Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Week: Bubble-Torture for the Kiddies

As we all know, last week was the dreaded State ELA exam. My observations were as follows:

*Students were completely whacked out right before the test. It was a challenge to calm them down. Pancakes seems to be the popular test-breakfast this year.

*As I was attempting to reassure and quiet these poor souls, getting them to take a nice deeeeep breath, an unfamiliar woman wearing a visitor's tag and a puss on her face peered unabashedly into my classroom. I said,  "Can I help you?" and she said, "I'm just here checking on things." (Oh, she must have been one of those teacher-checkers. Right.) This sent the kiddies into hysterics. Becuase, that's how they are. Things I find infuriating, they find funny. "Man, Miss! You told her!" Screech, screech.

*Kiddies are finally calm. I hand out the answer sheets. Ali's is missing. What do I do? The test is timed. We all have to begin together, otherwise, Bubble Test Law #417-1330 will be violated and I may be incarcerated for Altering of Official Torture Documents. I call the testing office to let them know of Ali's missing Torture Sheet, and the kiddies see I am distracted by the phone so they start babbling again. In my head, I become convinced that my class is the only one in the school that has not yet begun.

*In a few minutes, someone comes in with a blank answer sheet and directs me to direct the unfortunate Ali into bubbling her name, birthday, astrological sign, shoe size, head circumfrence, and Student ID# onto the sheet. I have to provide this number and look it up, so this takes a few minutes. The rest of the class is anxiously waiting to get started. Buzz, buzz. Tick, tock.

*Finally, finally, I am able to hand out the booklets and allow the students to begin. They have 70 long minutes and 7 passages and 42 multiple-choice questions, and 42 little round bubbles.

*Five minutes into it, someone comes in and hands me Ali's answer sheet that has her name actually printed on it. She sighs loudly and rolls her eyes. Twenty-eight pairs of eyes tear themselves away from the first passage and watch, distracted, as she recieves the correct answer sheet. The sheet she so carefully filled in herself is promptly discarded.

*There are exactly enough test booklets for the amount of students in my class. Fortunately for me, one of the kiddies is absent, so I have access to the booklet with the passages and questions, out of pure default. If I did not have an absent student that day, I would not have been able to actually see the test I was forced to teach to all year. The second day, for the writing portion, I did not have a booklet to look at. I peered over my kids' shoulders. What a slap in the face.

On to the passages and questions:

-The questions were clearly written to trick and misguide the kiddies.  There were at least one or two questions per passage that were very difficult or almost impossible to answer.
Now, I am obviously a good reader, otherwise I wouldn't be an English teacher. I blow through at least 3-4 books a week every summer. But, so help me Jesus, I could not answer some of these questions myself. There is something really wrong with that. I know tested, mind-numbing reading "strategies" inside and out. I've been shoving it in between their ears all year long, and have had plenty of professional development to guide me in doing so.

-Some of the questions were negative: "Which one is not the answer?" I saw more of these types of torture devices than I had ever seen before. There were none in the test prep book.

-The passages were extremely male-centered. It was actually my principal that pointed that out. All of the fiction and nonfiction passages had protagonists who were males. The nonfiction passages were about basketball and lawn mowers. The illustrations were all of males. Even the personification in the poetry was male-centered. It must have been extremely difficult for my girls to relate to the texts and activate any prior knowledge on those subjects. Sheesh. Or should I say, Balls.

-The last "passage" was a blank volunteer application. Although the directions stated for the students not to fill it out, many had never seen an application before and were completely thrown off, and wasted their time trying to fill it out before realizing they only had to answer four questions about it. Mind you, nowhere in the school's curriculum, test prep books, or on any previous state tests was there any sort of application. How is an 11-year old supposed to  successfully answer questions about something they've never seen before?

-Finally, the timing. They had only seventy minutes to finish the test. That's ten minutes per passage. This does not encourage the students to read slowly and carefully. One of my boys is a very slow reader, however is reading on grade level, and when given the appropriate amount of time, can be very successful. When I passed his desk about 45 minutes into it, he had barely finished half of the questions. He had also completely stopped working. I quietly encouraged him to move on. He looked at me and said, "No. I don't want to take this stupid test, and I'm not finishing it." I was powerless to help him because, well, we're not supposed to be talking during the test. Ooooh-kay.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is proof, again, that the Education "Reformers" are setting up students and the teachers who devote their lives to education, to fail miserably. It is nauseating, infuriating, frustrating, demoralizing, and a completely backwards way of educating America's Future. I feel powerless to stop it and the only way I am maintaining any semblance of sanity regarding this matter is by continuing to write this blog. I am so relieved there are others who share my views who are willing to expose the truth as well. We need to continue this fight for the sake of our children's rights as American Citizens. Not a single day goes by that I don't fret about the disgracefully poor quality of education my son and my students are exposed to as a result of these ignorant, clueless, racist, sexist, filthy-rich policy makers.


  1. Excellent! This is about the students, not you!

  2. Yeah, I try to keep it about them, but sometimes my anger gets the best of me.

  3. Wow, it is SO refreshing to hear from a public school teacher who dares speak the truth! I removed my children from public school for specifically the things you so adeptly point out, and I regularly endure scorn for doing so. How are teachers and students to have any chance against a system like ours, especially in an environment that instills fear into anyone who dares speak up? You are fighting the good fight and if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know! I have marched in DC to encourage change and I jump at every opportunity to speak out. Although I will continue to educate my children at home, unless or until there are drastic changes, I am not yet ready to give up on this country's public education system. Our teachers, our children, need our support - I am here to support you.

  4. I am becoming a follower of your blog. I finished state exams 2 weeks ago. We lost two unused math test books. We had a missing exam that turned up after I'd called the state in a panic. Our tests were late getting turned into the state because of some fed-ex fiasco. I'm the lucky sucker who is the district coordinator of all these **lovely** exams and so hopefully I have a job next year after this insanity. Sigh. I hate being the person delving out torture aka tests to children.

  5. duh...forgot to link my blog as I also, like you, talk about education and the like.

  6. I teach in a GED program and routinely see the same thing-every question is middle class centric. Even the questions on the "ethnic" passages are from the middle class perspective. And yes, sometimes I also get these questions wrong. Sometimes, as far as I'm concerned, all the answers they offer are wrong. I have a Ph.D.!!! I'm obviously not a bad reader. And I see the same thing in terms of time and testing conditions-I have ADD students who could pass if that didn't require sitting absolutely silently for an hour and a half. I have students who can answer every question right if you turn on music as they're doing it, but put them in a silent room, they get half the questions wrong. These tests are not testing anything of academic value. They're testing a-one's ability to sit still, b-one's mastery of middle class instinct, c-one's ability to eliminate 3 out of any 4 options. It's not how you build an educated citizenry, that's for sure.

  7. Accountability is nothing more than code for more control for those outside the classroom over those who are in the classroom. Public education is under assault and high stakes standardized testing is the blunt instrument used by deformers to vilify teachers and deamonize public education so that corporations can make a dime at the expense of our children.

    This is a fantastic post. I'm going to share a link to this post on my blog. Thx for sharing.


  8. funny? yes, but not if you realize it's entirely accurate. Interesting? yes, but only if you're actually surprised by any of it. Cool? DEFINITELY not. Frightening? That would be my word for it.

  9. So very nice to see a teacher being straightforward about the travesty that is our NCLB testing system. The school where I work tested in April. Leading up, we spent all spring working the kids through packets of release-questions. There was almost no real learning at the school, just classroom after classroom, of kids learning how to answer questions correctly even if they didn't know the answers, and teachers going to greater and greater lengths to keep them motivated. As one of the school's remedial tutors, I went through sack after sack of candy, because of course nothing I was teaching the kids was interesting enough that they would want to learn it for its own sake.

  10. Thank you all so much for your readership and support. Your comments have inspied me to write more, and (anonymously, of course) further expose the curruption of our inner-city schools by this hopelessly flawed sytem. One day, I will get rid of the alias, but right now I have my own interests to know, keeping food on the table. I'm pretty sure that if I used my name it would get to admin somehow and I might lose my job, I have heard of that vioation of rights happening to teacher-bloggers before.

    One of my previous posts: "Standardized Testing: The Measurement of Students and Teachers" goes more deeply into the effects of these tests on children and teachers, and society as a whole. Some of my other posts are strictly descriptions of daily classroom experiences. I love writing those because it gives a peek into the daily life of inner-city teachers and students, not only the diffuculties, but the joys and victories of teaching as well.

    I am deeply touched and grateful that you all have taken the time to read my blog and offer your opinions, and they are always welcome.
    For those of you with blogs, I will read, comment and add them to my list!!!

    I wanted to respond to each of you individually and I will in time. Yesterday I actually did (it was loooooong) but then when I tried to post my comment IT DISAPPPEARED!!! Needless to say I had to walk away for a while.

    Thanks again. Bless all of you!!! Let's keep fighting for the rights of Americas children any way we can!!!