Every educator know the temptation to “teach to the test”. It refers to the annual standardized tests which the state mandates almost all children must take to know which of their teachers are to be thrown in the chokie. By this, I mean that depending on the tests, teachers could lose their jobs, and if there is a particularly egregious screw up with the way the testing was administered, lose their license. Teachers are terrified during Testing Season not just for themselves, but for their kids and their schools. For students, failure can mean being held back or labeled “the stupid one”.
One has to question the rationality in all of this. One area principal made a very good point that it is insane that we judge a year’s worth of collective work of both a child and his teacher based on the performance on a single day, a day when they may be in near panic, when their dog could have been hit by a bus, their grandmother may have died, they could be sick, or maybe they just don’t do well on tests. This is not to mention that Testing Season itself amounts to a huge block of educational time including reviews and regular benchmark testing… time where they aren’t being taught actual classroom material, but practicing to look good for the state.
There’s a reason for this, of course, as the schools face real consequences for failure. Every year there is a school A-F report card and testing is a huge part of it. If too many kids fail, and if it becomes a pattern, the school can face punitive budget cuts or be shut down. That being the case, it needs to be said that it’s impossible to find two identical schools with the same balance of needs, same population, same wealth distribution, same ethnic diversity dynamic, or the same anything. But it’s okay to stack the test scores of one school against the others as if that determines the value of their teachers? This matters in vastly recessed parts of the state where the local tax base does little to supplement state funds. Then throw in the places with high percentages of kids needing ESL or ELL services, which often, unfortunately, stack on poorer communities. Given all this disparity, you think you are going to get scores on par with the rest of the state. But if a school is graded as an F on the school report card it should be shut down? That would be like killing off all the kids who don’t pass, an idea so terrifying, Hollywood literally made a movie about it called The Thinning.
That’s what it feels like for many poor schools. You have it hard? Tough. Pass or get closed and any poor teacher associated with you is marked as untouchable for the rest of her career.
For this reason, the schools have adapted by trying to make the single most stressful week of a kid’s year, as well as their own, into a circus with all sorts of asinine behavior from dressing up, decorating the halls, and matching T-shirts reading some silly affirmation like “Rock the Test”. Why engage in this utter nonsense and a complete waste of time? Because literally so much is riding on it, and while everyone is trying to pretend like they are having fun and to be relaxed, everyone is scared out of their minds.
It should surprise no one teachers do that ugly thing no one is allowed to admit to.
Teachers teach to the test.
It’s a fact. Let’s just own it, accept it, and deal with this horrible truth. Teachers teach to the test and screw anyone for judging them.
What does this mean?
It means that teachers don’t have the liberty to teach so that your kids understand the material. They teach so that they don’t get fired for having lost test scores.
Fine, okay. We have to somehow ensure that some standards are met. Obviously, we can’t have teachers telling kids that magical crystals govern the universe in accordance with the amount of positive energy you channel into them, right? But at what point did we cross a line from productive assessment to damaging our students? I’m not sure, but I will venture a guess that schools being so insecure in their teachers that they interrupt actual classroom time with endless benchmarks is probably counterproductive to education. Secondly, whoever allowed a system to evolve where school counselor dresses like a flipping taco so that the kids can relax to take a stupid test is someone who needs to be duct taped to a wall, and have the collected volume of the state tests thrown at them like a Bronze-Aged stoning. Test day Taco Teacher is where we know we crossed the line.
So how do teachers handle this? One of a few ways:
First, they can place insane amounts of stress on children to perform, not that there is anything in it for the kids because rewarding positive outcomes is strictly forbidden. I’m not being facetious, you’re literally not allowed to reward kids for doing well on the tests because rich schools can incentivize more. It’s fairer, but all that is left for kids is the negative consequences of failure. Not a good motivator. Then make all this happen on a day when you get kids ripped from their classrooms into totally foreign environments where the teachers walk around like prison guards trying to telepathically relay the answers to their children. Couple this with telling them to relax and that everything will be okay, while teachers subconsciously communicate to them that if they fail the teacher’s life will be over, their lives will be over, the school’s life will be over, and the fall of the American Republic will soon be neigh, and no matter what you do, kids will be stressed to the point of breaking.
Hence Taco Teacher.
Some kids aren’t bothered, but then there are the others. The others are the kids who will freak out, have a panic attack, or who simply don’t care and are willing to fail to see the world burn. Yeah, there are monsters, but the problem is that there enough of these second two groups to completely break the average. Awesome.
Then there is the second option: Cheat. Look, you make the stakes high enough and the situation desperate enough, people are going to cheat. You tell someone that their job and the food in their kid’s bellies comes down to the performance of 60 kids they have only had access to for about 1 hour a day for about 100 days before the testing season starts… Teachers are human and some will take the low road.
Or you have what most educators actually do. They learn about the test. Over the years, they stop teaching what is best to create well-educated students ready to tackle life’s challenges, and they teach to a test so that they can look like superstars and know they will be invited back next year.
I’ll leave it at this. If teachers, students, and schools got to write an A-F test for the Oklahoma State Board of Education, the “F” wouldn’t just stand for “failed.”