Testing frenzy: Giving struggling students blitz rather than bliss in last weeks of school

crcted.0920 (Medium)Last week, a UGA professor sent me this essay from the “Teaching Georgia Writing Collective.”

She defined the group as “a group of educators, parents, and concerned citizens who engage in public writing and public teaching about education in Georgia. Some goals of the collective include: 1) empowering educators to reclaim their workplace and professionalism, 2) empowering families to stand up for their children and shape the institutions their children attend each day, 3) empowering children and youth to have control over their education, and 4) enhancing the education of all Georgians. The numbers are growing, representing at least six counties.”

In its current form, the group has a strong Clarke County presence as this essay indicates, but I thought the sentiment expressed could be appreciated by a wider Georgia audience. So, here is the collective’s first effort for the blog:

The end of the CRCT marks the time of the school year that teachers look forward to most. Its the time when teachers have more freedom and flexibility to teach in student-centered, inquiry-based, and curiosity-driven ways.

It’s the time of the year when tensions subside and mandates are over. Well, at least that’s what we used to look forward to. However, this year after the CRCT is over there is a new district mandate in Clarke County to which third and fifth grade teachers must adhere. It’s called the “Blitz.”

Third and fifth grade teachers across the district have been asked to compile a list of students “projected to fail” the CRCT. Teachers were forced to use previous standardized assessments to determine this list of students. And if the lists weren’t long enough, teachers were told to add more, just in case.

Students on the “projected to fail” list will be involved in a “Blitz” session immediately following the conclusion of the CRCT – before test results are even known. Students will be re-rostered – that is, the students will be grouped with new students and different teachers so all the “projected failures” will be in one class receiving “intense remediation” while the remaining students will experience “acceleration and enrichment.”

This means that while some students are investigating how tornadoes are formed, creating inventions to fix a problem they see in their community, or making informational videos using iPads, the “projected to fail” students will be sitting in a computer lab staring at a screen and listening through headphones to practice skill and drill reading assignments for an hour every day. This is on top of the hour and a half of direct reading instruction they will receive.

When does the torture end? Why aren’t all students given the opportunity to learn in creative and inspired ways? Why are students who may struggle with reading constantly given boring and uninspiring things they must read while other students have choice and learn to read through creative projects? Don’t all students need an enriching and encouraging environment surrounded by friends and teachers that know them best?

“Struggling” students are constantly on the losing end of every battle – and now they lose even before their test results are known.

If students aren’t successful on a high-stakes standardized test in reading, the blame is aimed at the student who is labeled defective and in need of fixing. But what if the student isn’t what needs fixing? What if the way school policies and mandates are created is what needs fixing? What if the budget is what’s broken? What if we stop blaming the students, their parents, and the teachers and instead look at the conditions of schooling that produce failure?

We dream of a school system where students aren’t projected to fail and schools don’t produce failure. That school system would encourage teachers to slow down and learn about a student who is struggling and design instruction to make that student successful. We teachers don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs, we need time to teach our students in the way that is best for them. And students don’t need more textbooks, scripted curricula or software programs either. They need a less stressful and anxiety-ridden environment and more time in creative, supportive classrooms where they know they are valued and projected to succeed. They need student-centered inquiries back in their school lives, and teachers who do engaging projects with them where they ask questions and find answers.

School systems’ fear of failure has created the conditions for more failure to emerge. We might all be surprised if we stopped making decisions out of fear of failure and started making decisions based on hope and seeing our students as possibility. Let’s change the definition of “success” to include more than one test score and project success for all our students.

We might begin with a different kind of “Blitz” – which is defined as an intense campaign for something, even if most definitions refer specifically to military campaigns. Let’s use the end of the school year for a “School is a place I want to be” Blitz to motivate students to make deep connections to school and inspire them to look forward to the fall.

Keeping them in their classrooms with teachers and students they have come to know and trust all year is one place to start, and engaging them with challenging and creative projects is another. If we don’t, this “Blitz” for the CRCT – even after the CRCT is over – will likely backfire on us all.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

35 comments Add your comment

Beverly Fraud

May 1st, 2012
9:37 am

Where is Matt the Mouth Organ at DOE to answer the FAIR and LEGITIMATE questions about the INSANE number of hours it would take to fulfill DOE mandates?

Where is Walter the Mouth Organ to answer to why if a 6.25% cut (that allegedly gets restored after a vote) really has been “standard” for 3 years, why was a letter sent out ONLY this year?

If the Mouth Organs are going to use the media to promote spin, doesn’t the media have a DUTY and RESPONSIBILITY, as a member of the 4 Estate to hold them accountable?

Without the media doing ITS job, what you see in the above post continues unabated.

BT

May 1st, 2012
9:50 am

As a school administrator…AMEN!

WAR

May 1st, 2012
9:52 am

too many tests. too little results.

RJ

May 1st, 2012
9:54 am

We are doing the same thing at my school. Students are not allowed to go to recess, well, they haven’t gone for a couple of months now. They aren’t allowed to go to exploratory classes either. Instead, they’re forced to site in class and cram for the re-take. It’s absurd and the kids are tired.

“We might all be surprised if we stopped making decisions out of fear of failure and started making decisions based on hope and seeing our students as possibility. Let’s change the definition of “success” to include more than one test score and project success for all our students.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

Shar

May 1st, 2012
9:54 am

A very seductive and Utopian suggestion, but one that neatly skips over the scylla and charybdis of baseline student achievement and budget.

I completely agree that students should, in the perfect world, choose schools as “a place I want to be” and that teachers should be empowered to use their experience and creativity to engage and challenge. However, if students do not have the basic skills needed to advance to the next grade or succeed in further education or a job, they must have remediation. Budgets being what they are, summer school and/or additional tutorial assistance is rapidly becoming unaffordable, and the time that they are in school must be used for their best benefit. My question is whether or not the intervention described is the way to do that. Is there no “engaging”, “student-oriented” lesson plan that would address the specific needs of the identified children and which could be more effectively inculcated in a targeted session outside of the need to reach the multitude of abilities in the broader classroom? Does it absolutely have to be drill and kill?

V for Vendetta

May 1st, 2012
10:09 am

Shar,

Excellent points. Some other things to consider on this subject…

A friend at a school in Gwinnett tells me that they are taking EOCTs, then a field test final exam (that doesn’t even count) the next week, and then some teachers are giving a comprehensive final on the final days of school.

Get all that?

So in the span of three weeks, the students will be taking three tests–two of which will be almost back to back. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned as much as the time wasted is the money involved. All of these tests costs money–BIG money–but we are not seeing the educational benefit that such large sums should yield. How many teachers or useful educational initiatives could be funded by the millions poured down the drain of testing? What about the millions poured down the drain of technology? Everyone wants accountability and the latest cure du jour, but few people in charge seem to think beyond the next year or two.

I suppose that right there is the bottom line problem with education and politics: everyone is so busy thinking about the now they neglect to think about the future.

Beverly Fraud

May 1st, 2012
10:18 am

Budgets being what they are, summer school and/or additional tutorial assistance is rapidly becoming unaffordable,

@Shar, but is it becoming rapidly unaffordable? When systems like DCSS can spend $2100 on conference chairs, and close to $200k on a “wellness director” should we let school systems off the hook so easily when they say that can’t afford summer school?

Being Censored by @Maureen

May 1st, 2012
10:25 am

You should all be ashamed of yourselves. It is true that we put way too much focus on hi stakes tests, but how can you live with yourself knowing that APS spends more than $15K per pupil and only graduates half of them?

The system is irretrievably broken, yet you complain constantly about the “lack of funding.” That is a bunch of garbage! When will you all realize that we are wastefully spending tax dollars because folks like @Maureen continue to protect the status quo, prevent innovation from taking place, and want our monolithic, local monopoly run system to continue? Educators need training in digital learning, and we need to stop having children carry around 50 lbs of textbooks!

Yes, we teach too much to the test, but you all complain every time change is introduced. You think the charter school amendment will lead to private vouchers (it only kicks in when a local school board denies an application, and in that instance, no local funds are utilized). You complain that digital learning doesn’t researched outcomes yet. You think digital learning will eliminate teachers.

When will you all wake up and realize you are still living in the industrial age and not the digital age?

Testing is only one issue with public education, but @Maureen, why don’t you take the time and enlighten your readers with an op-ed on why you protect the status quo, and why you complain about funding? How can you say that we can’t graduate high achieving students with $15K per pupil.

Pathetic – you should all be outraged at what we have let happen here. Cheating scandal aside, the status quo is woefully unacceptable!!

Jane W.

May 1st, 2012
10:48 am

Unfortunately, dysfunctional schools are as numerous as ever and testing is therefore here to stay: for as long as the status quo limps on, at least.

But winds of change—as witnessed in Louisiana’s exciting new education reforms—promise deliverance from the stranglehold of the Education Establishment. And hopefully from their long and weary history of failure.

Read: http://goo.gl/Tfv5X

Dr. John Trotter

May 1st, 2012
10:50 am

The children are indeed being treated like livestock. But, even a person running the stockyards knows that you don’t put more weight on a pig by weighing him over and over. Let the darn pig eat.

Jane VV.

May 1st, 2012
10:51 am

Unfortunately, dysfunctional schools are as numerous as ever and testing is therefore here to stay: for as long as the status quo limps on, at least.

But winds of change—as witnessed in Louisiana’s exciting new education reforms—promise deliverance from the stranglehold of the Education Establishment. And hopefully from their long and weary history of failure.

Read: http://goo.gl/Tfv5X

oldtimer

May 1st, 2012
11:02 am

A neighboring state to the north,where I taught for a few years, handles the testing a little differnetly. The give EOCTs, Gateway exams, and TCAP. These test will count for 10% of the final grade and the classes that have tests…..have no final exam. What I noticed in the high school…not much goes on the last month of school. Many students just didn’t come and many teachers didn’t take roll….I thought that a little strange, but it worked for them.

Inman Park Boy

May 1st, 2012
11:02 am

I like their Third Goal, empowering children and youth to have control over their education. As public schools are currently constituted, parents and children have NO control over their education. Policy now, intead of being developed and implemented locally, comes from “on high,” Washington and/or Atlanta, where governmental educators have totally lost touch with educational realities. The result? The nonsense cited in the essay above. Einstein said that the definitiion of a fool is one who continues to do the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Education policy in this country is made by fools.

oldtimer

May 1st, 2012
11:03 am

Jane…I too have been following Louisana’s progress with interest. I hope the changes bring improvement there.

k teacher

May 1st, 2012
11:17 am

The three weeks after CRCT are now “review” weeks for those who most likely won’t pass the first go around to retake the test the last week of school. This way the counth and state do not have to pay for summer school and retakes after the end of the normal year. It’s all about money as usual … not the kids.

k teacher

May 1st, 2012
11:17 am

Beverly Fraud

May 1st, 2012
11:27 am

Some quotes from Jane’s link:

Re: After just three years of their contract being renewed by their school district, teachers are made almost entirely immune from firing.

That’s just a lie, with only the smallest kernel of truth to it-it just requires administrators to document

There is no plausible justification for any teacher tenure at all;

-Actually there is-academic freedom. Freedom to say for example, creationism has no real science behind it, without fear of losing your job due to religious zealots. Freedom to record the F a student EARNED without (as much anyway) fear of backlash if Billy Joe Bob has been offered a football scholarship to LSU dependent on passing the class.

Yes the system is broken, but let’s not use LIES to sell a new one. And Jane, if Jindal is a true conservative in support of rule of law, and “personal responsibility” what SPECIFIC policies has he proposed that give DIRECT and TANGIBLE support to current public school teachers in holding students accountable for behavior and academics without fear of administrative retaliation for doing so?

Would that be “none” Jane?

Beverly Fraud

May 1st, 2012
11:36 am

Jane, if guys like Jindal are TRUE conservatives, why not support school choice AND support current public school teachers in matters of discipline? (Seeing as a TRUE conservative would want students to learn about the rule of law-following school rules as a precursor to follow societal law-and personal responsibility for behavior choices)

Why is it the alleged true conservatives refuse to address these CONSERVATIVE principles? Can you, for example, name a SINGLE such policy in a decade’s worth of conservative rule in Georgia?

Pluto

May 1st, 2012
11:48 am

These tests are minimal competency assessments and as such should be blown out of the water by most students. Those “struggling” students will probably “struggle” throughout life and will no doubt have more resources thrown their way than the great lump in the normal distribution. Can we keep affording these resource shifts to the struggling among us or do we need to focus on the productive ones.

Jane W.

May 1st, 2012
12:13 pm

Beverly, when it comes to silly and outrageous rules binding the hands of teachers and administrators trying to enforce discipline and academic standards … the interest group involved is ALMOST ALWAYS funded in part with NEA money: http://goo.gl/bNdPt

In fact, one wouldn’t go far wrong in automatically opposing everything the National Education Association favors—until facts prove otherwise.

Beverly Fraud

May 1st, 2012
12:24 pm

I agree Jane, the NEA is totally useless when it comes to supporting teachers in matters of discipline. I expect as such. But they, unlike Jindal and company, aren’t the ones calling themselves true conservatives who support rule of law and personal responsibility.

We know why the NEA is useless on the subject, what’s Jindal and company’s excuse?

Ron F.

May 1st, 2012
12:24 pm

“Why are students who may struggle with reading constantly given boring and uninspiring things they must read”

@Shar: There are ways to make remediation engaging, but many are afraid to go beyond “drill and kill” method, especially with struggling kids. These kids know from as early as first grade that they’re not as smart, and many don’t even try on tests by fifth grade when they’ve missed the mark every time. It’s sad that a child can start school behind, make a year’s worth of progress, and still fail a standardized test. What’s even sadder is that schools like the one mentioned above will take away the little joy kids may have in learning and force feed them even more useless material.

Struggling learners need engaging activities as much as, if not more than, the average or above average kids. I spend every day with them, and the biggest challenge is to get them engaged and convince them they can learn and be successful.

Ronin

May 1st, 2012
1:09 pm

Rats in a maze… thousands of years ago, man built the pyramids in giza, more recently the Incas built Machu Picchu and now, the year long focus is to pass a test, not for the student to succeed, but for the school to receive a favorable rating.

In the early 1960’s man set a goal to reach the moon and return safely by the end of the decade and succeeded. When an “expert” at NASA was recent.y asked how long it would take to complete a similar mission, “it would take a minimum 15, probably 20 years”. So, despite our enormous advancement in technological ability, we lack the driven focus to succeed in space exploration, the same can be said of government education. Educators and politicians are focusing on improving the school via test results rather than improving the individual student,who in turn, will improve the school.

It’s no wonder that thousands of families in the state decide to home school their children and now, many parents want a Charter option. Teachers have become the “victim” of a decades long social engineering experiment, where they are responsible for criteria far outside their scope of control.
When you have an administrative staff that is equal to or exceeds your actual instructional “teaching” staff, it’s time to eliminate the graduation coaches and specialty coaches, assistant principals and most of the other positions that are not responsible for a class, that also means probably 50% or more of the central office staff. Schools have become fat and lazy. Currently the name of the game is “blame it on the teacher”, somebody’s got to be at fault.

Aside from the actual teachers, public/government education has become a jobs programs for adults.

Ronin

May 1st, 2012
1:16 pm

Beverly: your statement” We know why the NEA is useless on the subject, what’s Jindal and company’s excuse?************************************************************************************

Oh, he’s doing the political two-step and pandering to the conservative masses.

mathmom

May 1st, 2012
2:44 pm

I wish every child in the country would answer “c” to every question on every *required* standardized test (not SAT, ACT, AP, etc.). When the data becomes obviously meaningless, as opposed to just meaningless, the insanity will stop.

Being Censored by @Maureen

May 1st, 2012
4:06 pm

I think @Maureeen et al need to read Tony Wagner’s latest book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World.” Wagner makes a compelling case as to why our education system is OBSOLETE. Our industrial-age system does NOT ensure that graduates can: critically-think, collaborate, write effectively, show initiative and entrepreneurship, demonstrate agility and adaptability, access and analyze information, and show curiosity and imagination. How did we let things get this bad????

Instead, our pathetic system as let this happen: i) kids focus more on GPAs and individual achievement instead of collaboration and teamwork, which are essential to innovation; ii) specialization is rewarded instead of cross-disciplinary work; iii) risk aversion is the NORM; iv) learning is profoundly PASSIVE; and v) extrinsic incentives drive learning.

@Maureen, how to you explain this? Can we say entrenched positions from teacher unions? Tenure-based raises instead of merit-based? Lack of professional development? statis, out-dated curriculum? Wasteful spending? I can go on and on. I just keep thinking about the $15K per pupil that the APS spends. I thought that number was a typo!!!

carlosgvv

May 1st, 2012
4:10 pm

It seems clear our educational system is becoming a witches’ brew of politics, racism and money.At this point I doubt these problems will be solved anytime now or in the foreseeable future.

mathmom

May 1st, 2012
5:04 pm

sorry. data become

irisheyes

May 1st, 2012
10:07 pm

This isn’t a surprise. Our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders who were considered “at risk” spent the last two months missing all of their specials classes so they could receive CRCT prep (read: drill and kill). These are the kids who often only feel successful in specials like art, music, or PE, and yet, since February, they’ve been denied that opportunity. These are the same students who have received extra help in kindergarten, first, second, third, etc. What is it that is causing these students to not get it? They are getting an enormous amount of extra help throughout their school years, yet they still aren’t working up to grade level. What more do the schools need to do to help these students?

jw

May 2nd, 2012
1:47 am

This teach to the test blitz mentality is one of the biggest reasons we are opting to homeschool starting next year. We’re done. We are at what is supposed to be a “good” public school. The testing emphasis is rampant despite constant assurances from teachers and admins that they don’t teach to the test. Yeah, right. Then quit shoving CRCT prep worksheets in front of 1st graders. They won’t be taking the CRCT for 2 more years! Teach them to read, write and do math. Teach them to wonder about their world and give them the mental tools and strategies to solve problems. TEACH them something valuable and they will do well on the CRCT or any test given.

Test Critic

May 2nd, 2012
6:06 am

I don’t see why anyone is all worked up over CRCT testing.

Folks, IT DOES NOT MATTER IF THEY PASS IT.

The school will pat them on the back, send them to the next grade and smile the whole time they are doing it. There is no consequence for failing any mandated test. Lots of barking but no bite.

vmracer

May 2nd, 2012
7:21 am

The “teach to the test” complaint is shorthand for “do not hold us accountable.” Sure, let’s not test so teachers may not teach and parents may not parent and kids may not feel the shame of their under performance. Somebody explain just how “teaching to the test” works. Do teachers require that students memorize the answers (the answer to question 1 is c) instead of teaching 2 plus 2 is 4? No wonder kids are failing, teachers who complain on this site about testing are idiots.

vmracer

May 2nd, 2012
7:36 am

Ah, my wife points out that there are fantasizing parents and teachers among you who believe that the students who can’t demontrate the ability to add, subtract, multiply, divide or read or write, just move on to higher level problem solving instead. That’ll work, LOL.

irisheyes

May 2nd, 2012
8:37 am

@vmracer, “teaching to the test” is requiring students to to continual test prep out of books, on the computer, or with worksheets. It means that students don’t get to sit down and read a whole book and talk about what they liked about it because the CRCT doesn’t ask how they connect with a story. It means that students are reading passages specifically written for a standardized test that are, to be perfectly honest, boring and poorly written. It means that instead of doing real-life problem solving activities (the kind that they will need to solve when they are older), it’s requiring them to answer huge number of lower-level recall questions. Yes, those are important, but is that all we want our students to be able to do? “Teaching to the test” is not the only way to cover the curriculum, but in some schools, the higher-ups seem to think that it is.

N. GA Teacher

May 3rd, 2012
12:26 am

Irisheyes makes a great point in that the kids who connect most with the noncore subjects are often those who lack core subject academic skills. They KNOW this by 8th grade if not earlier and tend to be less passionate, if not hostile, to further instruction in these areas. I teach high school, where the most crucial indicator of success in the core subjects is reading ability. Now to your question about why we constantly “remediate” and “blitz” the kids who are “projected to fail”. In most cases, these kids come from socioeconomically deficient homes and were not taught or encouraged to READ. By first grade they were a year or two behind grade level, and tended to drop father back as time went on. This is magnified by the fact that in their homes they do not receive support to do homework or practice academic skills. In every public high school there are a mass of kids who read between grade 3 and 7. These kids do very poorly on standardized tests because they cannot read for comprehension, their vocabulary is limited, and as they age they become more embittered by this process to the point where they will “Christmas Tree” a standardized test score form. By the time they are in high school many refuse to do any homework, and will resist doing reading assignments in class because reading is so frustrating and meaningless for them. These kids are often tracked so that they rarely see the better, role-model kids in their classes and thus do not know how to act, study, work cooperatively or demonstrate good attitudes and motivation. Teachers try to explain these things but kids tune out adults. Unfortunately for these kids, the emphasis on standardized test scores from the higher-ups (and consequences suffered by building-level personnel) has resulted in a mass hysteria about “getting these kids to pass” these tests at any costs, which explains the blitzes, remediations, sacrificing of “fun” classes, sacrificing of teacher planning periods to tutor the “at-risk” kids, etc. etc. Once again, if standardized tests are so good, then how and why were so many of us over 35 so successful and well-adjusted in the days WITHOUT them? Someone on this blog please answer THAT!!