Back to School Blogging

So, it’s that time of year, kids, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the back-to-school fun than some random commentary about education.

Tonight’s topic: Teaching to the Test.

I’m for it.

It would be one thing if the teachers made up the test and knew what questions would be asked of the students, but they don’t. It would be one thing if the teachers were making the kids memorize the answers to questions in advance, but they’re not. They know what kinds of questions there will be and they teach accordingly. Oh the horror, my friends on the left cry out, if a teacher knows that the quadratic equation will make an appearance of some sort and then teaches the kids how to apply said equation. Why then, all the kid knows is – um, what they were supposed to know by the end of that class.

Teacher’s union in Texas is whining that the state is requiring that 60% of studens pass in the humanities, 40% in math and a 35% in science. They say that this makes them spend too much time teaching how to answer these questions and not enough time teaching how to apply the problems to daily life.

Ahem.

So…you don’t have enough time to teach the kids what we’re paying you to teach them and to teach them critical thinking skills instead.

Excuse me, I know that a lot of teachers have a crappy lot in life – they don’t get paid much, they get stuck with crappy government insurance and retirement, and they have to deal with runny-nosed, attitude-sporting little cretins all day long. I’m intimately acquainted with that fact. Three months off for summer just doesn’t seem like enough compensation.

But – and you knew there would be one – if the kids can’t pass the tests, then they do not have the requisite knowledge to be applying their “critical thinking” skills. Unless they plan on working for Reuters, they will need to know the facts before running with them. Just the way it is.

Let’s say you teach Texas History and we’re coming up on test time. If you’re pretty sure that your students know that Santa Ana and Ozzy Osbourne didn’t assault the Alamo at the same time and most of the other details they will need to pass, then feel free to discuss the contemporary arguments about state’s rights and the Republic of Texas wackos out in Jeff Davis county. But if you’re not sure about that, then sorry. You will have to focus on making sure they know the material required first, even if your insightful commentary on the War on Terror and the Alien and Sedition Acts gets left out.

Now, I’m not saying the test score is an all-important gauge of a teacher’s merit. There are a lot of variables, the most important of which is the student’s motivation to succeed which the teacher may have nothing to do with. And I know some kids just freak when it’s test day and forget everything they’ve learned until the minute the test is over. Been there. But I’m not talking about a kid or a handful of kids. I’m talking about the 65% of kids who aren’t expected to pass math. If a few students have a bad day on the test or if some kids just never took it seriously and didn’t pass, that’s one thing. But a teacher who has a 60% failure rate? Wow. I really hope those kids are good at that critical thinking.

So, yeah, I understand that a lot of teachers are frustrated by the standards the students are being held to, especially since student performance is how teachers and schools are rated. I know that most of a child’s educational growth is dependant on their motivation to do well and learn, which can be and often is sabotaged by parents, siblings and classmates – all of which is out of the teacher’s hands. I get that. But if teachers want to complain, they should complain about that, not about how hard the test is.

Just saying.

And, for your amusement, here are some sample questions from the storied test.

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