Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Teach to the Test, Teach to the Culture

She looked at me when I told her I taught for a living and that I administered a small alternative education program.

"What do you think the problem is?" she asked. "Why are the schools doing so poorly?"

I looked her way, responding automatically: "The schools are fine."

"Then why do the kids' test scores keep dropping?"

She didn't want to know the answer to this. None of them do. Not really. I mulled over my response, then casually responded: "Parents."


"Parents. The culture. Our society. Test grades won't improve until the culture starts to value education and learning. They don't."

"I disagree, I spend a lot of time with my kids..."

"You're one parent. The majority of parents spend little to no time working with their kids. We live in a culture when kids are bombarded by all sorts of media. They are bombarded by videogames, internet surfing, music, etc. It's about values. If students are given a hard work ethic, then how can they be expected to do well in class? They do what is easy. "

"So, you're saying teachers bear no responsibility?"

"There are good and bad teachers. More good than bad." I thought about my answer for a second. "There are good and bad parents. More good than bad."

"So what's the answer?" she asked, sounding frustrated, wanting to hear a quick fix.

"Maybe to stop blaming one another and to work together. We've got to change the culture or we change nothing."

She walked away. I looked after her and thought about the testing we're doing this week and how it seems curriculum has been molded so that kids improve test performance. Teach to the test. Teach to the culture. I turned back to what I had been doing.
RENEWAL assignments are due tomorrow.


SQT said...

What can I say other than you're right? I remember being frustrated that teachers had to spend so much time on stuff that wasn't reading, writing and arithmetic. Socialization skills need to be taught at home so teachers don't need to waste so much time telling Johnny why he shouldn't bully the other kid. And heaven forbid the parents should even talk about sex, much less tell their kids what the heck it is.

I always felt that if the teachers could actually devote the time needed to the actual academic curriculum, the kids might get good test scores.

Lee said...

My kids were telling me the other day that on SOL days, they are allowed to do things they aren't normally allowed to do; like wear hats. They are each given 4 pieces of gum (normally not allowed) before the testing begins. They are allowed to bring in pillows and stuffed animals.

When I asked why they thought this was so, they both shrugged, but they liked it. ;) They guessed it something to do with being comfortable.

I feel so bad for teachers, for they are hammered to get their kids to do well on these standardized tests, often to the detriment of the highest and lowest acheivers in the classroom. The highest kids are bored outta their gourds and the slower ones just never quite get the chance to really comprehend the material. And the teachers, well, the teachers just seem harried and frustrated.

gugon said...

It is a constant struggle for me to keep my kids focused on their responsibility. And I agree with you that much of it has to do with the constant media bombardment.

We have made the decision to "deprive" our children of video games. The reason for that decision was simply because THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME. We had to eliminate something. But it's still not enough.

Remember the days when - if you wanted to see a particular movie - you bloody well waited until it came on TV?

Everything is too easily available now. The kids don't even have to seek out and open a book anymore when they need information for a report. They have wikipedia.

spyscribbler said...

If I even get started on this subject, you'll end up with a thirty-paragraph rant in your comments section. :-)

So I'll just say, good post.

Sidney said...

I wish we'd had cool teachers like you when I was growing up Stewart. I had some good ones, but many were not as thoughtful and enlightened.

Donnetta Lee said...

AMEN, Stewart!! So glad you said it. There is shared responsibility. But both sides have to trip to it and buy into it. In the battle of finger-pointing, the kids are often more or less beside the point. Be sure to run over to Ivan's blog about teaching. At school, it seems like we can't win for losing. Sometimes makes you feel like running away or counting the minutes until retirement. Donnetta

Danny Tagalog said...

Oh yes - the same in Britain, Japan, everywhere.

The main English language tests they have in Japan is based on multiple choice and for many years had no speaking section. Ludicrous. Treating language as a science, taking it apart like a bloody car.

But yes: socialization. Don't you sometimes think those who set up our education systems know EXACTLY what they are doing? Eroding socialization skills - preventing groups meeting up and discussing the direction of society.

I don't know about where you live, but here in Tokyo - though we have a great time, students have little time to relax and do nothing.

Doing nothing is often the time your self emerges and new thoughts are created...

Students here have their schedule, and are downloaded facts, without sufficient chance to use those facts in a meaningful manner.

SQT said...

Danny, I totally know what you're talking about. I went to school in Osaka about 12 years ago and as much as I liked it, I was constantly stressed due to the academic workload. By the time I got home I was totally burned out.

etain_lavena said...

It really is true even here by us, I was only a teacher for one year, but I remember that only the kids who did really good, only their parents came to parents evening. The kids that fell behind, parents where never anywhere to be seen.
It is sad, what will happen to the world if following generations are so laid back, and undisciplined.


Susan Miller said...

In the past couple of days I watched a news story unfold about a school in Tunica, MS where teachers were allegedly given the questions to a state test and then instructed to give them to the students. The Mississippi Board of Education is now investigating the report.

Yes, yes, I know that we ranked 51st in the nation in education and only then because for this particular study they decided to make D.C. a state. Wonderful!

This post really interested me because my son is a GREAT test taker and is also lazy as hell. His ability to comprehend what is being asked of him and deducting the best possible answer seems to have much less to do with my parenting or any of his teachers. I don't spend much time at his school, and he makes good grades because if he didn't then I would become best friends with his teachers. It's our little agreement, and whenever there is doubt I always ask, "Do I need to get involved?"

Recently, I made him watch that Oprah special where she built the leadership school in Africa. We discussed those children and their desire for education, how they walked miles or risked violence in order to get to school everyday. As a parent I wish that I could give him that thirst or instill in him that type of passion for learning. But then I settle because although I think a good education is vital to his success I also desire his happiness, his ability to have this time in his life to simply be a boy.

JR's Thumbprints said...

No culture left behind, and let's reward only those schools that improve on the standardized tests.

SourDad said...


The kids that go to Oprah's school are the few and the proud here we try to educate the many. I think one problem is the culture it trying to put everyone on the college track. It's expected, an entitlement not hard work. I teach at a CC and I can tell you college is not the answer for everyone.

But yes everyone should get the reading, writing arithmetic basics.