Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teaching for TCAP

I've heard parents complain for a few years now about how schools seem to be teaching for TCAPs (Tennessee's standardized testing) but I never really understood the problem. Now that my daughter is at the end of her 7th grade year, I get it.

These tests are nothing new. I took them in school, as I'm sure everyone else did. They were held in the spring, and lasted almost a week. Bubble forms, freshly sharpened #2 pencils (and teachers checked every student's pencils to make sure) and endlessly boring days with timed tests and no freedom to do anything else. But once it was over, back to business as usual. The last week of school our textbooks were taken up by the teachers, a field trip and a class party, and we were out for the summer.

Now it's a different story. Our daughter's school had TCAP testing in April. Last week were their final 9-week tests (they are on a 9 week instead of 6 week grading period). Since the middle of last week they have not had any textbooks, or homework. No class work either, apparently. They have a full week of school this week, and Monday is their last day.

So what are they doing? My daughter is texting me how bored she is. They do have a field trip this week, but that's just one day. They are playing games and chatting with each other.

I understand that teachers and students alike are ready for summer. The kids are a bit more unruly, teachers are tired, but please don't make their educations suffer! Am I unrealistic to expect SOME sort of learning should still be going on at the end of the year? Review worksheets if nothing else! Yes, I know you have already collected all their books. All you need is one workbook and a photocopier.

There are many, many other issues with teaching for testing - much bigger issues with bigger consequences. This is a relatively minor one, but still an issue for me, anyway.

Am I being unrealistic, though? I'd love to hear other parents' (and teachers') thoughts on this!


  1. I agree. I feel like it's cram, cram, cram leading up to the "tests" and then wasted time and busy work after. I like consistency, and so do my children. Do we really want to teach them to work insanely for weeks and then zone out for weeks after to recuperate? I think I prefer more of a "slow and steady wins the race" mantra. I'm not a teacher, and I have immense respect for them. I'd love to see what they think of all of this. I'll check back and hope for some teacher comments! Love the blog!

  2. You're not being unrealistic, BUT...

    I know that when I taught, by the last week or two of the school year, we were physically out of paper and toner, and/or as teachers we no longer had copies that we could use on our account. It was the point of the year where everything we did came directly out of our pockets...including photocopies.

    When I taught high school, it wasn't an issue. Our last week was exams, and I collected books as they walked in for it. We had only one actual day left at the end of the year, and it was mainly a yearbook day. But, really, my kids were graduating the next day -- what did it really matter? You know?

    When I taught 3rd grade, however, we did do activities -- some stuff on the computer, we made an ABC book of things we'd learned over the year, my students even wrote stories...just to keep them writing! Sure, we read books and played games, and my kids helped me pack up my classroom library, etc., but even then they were still counting, adding, and they were learning organizational skills.

    Also, I'm curious about this 6 week grading period you speak of. I've never gone to or worked at a school that did anything other than a 9 week period.

  3. @Chris - that's funny, this middle school is the only one I've ever heard of that has a 9 week grading term! All the others in our area have six 6-week terms every year. Her school is probably changing to that schedule next year, also, unless things changed. They had planned to do it this school year but forgot until after schedules were made. Seriously - that is what the principal told us in August.

    I guess middle school is a tough age - games from elementary school don't interest them, and they don't have the big finals that high school kids have. And I found out after school that in one class they DID have to write a 2 page story - but that's it. I was just surprised that textbooks were collected and all the work was done two weeks before school was out this year. I don't remember it ever happening so soon before!

  4. My kids are all grown up- so I'm not sure if my opinion matters much! For me- learning should go on right to the end...and it doesn't necessarily have to be book or text learning- the Teachers can be creative. If we can teach our children to learn in EVERY situation- wow- what a treasure they will have!! (for the rest of their lives)

  5. We're in TN, too and my kids love this time of year. I think as adults we have periods of time where not much work gets done, so why not kids? It seems like my kids teachers have planned lots of activities and are giving the kids some time to relax and spend some time together before they go their separate ways during the summer.

  6. I was a high school teacher before becoming an at home mother and I am a proponent of teaching to the test. But, before I get angry comments, let me tell you what I mean by that. I feel like the tests overall are a great indicator of what a kid should know by that point. And, like it or not, kids have to become accustomed to taking tests, since they will their whole life, even through many of their careers. However, I think teachers should be teaching the material on the tests, aka also on their standards and with state guidelines, all year long as part of their curriculum, instead of cramming 1 week ahead of time, freaking out the kids or boring them to tears (which most teachers do not like by the way - it is mandated by the board of education or the school itself). If we teach it the first time and review throughout the year, why the cramming? It is suppose to test what they now, not what they memorize the week before. Also, field trip days and fun days are okay once in awhile, but teachers should work to make learning interactive and fun all year, and not resort to "play days." And, teachers should teach all year. I understand a last day party or a celebration before a major break, but weeks of slacking is unacceptable. I did not do it and I would be upset if my kids' teacher did - remember teaching/learning doesn't have to be worksheets and textbooks, either - it can be fun (but luckily I taught science, so hands-on was easy). :)

  7. By the way, forgive the former run-ons and misspellings above - typing in a hurry. I know I'll get flack being an ex-teacher. ;)

  8. Dana, I agree completely! Actually Thursday's post is more in-depth on the subject and coincided with what you wrote. I wrote this one mainly as a reaction to getting texts allll day from a bored teenager. I agree the tests are important, but WAY too much weight is placed on them any more. I looked at my calendar wrong when writing the post - Tuesday is their actual last day of school, leaving 2 weeks with no textbooks or assignments.

  9. I do think the testing is good for the teacher and the student.. but I don't think school should be focused completly on the test, in order to get funding and such ( I don't know how bad it is in TN, but I know Florida is one of the worst states about standardized testing).
    I have friends who teach,, now they actually teach Fcat- they teach children who did poorly on the test how to retake it. In one local school students wh did poorly on tests lose an elective and it is replaced with a testing prep class on what ever subject they failed. Most students do not even get a single elective in that district, it is a poor area and it is heartbreaking to me to think of what that is doing to the students as far as enjoying school , and gradating.

  10. @Christine, I sent my baby sister (she hates that I always call her that!)Dana to your blog because I wanted her opinion as a teacher. So glad she stopped by. I knew she'd be a great addition to the discussion!