Once again the Nashville based Tennessee State Department of Education, have shown their lack of understanding of teaching and learning.
A number of years ago, a new State Commissioner of Education queried the staff there about why they chose October to do the statewide writing assessment. Finally one spoke up and said, "the testing service said they had some down time during October." That was not a sound reason for selecting that time of year and indicated indifference to the teaching and learning process.
With students in school only six to eight weeks after summer vacation, this was not a good time to get them ready for high stakes testing.
For those who would charge teachers were teaching the test, I offer this: there are no answers to memorize. The test is designed to measure creative writing in response to a writing prompt using a format designed by the state. Failure to use the format or lack of creativity reduces the score.
My point is this, people who are so removed from teaching keep upping the stakes and piling on more requirements. Many state people tried teaching and didn't like it and are now in positions of authority making decisions not always considering what is best for students. Some of these staffers have never taught children.
And finally, politics plays a large role in these decisions. Elected officials want to be seen as making great strides or breakthroughs in education among their peers or voters.
Surprisingly, there are no magic initiatives that to this date work imperially across this country. If there were, I guarantee, almost every school district would be using them and gains would be phenomenal.
There is no substitute for hard work by teachers, students and parents. But without a desire to learn and a premium value being placed on education and the hard work it takes to achieve it, I fear we'll continue in the Twillight Zone of State Department experiments like this latest one.
* * *
Ralph Miller speaks to points in the educational circles that we all have pondered. Not only is there too much testing, but too much centralized control of what actually happens in the classrooms. Teachers, in my opinion, have lost the ability to both see needs of individual students but more importantly, permission and autonomy to solve educational riddles of the student that struggles.
Testing has been a given for many years and each year the results are posted for subjects like math and reading. Yes, math scores went up a bit this TCAP test period, but the all important reading scores went down. The downward trend of reading scores may open up the schools to more criticism and perhaps rightfully so.
Let me give you statewide figures for fourth grade students using data compiled by the National Association of Education Progress. Starting in 1992 the figure of the fourth graders that failed to achieve reading success was 42 percent; 2002 it was 42 percent; 2011 it was 40 percent. Four out of ten students failing to achieve reading success also means that many kids never accomplish and do not ever catch up. What happens to these kids? I'll tell you later in the next chapter.
The inner city schools of East Lake, Clifton Hills, East Side, Donaldson are probably four of the schools with most kids' free and reduced lunch and poor test scores on TCAP, but here is the question I would like to pose to school officials. There is a lot of hand-wringing when scores are published and the usual trumpeting of improvements, however slight. What is needed, however, is a complete transformation of the teaching of reading.
Dick and Jane was my reading text in the elementary grades. The publishers and the names of the curriculum have changed, but not the teaching pedagogy. Can I safely suggest that 40+ percent kids that do not learn sufficiently cannot learn using other, more helpful techniques? I'll answer that for the reader. It can and should be done.
Reading scores in these schools can be improved, but changes must occur and the school officials must do what they are charged to do and the taxpayers pay for. Schools that fail to adequately educate its student base should have the abilities and the expertise to determine why. Chattanooga is blessed with many teacher preparatory schools. Why not utilize both the learning student base and the faculties in the most efficient way possible. Make mistakes; correct; make progress; share; experiment with learning styles; of learning modalities; enrich the curriculum so kids want to be in school; do not misbehave and moms/dads are involved in the learning process.