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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Necessary evils

Tonight was 5th Grade Parent Orientation at the boys' school. Since the boys are in different classrooms, hubby and I each took a classroom. In 5th grade, they try to get the kids ready for middle school, so they have a homeroom and then move to different classrooms for each class. Unlike middle school, they stay with their homeroom class as they move from class to class. It's a good teaching tool. And, it insures that the boys have the same teacher, but they are not in the same classroom. That was important to me. And I really like the teachers. So do the boys.

Last year, we home schooled the boys. It was awesome- we had a blast. I'll admit it- I pushed the boys last year. Not hard, but I did my best to see what they were made of. And I wasn't disappointed. (During the school's profile testing from K-3rd grades, the boys always tested out close to the top of their class. Not the top, but close). Knowing how well my kids had done in the past, except for grade specific material (ie- spelling) we chose curricula that was just a little bit ahead of the boys' grade level. And didn't mention it to the boys. And they did great. They tested well above grade level in math, and hubby was teaching them the Periodic Table and the basics of nuclear energy (and bombs). They learned about the ecology of the Panama Canal, and they can read a topographic map (I'm really proud of that one). They did a unit study on lizards, and another one on Thanksgiving. They made a clay model of the digestive system. And they learned a lot. I didn't have a concrete representation of what they learned except for the grades I kept. No standardized testing to worry about. Just learning.

Fast forward to this year.
As we moved from room to room, each teacher took some time to explain what they would be covering this year. That's where I got a little frustrating for me. A lot of this year will be review for them (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). They will definitely learn a lot in Language Arts, and they'll get some good experience with scientific theory in science. Math will be good, because their math teacher will challenge them- she's good at that. Social Studies will be interesting- they're going to go over US History, which is what we did last year. (I can't wait until the first time the teacher calls the US a democracy, and one my boys raises his hand and says, "The United States is a Representative Republic, not a democracy. Democracy on a national level is mob rule." That will be a proud day.)

But what really bugged me was one little acronym- TAKS. The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. It's the standardized test that the State mandates for all public school children each year.
I dislike that they will potentially hold back a child who made decent grades because he doesn't pass this one test. But, more than that, in every classroom, we heard that the TAKS is based on the curriculum objectives set forth by the State, and they will spend the school year preparing the kids for the TAKS tests. Maybe it's because I'm not worried about my kids passing the TAKS test (they took the 5th grade test last year just to see how they did, and they did just fine, thank you very much), but I want them to teach my kids what they need to succeed throughout the rest of their educational career, not just teach them to pass one test. (Yes, I know the argument that this is a measure of their overall knowledge base and by thoroughly covering all of the curriculum guidelines, they are giving the kids a better chance at future success. And, yes, all children without major learning disabilities should be reading on grade level by 3rd grade. But I don't think that a 4th grader's ability or lack there of to write a good essay is a clear indicator of academic prowess- some people are scary smart and can't write. And it doesn't mean you need a special test.) Just give the teachers the tools to teach, get rid of the PC crap, and let them teach.

I really didn't expect to feel to passionately about this. I thought I'd go tonight, meet the teachers, meet some of the parents, and be ok with it. But I taught the boys and they did just fine without the special tests. I don't like the idea of students possibly being shorted on a learning experience so that the State can see how they've learned. But I know the State needs some way to gauge how the teachers and students are doing, and they need concrete parameters. But this just doesn't make sense to me.

I must comment. First, it is highly unlikely that a child can make passing grades and not pass the TAKS test. The teacher may be giving undeserved grades if that is the case. That is one of the things the test is suppose to guard against.(Some teachers don't want to "just teach" they want to just pick up a paycheck)Secondly, your kids did " just fine " because you taught the skills required by the State. Most teacher do exactly the same thing. They teach from the required curriculum because they know that is what will be covered on the test. Thirdly, people spend their whole lives taking some type of stardardized tests (DMV, SAT's, etc...) It is the only fair way to measure across the board what is being learned or what is being taught. The test is not difficult for average kids to pass. They are pretested and given every opportunity to pass it and if a child cannot pass the TAKS they certainly should not move on to the next grade level. If we stop requiring certain skills (like writing a good essay) to move on, we should just eliminate grade levels altogether. The main reason to keep the TAKS is that no one has a good alternate idea. Some may not like the test but nobody has anything better with which to replace it. R

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