All the RAGE

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how I feel about state tests. Basically? I feel uncharitable towards them. Very uncharitable. Large, standardized monsters are taking over my children's education (or at least, that's how it feels).

I had more or less made my peace with it though. After all, there are a lot of stupid useless things in this world, and we all need to learn to deal with them, and if the ELA and the math tests weren't actually teaching my children anything useful on an intellectual level, at least they were showing them how to handle the idiocy of daily life.

Don't I sound positive?

Then this happened:

The first thing to know is that Chestnut is really happy at her new middle school. She's enjoying the hell out of it: the new kids, new subjects, greater freedom. Then, one day, she came home and said, "It feels sort of bad that I'm not in book group."

Hm?

Chestnut: Yeah, they take a few kids—all the ones who are my reading level except for me—and take them somewhere separately to read The Diary of Ann Frank.

Me: Well can't you join them?

Chestnut: No, this other teacher comes in and takes them all out to some other place. It's obvious no one else is supposed to go.

Me: *black look on my face*

Chestnut: Mom, don't do anything…

Me: *furrowed brow*

Chestnut: Mom, it's fine, I'm going to read it on my own anyway, don't say anything, don't say anything!

I said something. Well, I sent a polite (I promise) email to the English teacher, noting that Chestnut really liked to read and wanted to be in this book group. Could she join?

I figured, really, that it was a misunderstanding, and Chestnut is shy, it's hard for her to ask for stuff, etc etc. Because, after all, why wouldn't they let a kid in English class join a book group if she wanted to?

I got an email back:

We've definitely noticed how much [Chestnut] loves to read and we're proud of the work that she's done in class so far. However, she won't be able to join the group. At the beginning of the school year, our administrators gave us a list of students that are required to be a part of these small enrichment book club groups for each class.  The list was based on last year's test scores.  Unfortunately, [Chestnut] didn't fall into the criteria that was determined by administration.  In addition, each group can only have 5-6 students.  Currently, the [Chestnut's class] group is full. 

I know that [Chestnut] would have really enjoyed being part of this group.  I apologize for having to decline.

Can you feel my rage from here? Can you believe this? CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT THE SCHOOL IS ACTIVELY EXCLUDING CHILDREN FROM BOOK GROUPS THEY WANT TO BE IN BASED ON THEIR TEST SCORES?

Chestnut, in fact, did well on the (stupid) ELA, but not the very top. Which is fine: she reads constantly, cares about school, and is an all-around excellent student (and person). After all, it doesn't really affect anything, right?

Except that it does. Her school is using her test score to exclude her from a book club.

This is just wrong. Kids who want to be in a book group should get to be in the damn book group. ALL kids. I know the schools struggle with personnel and levels and teaching classes of 32 kids—but this? This is wrong, I don't see it any other way. It's teaching kids the wrong thing. It says, "You know how you did on that test you took LAST YEAR? That's what matters. Not how you may have improved. Not what your teacher things. Your test scores."

This sickens me. It enrages me. And most of all, it makes me really sad, for everyone, really. For the teachers who don't get to decide for themselves. For all the kids, especially the ones who suck at tests but might, just might, be induced to read because books engage them more than tests. For everyone.

Chestnut, however, has gone off and read The Diary of Ann Frank AND Letters from the Secret Annex. So there.

I just wish she could have done so with other kids.

This, my friends, is the absolute opposite of what book clubs are about.

14 thoughts on “All the RAGE

  1. I am beyond the rage and instead just so sad. This breaks my heart. I read the Washington Post piece above and I am in total agreement. I was an elementary school teacher before I had kids and now I teach at the college level. I experienced some of the changes first hand, and they began before NCLB. But NCLB made everything MUCH worse. We treat teachers like technicians, not teachers. Real teaching takes skill, expertise, critical thinking, problem solving, nurturing, and a little luck. Now teaching is simply following directions. No wonder so many kids are falling through the cracks. (And, I am not ripping on teachers. I think they do their best to buck the system and use their skills, expertise, critical thinking, problem solving and nurturing in the spare time that they can steal from what they are “required” to do.)
    I am so sorry Chestnut (and YOU) had to experience this. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. And, most importantly it isn’t sound education.

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  2. Okay, so I’m going out on a limb and giving a slightly different perspective. It sounds like the school is trying to do *something* for gifted kids. This is a huge thing–my daughter is currently in a school which does zip, nada, zilch, because our state has absolutely no requirements for gifted education. (WTG, RI!) And it’s awful–her school (and her teacher) takes a very one-size-fits-most approach to education, and she’s been bored to tears this year because there’s absolutely nothing of the sort you describe. (Or as I like to call it, it’s the Lake Wobegon philosophy of education: All of our children are above average!)
    However. The idea that your school uses just one metric to define *who* is eligible for these extra opportunities is insane. Especially with something like reading, where 6 months of development can make such a huge difference. I would probably raise even more of a stink than you already have.

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  3. I hear you, Erika. Boredom is a huge problem for all the kids, I think, but what kills me is that they’re trusting…the state ELA to judge that for them? Not the teachers, or anything? To make it worse, when I called to discuss it further they said they used the ELA in part because it was so “arbitrary, it’s not subjective.” Which just made me think: how is that good? Does no one trust teachers’ judgment anymore?

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  4. Wow. Whomever you talked to at the school obviously meant to say “objective” rather than arbitrary, but interestingly enough, arbitrary is the perfect word to describe these tests, since it means either on a whim rather than systematic, or autocratic, unrestrained authoritarianism. Both of those definitions are spot on in regards to testing.

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  5. I’m fuming all the way over the other side of the world. Our federal government recently (over the last 5 years or so) introduced standardised testing for primary and secondary students, despite a wealth of research to show that such testing does not improve education but causes schools to start teaching to the test to get better results. The government said it was to help identify the schools that are performing poorly to give better funding to those schools. It then introduced a ‘ranking’ system for schools which in part uses these test results Some schools have come out and admitted that they are teaching to the test so that their school does better, is ranked higher and attracts more kids, given that government funding is allocated per child. Our little government school has led a campaign against the testing and the ranking. More than 90% of the school seeks an ‘exemption’ from sitting the tests. As only a few kids (maybe 5 or 6) take the test each year, the results are wildly variable -one well performing kid will bump the ‘average’ performance disproportionately as will one poor performing kid. Most other schools do not tell parents that they are entitled to have their kids not take the tests. At the very best it is just a huge waste of time and money but I suspect that much worse is true. The idea that these test results would be used to decide substantive aspects of education, such as who gets to join bookclub at school is really disturbing.

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  6. What I think is annoying is they say it is based on this assessment and only 5-6 kids can be in the group. If they are depending on an assessment shouldn’t they have a cut off score. It could change a lot year to year or within a district. All of this constant assessment just upsets me so much on so many levels. It just takes away from any education my kids are receiving. So sorry!

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  7. You sound furious and heartbroken and I think I would be, too. I’m sorry. That sucks.
    I do like that Chestnut had a basically resourceful response, like OK then, I’ll read it on my own. I wonder if there are internet book groups for kids that better mirror the true purpose of a book group. Maybe she could find some place online to enjoy that important social element. It’s not the same, though, and of course, of course, the school should be making this happen.
    You had a book review?! I guess I need to catch up on older posts!

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  8. Maddening. Bravo to Chestnut, though, for persevering and reading the books anyway. Full steam ahead, Chestnut!
    I just visited some old friends of my parents and their son, M, was also there, visiting with his son, E. As it happened, E, like my own daughter, is a 3rd grader. To try to start some connection between the 2 kids, I asked E what he was learning about in school. Although he was clearly bright and willing to speak on other subjects, the only thing E could tell me about school was how well he had done on his state tests–very well, apparently, and he was exceedingly proud.
    By contrast, my daughter, who is lucky enough to go to a school that has not yet exposed her to tests (though April and NYS’s mandated tests are just around the corner) could carry on about ancient China under Emperor Qin, the life cycle of the silk worm, and the social divisions of ancient Chinese society. (Her grade just concluded an Ancient China unit and the children had raised silkworms, learned to brush paint, read about and discussed Confucian values, etc.)
    The elevation of the test above all is wrong on so many levels. It is wrong when it denies Chestnut other children as reading companions. It is wrong when it leads E to undervalue actual content, for chrissakes.
    Thanks once again, Diamond, for making this scourge visible.

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  9. An interesting fact about these tests: The Science one in 4th grade had the question: ‘What is the solid form of water?’ on it.
    In. 4th. Grade.
    And this is what dictates lesson plans. How nice.

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