Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Testing Muck Just Keeps Getting Deeper

One Revelation After Another

Pearson's overly zealous protection of its tests is a bigger story than many news outlets report.

According to recent information, students were actually encouraged to open social media accounts approved by the schools and testing companies just so they could be spied on to see what they were saying about tests. Talk about entrapment.

Then we have the Global Teacher of the Year advising young people not to go into education because of high stakes testing and the monster Common Core has become.

One thing after another and all because of the "cash cow" education has become. Corporations finally found a source of money they could access, and by heavens they are accessing it.

One after another, school systems are being sold learning programs and grading programs and assessment programs designed by "educational firms."  I use the term loosely because I have seen some of these materials while I was teaching and since I've retired.

I had boxes of brand new textbooks in my classroom storage room that I never opened. The books came with teachers' manuals, cd's, lesson materials, and handouts.  I'm sure they cost thousands of dollars. Supposedly, they set up entire course outlines for each grade level. Over the years I had acquired hundreds of paperbacks with good literature, designed hundreds of worksheets and assignments with related lessons, invented all kinds of projects and activities to teach various language/writing skills, and all the tests and assessments to go with them. Essentially, I had my own textbook/learning unit for each course I taught.  I'd like to think it worked. I was never at a loss for what to teach, how to teach it, and how to figure out if my students had learned anything. I didn't need a prepackaged curriculum created by someone else whose mind operated in a different way than mine did.  I used the textbook materials sparingly. (I know some of the other teachers in my department did the same.)

We had a cache of old books in the school. Texts were not outdated, because literature itself does not become outdated. Nor do grammar, writing, or reading skills become outdated. Some of the older stuff was, frankly, ten times better than the "new" materials provided in the expensive new learning units. And, more importantly, using the variety of materials we had allowed us to teach creatively, adapting to our students' needs, interests, and enthusiasm rather than being stuck with a set course someone else had created.  I was always developing new ideas, new assignments, new lessons depending on what direction my classes wanted or needed to go based on what was happening in the classroom.

But these corporate curriculum materials leave little room for inventiveness. They are like prepackaged dinners--add water, cook for 45 minutes and the need to learn has a full stomach. Who cares if the food tastes good or has all the flavor of "fresh made." It's quick, it's easy, and the teacher certainly doesn't have to think too much about dishing it out.

When I tutored last year, I saw some of the materials from a middle school "learning package." The directions were rather vague but the essence of it was for the student to write an essay about how a disease might become pandemic. There were two articles to chose from. One supposedly was about  epidemic diseases spreading in animal populations, and the other on how diseases spread in human populations.  Fair enough, but when I read both articles, the animal article had absolutely no information whatsoever about how the specific disease spread. It explained the symptoms of the disease and talked about the pathogens involved, but nothing about how it spread from animal to animal, or from animal to human. I read the article three times to be sure.

My tutoree had chosen the animal article while most of the other students in her class had chosen the human one. She wanted to be different, to challenge herself, had written her proposal and submitted it to her teacher. Needless to say the feed back was negative. Only allowed to use the text information presented in the article, she was not able to support an argument about spreading a disease and so, the teacher had noted she was not on topic and needed to rewrite her plan.  Needless to say, after some discussion of the article and the required assignment, both my student and I agreed she needed to change her choice of article and join the rest of the class.

I don't know if the teacher ever reviewed the articles before giving the assignment. I have no idea what the situation in the the classroom was as far as class size or time. I am not condemning the teacher here. I am condemning the so-called corporate "educator" who designed the assignment and then sold it to the school system as the perfect learning tool. Since this was not the first nor the last time I found such flaws in prepackage educational materials, I've learned to be wary.

Just as prepackaged foods are not the best for our health, prepackaged educational materials are not the best for our students' educational health.  Yet school systems play the cash cow and hand over thousands of dollars for them. Perhaps a good checkup would do us all good.

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