Thursday, May 19, 2011

Teaching for TCAP, part 2

On Tuesday I posted about the school seemingly teaching for testing, and then nothing the remaining two weeks of school. Bored children is a minor concern, though. There is one result of this that disturbs me more.

At the end of her sixth grade year, we found out that Emma would be in honors math in seventh grade (this year). She was very excited and proud of herself, and we were proud of her. I was elated, because even though I always did very well in school (I graduated 5th in my class with a 4.0), I just didn't get math. I can do basic things easily, like adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, but get beyond that and I get a bit lost. And forget word problems! While I always excelled at reading, spelling, and languages, I can't mix words and numbers. They just don't mesh together in my brain. The more complicated things? Forget it! If I don't understand it, I can't learn it. And no teacher could make me understand anything beyond Algebra 1. "It just is" doesn't cut it for me. (On a side note, I did great at geometry. Seeing the pictures really made it click for me.)

Math has always been easy for Emma, though. She just gets it. And I still remember getting the call from her while I was at work telling me about being chosen for the honors class. She was thrilled! When we got the school supply lists over the summer, we went to Target and picked out the binders and folders and notebooks and loose paper, all the standard stuff. For the honors math class, though, she also had to have a graphing calculator. The kind I didn't need until college! The expensive one. Ouch. But still, we made it work. Her education is very important to us.

Then, school started. We had the standard assembly-type meeting with the principal. He does one grade at a time, in the gym. Basics are covered for new-to-the-school families, introduces the teachers to us, and then discusses any changes. Before school started this year, they were given the results of last year's TCAPs. It seems that while the school overall excelled in almost every subject, as a whole they did poorly in math. As a result, they decided to cancel honors math. Reason? to spend more time teaching what was specifically on the test, to increase the performance this year.

Now, I can understand this to a point. These tests are supposed to (in theory) measure how well students are learning in school, to evaluate how well the school is doing its job of teaching them. But instead of incorporating the areas the students struggled into the curriculum, or spending more time on those areas, they are punishing the students who don't need extra help. Instead of celebrating and challenging the students who already tested far above average, the entire student body is grouped into remedial-type learning. THIS I have a huge problem with.

Instead of using these tests as a measuring device, schools are almost afraid of them any more. Legislation has put so much weight on 3 or 4 days out of an entire school year that the pressure on teachers and students is unbearable. For the first time ever, Emma was so stressed about a test that her health was affected. As soon as the last test was over, she was back to normal. She said the teachers put so much emphasis on the test days, wanting the children to do so well, that it's all they talk about in the weeks leading up to it. Automated calls from the principal go out frequently  reminding parents to make sure the kids are in bed early, get plenty of sleep and are rested, eat a good breakfast, are at school early, have their sharpened pencils. When truthfully, that should be the routine throughout the year. (Not the pressure part, but the preparedness.)

I just hope that when the test results are in for this year, the school sees fit to bring back the honors class that never was.

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