Monday, May 21, 2012

EOGs: Love, hate or all of the above

In preparing for this week’s End of Grade tests, the fifth-grader in our house took sample exams that called on him not only to grasp early algebra and geometry, but to show comfort with comparing and contrasting data and identifying complex numerical patterns. 

In reading, he needed to demonstrate the ability to identify fictional plots and themes, to understand and explore words through the author’s perspective and intent, and to use deduction to sift meaning from non-fiction material.

So why is it again we don’t want teachers teaching to these tests?

This is the week to officially hate our North Carolina EOGs. Go ahead. They’re too high-stakes. They don’t measure different kinds of learning. They’re stressful for students and teachers and parents.

At our house, for our student, the tests will be a factor in classroom placement for middle school next year. That means his parents have attempted the delicate balance of noting the importance of EOG focus and care – without freaking our 10-year-old out. Youth sports parents might recognize this strategy – the “have fun out there, but it’s more fun if you do these 11 things correctly” approach. Not exactly Dad of the Year stuff.

And that, anti-test folks say, is part of the danger of high-stakes testing – that it steals the joy from learning and teaching. It’s a message that’s finding real traction. A national resolution condemning high-stakes testing is circulating the country, with hundreds of school boards approving. In Charlotte, advocacy group Mecklenburg ACTS has asked the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board to give the resolution a nod. The group’s thoughtful co-chairs, Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer, wrote an op-ed for the Observer this week echoing the resolution and calling for testing to be only “a periodic sampling of schools and subjects.”

Doing so, advocates say, would allow us to return to classrooms in which teachers were free to lead engaged students through diverse curricula filled with deep thinking and innovation. (Translation: Not teaching to the test.)

But in that idyllic world, too many teachers weren’t doing those wonderful things, and too many students weren’t learning what they needed to know. No Child Left Behind, flawed as it is, introduced testing that shone a light on struggling schools and forced change by providing something measurable to improve.

Deemphasizing those tests does a disservice to parents who otherwise don’t know their children are falling behind compared with other classrooms and other schools. It’s a disservice to teachers whose classes are slowed with students improperly promoted through subjective evaluation. It’s a disservice, most of all, to the students – whether they’re the ones who see a teacher’s attention directed elsewhere, or the ones unprepared for all the next steps they take, including college.

Yes, CMS sometimes splashes around too much in the test data pool, including last year’s 50-plus “field tests” the district quickly abandoned. But our classrooms still have plenty of time for other learning. My sons’ excellent teachers have launched their students on projects about the environment and history, on book discussions that promote real depth of thinking. Great educators across Charlotte have told me about similarly engaging projects. The best of them understand the need for a classroom blend of basics and breadth.

For many of those teachers, the issue with tests isn’t how you measure learning, but how to measure teaching. They worry that high-stakes tests don’t calculate the intangibles they provide, or the challenges students bring from home environments. They worry, too, that tests don’t measure all the things and ways students learn.

That’s true, but it’s an argument for better tests, not few tests. Because unless CMS chops its classes in half, standardized testing is the best way to measure broadly how students are learning. The alternative is knowing less about what our children know. It’s trusting that all of our teachers and principals are as good as we hope, or that they’ll tell us if they’re not.

Our schools have already taken that test, and we know the result.


Anonymous said...

My kids go to one of the CMS Montessori schools. These tests are GRAVY after a year of learning in school. Each year they take them and each year they score in the 99percentile. Only a handful don't do well in the entire school. Extreme diversity in the school. Huge percentage of "free meals" kids. And yet, there are the scores, and there are the kids. All well-mannered, all writing in cursive, all of them in tune with nature (which is part of the curriculum), all of them calm, cool and friendly to others in the school (no bullies...because it isn't tolerated). I could go on and on, just wanted to say that CMS got it right when they allowed Montessori public schools.

Anonymous said...

As a high school teacher of nearly twenty years, I can assure you that these tests are a complete waste of time and money for our classrooms. Yet, our state is moving towards high stakes testing in EVERY subject. That's right. There will be a test in ALL subjects including chorus, band, art, and PE. Where the money for this is coming from and how these tests will be created and normed is beyond me, but I'm sure Obama's laughably horrible "Race to the Top" funds are at play here. Someone please find me one other nation that tests its children (some as young as 8) so much. Most other nations recognize that the way to improve learning is done through teacher training, parental involvement, and real-world/engaging lessons, not multiple choice tests. The CO should go undercover to discover how much money standardized testing costs. I bet it would be staggering. Money should go into reduction in class sizes, teacher workshops, technology upgrades, and materials.

Bubbyc said...

This is a very thoughtful commentary which I am surprised I agree with. I proctored for my children's school this past week. I proctored an advanced class of students and I proctored three special needs children. It was fascinating to see the difference in their test taking abilities. But I am glad to say that both groups felt the test was easy which I attribute to our hard working teachers who prepared these children for the test.

Wiley Coyote said...

EOG tests are worthless.

Every year since middle school, we would have to go to our son's school the next year and force the school to put him in more advanced classes. He is one of those students who does not test well, yet makes very good grades in his classes.

So here's some advice Pete:

NEVER, EVER allow status quo educrats, you know, those same ones that have run our failing schools for 40 years, to dictate where your child is placed next year based on some worthless test...

Bob Cabaniss said...

I am a retired high school technology teacher. I just had a tour of my brother in law's very, very high tech saw mill. He is currently awaiting arrival of 2 German 23 year old technicians to instruct his employees in the use and care of a multi million dollar piece of equipment. These young men are the result of Germany's educational system that splits students into groups. College/technology. Why in the world don't we do that? It makes perfect sense to do so, as everyone is not suited to college! It's done all over Europe.

Anonymous said...

The testing problem is that teachers are forced to focus all of their attention to what is on the test, rather than providing a well rounded education for that year. The difference between how Pennsylvania handles their testing and North Carolina is astounding. PA does not place near as much weight on the tests and covers much more material each year. Preparation for testing does not teach kids critical thinking, just test taking strategies. This will prepare them for working for the government, but little else!

You Dumb Rednecks said...

You have got to be kidding? The EOG's are a ridiculous waste of time and a terrible way to measure one's progress throughout the year. The Instructors end up teaching to the test by February, which completely takes away from what they should be doing.
Sure, it's great to watch 8 year old kids stress over taking a test, as opposed to placing the decision in the cooperative hands of the parents and the Instructor. I've never been in favor of cumulative tests, either, in that what you covered back in August is rarely reviewed, much less retained. You take tests throughout the school year and this standardize test only affects the worst students, and it really reflects the ineffectiveness of the parents, as well as the Instructor.

Get rid of these EOG tests, as I know many parents who go to private schools, just to avoid having to subject their child to such foolishness. It's not structured enough for North Carolina, there's not a uniform study guide to reference, nor computer software application in which to study from. The State does NOT give all the tools necessary to pass this test and it is doing a disservice to the Instructors

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and as a highschool teacher, I believe EOC's make students more accountable throughout the semester.

Anonymous said...

The truth is EOG's/EOC's make students more accountable. Students are more focused throughout the semester when they know they will be tested at the end.

Anonymous said...

I graduated in 1993. We had no end of grade tests. These are a bad idea. Tests don't test how much a student knows, they test how wow a student tests. I never test well. I know a lot more than the tests let on. If I went by one test, I'd be a firefighter or medic and I'm disabled! I graduated from college with a BA in Communicatcations with an emphsis in Journalism.

Anonymous said...

My son took EOGs for the first time this year. He scored a surprising 67% in Math. Surprising because he had earned straight As all year long in Math and we had no reason to believe he was struggling. Upon receiving the test results (a print out that gave me very little information) I contacted the school to find out exactly which concepts challenged him (i.e. decimals, fractions, etc.) I was told by his school that the results were mailed promptly to Raleigh and that the school has no information related to my child's specific weaknesses. This response confuses me because 1) wouldn't it benefit the child's teacher in the coming year if they knew where the child struggled and 2) as a parent, I'd be happy to spend time with my child working with him on the concepts that were most challenging - except I have no idea which concepts to revisit with him. It seems unfair to use our children as guinea pigs particularly when the detailed results of the test are not disclosed families or used by teachers to enhance future instruction.