re not going to be able to succeed in the upper grades.

Nor will they be able to fill out a job application or make a budget.

Citizenship in School

I’ll be the first parent to tell you that it isn’t the school’s job to teach my kid to be a decent human being. Sorry. If you wait until your kid’s five to start teaching courtesy, discipline and respect, it might be too late.

It is NOT the school’s job to teach my child values or how to treat other people.

School needs to be a safe place to learn the complexities of social interactions.

How do I react if I have to work with a stranger? What if I get stuck with someone I don’t like? What should I do if my teacher doesn’t like me?
And the answer is NOT tell my parents and have them call the school to put me in an ideal situation.

That’s not life. School social settings should prepare kids to face the interactions they will have in the workplace. We’ve all had to work with someone we didn’t know or didn’t like.

I might be the only one who’s ever had a boss that I didn’t get along with, but I’d like to think it’s a common occurrence. And my mom didn’t rescue me from that person because that’s not what being an ADULT is about.

Staff at school should model ideal behaviors, sure. They shouldn’t tolerate bullying. Yes, they should keep kids from beating each other up because school is supposed to be a safe place.

Natural consequences should be allowed to fall on students in cases when it doesn’t mean bodily harm. For example, if you’re late too many times to work, your boss will fire you. There should be consequences for being late to class.

And I don’t want to hear your excuse. You either have a note from an adult…or you don’t. That’s all I need to know.

We’re only hurting the future of our society by failing our students in school. They deserve to learn to read, write and do math, and they should be held accountable for obeying the standard of conduct required in the schoolhouse.

Politics in School

I’m not saying that learning and citizenship don’t happen in schools these days. But those aren’t the priorities.

Government has their fingers in the U.S. educational system, and they like to generate red tape. Schools rely on the government for funding, so they have no choice but to march to the regulatory drumbeat.

Or they can shut their doors.

What happened recently to remind me of politics in school?

A teacher who taught both of my sons and I’ve worked closely with for a decade is transferring to a different position. I didn’t know asking her about it would open a can of worms.

The school has decided to combine language arts and social studies for middle schoolers. This isn’t a new or unusual thing. We had it before when the students could have a humanities block—two class periods for this class.

That isn’t what’s happening. Teachers will be expected to cover the learning goals for both subjects in one hour.

Furthermore, they’ll only receive one day of training on how to do this.

I hope the trainers are handing out Time Turners or some other magical device that will stretch one hour in to two (or ten).

How can students be expected to learn twice as much content in half the time? How can teachers be expected to teach twice as much content in half the time?

The biggest problem I have with this: the school is doing this because of budgetary constraints. They will use fewer staff to teach in this way.
Because money is what education is all about in our world.

I’m sure schools were funded the same way when I was a kid, but there weren’t common core standards and annual state assessments back then.

We went to school to learn how to be a productive citizen of the United States of America. That’s why the founding fathers pushed for public education for all people.

Kids these days are getting the short end of the learning stick. And our country will reap its dues when these under-educated people are running our country in a couple decades.

Are there things you’ve noticed about kids in school that make you grateful to have grown up in an earlier era?

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