State Tests Still Stink. Want to know why?

 If you have or know children between grades 4 and 8, chances are they are being taught something called, Text Dependent Analysis (TDAs) in their English/Language Arts classes. Ask the kids what they think about them... this is a public education issue across America.

In the government's quest to privatize public education (think charter schools), and to provide vouchers (think a drop in the bucket of private school tuition), the shell game of your state's standardized test is getting worse than ever. Contrary to what so many people think, state standardized tests are designed to fail our children, so politicians can claim public schools are "failing" America's children.

The thing is, our public schools are not failing.  Yes, public schools have room to grow, but rest assured that the quality of public education would greatly improve if politicians left teaching to the experts.

The amount of test prep in our schools is shameful. Teachers from around the country and our region are frustrated and demoralized at the lack of autonomy. The time to curl up with a self-selected book is gone, history and science take a back seat as non-tested subjects. Math has so much reading & writing in it that students who are strong at mathematics, but have launguage-based learning differences are struggling. The arts have been cut in public schools to create a market for charter schools with the very themes of the cut arts. Self-serving politicians are using our children as pawns in their efforts to kill our public schools.

Since President Regan's "Nation at Risk" report ( The Imperative for Educational Reform is the 1983 report of American President Ronald Reagan's National Commission on Excellence in Education.), the media has run with propaganda-filled sound bites about "failing public schools". So many of us remained unconcerned because we were in "high achieving" suburban school districts, and could imagine that the urban schools really needed some change. However, the focus is on suburban school now, as our cities and rural areas are infiltrated with charter schools and cyber charters, and the wealthy suburbs are where the big tax dollars are. In fact, even our best suburban public schools are already losing more of our tax dollars to cyber charters than you would believe.

It is easy for both neo-liberals (like President Obama and Hillary Clinton) and Republicans (like Jeb Bush and President Trump) to think that what our public schools need is for business people to profit off of them. Getting our tax dollars into private pockets is the end game here. This is happening each time a parent decides to send their child (and a huge chunk of their tax dollars) to a charter school. Many religious school & private school parents are hoping that vouchers will help take a few grand off of their tuition, with little thought to how vouchers will kill their neighborhood schools. What happened to Americans wanting a well-educated society? When did we start only caring about our own children?

So how will the political opportunists "prove" your local schools are "failing"? By changing the state tests year after year, and purposely designing the tests to prove former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan right. Infamously,  "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state school superintendents... that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Wow. Duncan refers to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the video. Among other things, the CCSS (which are called the PA Core State Standards in Pennsylvania), are data tags. They standardize what test makers,  technology companies, and book/workbook publishers, include in their products. They were designed for easier profits, not what is best for children.

And here is how they try to "prove" that our kids aren't smart.
In the English/Language Arts section of the state tests, there is more than one possible answer on multiple choice questions, the once separate reading and writing sections are now confusingly combined & long, and an uninspiring text dependent analysis (TDA) section has been added. There are a number of parents whose kids usually do well on standardized tests, and those parents are noticing the low scores of their kids on TDAs. I doubt they think their children suddenly got dumber. It is time for parents to acknowledge that these state tests are poor measures of what their kids know, and the quality of our schools.

David Coleman, president of the very profitable, non-profit, College Board (and one of the authors of the ELA Common Core State Standards)  claims that he supported TDA-type questions because, " you grow up in this world, you realize that people don't really give a shit about what you feel or what you think..." He wants kids to simply quote large passages of text to answer TDA questions. The more kids quote, the happier the scorer (human or computer). It sure makes robo scoring easier when a text can be entered and the more the algorithm recognizes, the higher the score.

If you are interested in the issues within the math section of the PSSA, read this guest post by exceptional Lower Merion teacher, Katy Morris.

No Child Left Behind was an awful law, which was replaced by the awful Every Student Succeeds Act, and our children are the ones losing out. With business and politics at the helm of education, our kids are being short changed. Have your kids take the state tests or don't. That is up to you, but no matter what your child scores, don't be too proud... or too upset. The tests are lousy, but your public schools aren't.
Demand less test prep, and a return to a full curriculum, passion for the arts, hands-on projects, reading books (made of paper!), more time for science, social studies, creative writing, drama, fiction novels, physical education, recess, developing a love of learning, and please demand that teachers have autonomy returned to their classrooms. Standardization was great for Model T Fords –
Not so much for young humans.


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