Today was one of those days that destroys my faith in public education.
The backstory is this: the state of Maryland administers an exam to cover the skills taught in English 2 at the end of the sophomore year. The test is required for graduation, and its emphasis has grown every year since I’ve been a part of teaching in this state. It has especially grown with the advent of No Child Left Behind and the necessity of making Adequate Yearly Progress.
The Baltimore City Publics Schools System has been pressured in recent years for failing our students, and this failure is measured by these five tests. The data is published in the newspapers, and it’s a big deal to do well.
Because of the importance of these tests – both for the students to graduate and for the public perception that the kids are doing well – the system has paid Princeton Review nearly a million dollars to develop “benchmark” tests so that teachers can administer them and easily get scores back. However, the benchmark tests have been nothing but the recycling of HSA questions already released on the Maryland State Department of Education website. Basically, the BCPSS is spending nearly a million dollars to a company to recycle and repackage questions into benchmarks for the students of Baltimore, something that any teacher worth his snot has already done. It's a ludicrous waste of money and resources.
It sucks, and the online system to access the data is poorly designed and very slow, but admittedly it was cool to track kids’ progress after they had taken a couple of them. I used the data from the third benchmark to plan a lot of what I did in the fourth quarter. It's not worth a million dollars (imagine if we had textbooks to send home instead!) but it's been of some use at least.
Well, the kids took the English HSA last week. It was a torturously long three hour test, and almost all the kids feel like they did pretty well.
Phew! We’re done with all the test prep!
There have been rumblings was continuing on with the English benchmark system despite the fact that the kids have already taken the HSA, which was the test that those benchmarks were preparing the kids for. However, I just didn’t believe it. We also heard that we were going to be required to give one of the benchmarks as our final exam. Still, I didn’t believe it.
Well, today the benchmarks arrived. We’re being required to give them as our final exams, and it makes me so MAD!
However, we’re going to skirt it, and just give it to the kids and send the data along. Still, that means that the last day of regular classes (tomorrow, basically, since Friday is a half day for some inane reason) will be taken up by giving this bullshit benchmark that is supposed to be preparing kids for a test that THEY HAVE ALREADY TAKEN!
And, by the way, the HSA, as well as all the benchmarks that we are given, is just flat easy. We’re trying to prepare kids for college, and the HSA doesn’t do that at all. I have no problem preparing kids for it, because I guess it’s important to know if a kid graduates from high school that they have some basic skills. But for the city to require these benchmarks AFTER the actual test has been taken, instead of actual classroom instruction, is simply terrible. It’s the dumbing down of America that you hear that No Child Left Behind does. And it sucks, sucks, sucks.
I’m so sick and tired of dealing with incompetent people who think that teachers just don’t care enough to care about this sort of thing. I’m tired of not fighting harder, of placating in any way. This is a problem all the way up to the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, who, we understand, is behind this directive. The poorly-organized and educationally-unsound program just reeks of pushing papers instead of teaching kids, and that’s more tragic than any sort of low test score results could show.
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