Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Protesting the PSSAs

Last night as he crawled in to bed one half hour early, my ten-year-old said, “Pennyslvania’s super stupid assessment,” with a grin on his face. It’s that time of year. PSSA tests. That’s two weeks in which my children will learn nothing new, will consume all manner of junk food at school, and be given extra recess almost every day. Anything to keep the little darlings motivated and happy. Motivated and happy kids do better on standardized tests.

Lucky for us our school typically fairs well in these tests. But I’m somewhat concerned that our streak may be coming to an end. At the onslaught of these illustrious tests mandated by “No Child Left Behind” the very ambitious and inclusive goal of 100% proficiency by 2014 was set for students in math and reading.

Back at the turn of the century it seemed very noble to shoot for 100% competency in our kids. And the date was so far off – 2014, so everyone applauded the all-inclusive goal. But now that we are on the cusp of reaching that date, just how many schools will meet the goal? I can’t imagine any will unless they follow the lead of the schools in Georgia whose teachers systematically cheated on the tests.

Here’s the painful bottom line. Not every kid is going to pass. And this has nothing to do with teacher
competency, curriculum, or healthy snacks during testing. I don’t mean to be cruel or pessimistic, but it ain’t gonna happen. The world needs people to work at McDonald’s. That’s a very crass way of saying that not everyone’s brain is capable of retaining math concepts. And some people struggle with reading for reasons that may be physical or emotional. I’m not saying throw in the towel on these students. Quite the opposite. Most likely they excel in other areas, but we’ll never know that if we judge them solely on their math and reading scores.

What’s wrong with these tests and these goals is that too much hinges on them. Schools who do poorly receive less funding. Teachers whose students struggle will lose pay over this. And lets not forget the kids who spend a too large portion of their school year preparing for and taking these tests. They should not be this important.