In the fall of every year, our great state tests its 11th graders in the areas of math and English (specifically, reading and writing). The spring brings the excitement of social studies and science tests.
While I understand (to a certain, limited extent) the desire for the State (capitalization intentional) to come up with some way of determining that its schools are doing something worthwhile, I resent the fuck out of standardized tests.
For one, these tests don’t really measure anything worthwhile – at least, not in my discipline. I don’t think that tests, per se, are a good way of gauging how proficient a student is in a language (and, lest we forget, “English” classes are, at their heart, language classes). I mean, sure; we can test how well a student can spout back vocabulary, whether a student can discern and understand the roots of words (and thereby guess their meaning), and we can test whether a student “gets” a passage of writing by asking her to answer pointed questions about the piece, but I really don’t think that’s where the true nougat-y goodness of language learning is.
To my way of thinking, true proficiency in a language is determined by the skill and facility with which a speaker or a writer can convey rich thought, meaning, and emotion; and, of course, how well they can receive the same through spoken and written words. While I’ll admit that the tests my kids are taking are astoundingly better than the tests *I* took as a kid, I have still yet to see a test that does any justice to that goal.
Instead, the tests that my juniors have to take every year (and that my own children take at varying intervals throughout their career as public school students) are more about how well they can decipher the questions that are being asked. As I prep my juniors for the English portion of their standardized tests, I’m focusing on three main things; how to interpret a question so they know what’s really being asked, how to organize their thinking so they can be sure they’re answering the question they’re really being asked, and how not to panic.
I’ve got three weeks’ worth of prep time with my kids. We started today, and some of the poor, panicked babies barely got through the practice test I gave them. I’m going to need every minute of those three weeks; we need to hit these tests out of the park if we hope to renew our charter in two years.