I’d Rather Be Testing…

The phrase that drips with sarcasm during this time of year (which is a recurring event throughout the school year) is “We’d rather be testing than teaching, right?” At work we have been doing more of the required state testing using our computers rather than basic pencil and paper. We not only are doing our rounds of the standard testing on our computers, but a new system they are field testing on top of it. Never mind the fact that we spent more than a month last fall doing exactly the same testing.

Here is how it works:
The state dictates how and when we will test these youngsters (mine are in the 6-8th Grade range). When they (that wonderfully ambiguous ‘they’) give us a new system, it is up to us to utilize the resources at our immediate disposal in order to implement it. So in addition to the time allocated from classrooms the students will be taking these tests, we in the IT support world must take away access to the technologies we have in order to prepare for the testing to be done.

In essence, due to powers beyond our control (for now), we have to take computers out of classrooms, then we have to take the kids out as well. To put this in a little perspective, there has been much feedback making the rounds in tech department emails, most of it completely negative. Not flaming or irrational, but just things that don’t work, and more so, hurt the kids’ ability to learn and use technology.

So many, like myself, had to completely wipe out and re-image dozens and dozens of computers (I had about 140 to do, half twice-over, 3 at a time) well before testing was to begin. And these are increasingly heavily used labs of laptops that are wheeled into classrooms (something very cool indeed.)

Other departments have brought in the numbers, namely the fact that nearly all of the technology that is integrated into classroom work gets tied up for testing for over half a term. At my school, we use up a little over 2 months for testing. Yes, it is staggered, kids aren’t out of classrooms for that long. But the labs are tied up for that long. Given all vacation time, students are in school for about eight months total, and for one fourth of that time they don’t have research, writing, or creative use of our computers.

It certainly seems like a good use of funding and the limited time these youngsters have in school, no? The teachers regularly complain (among so many other grievances) about not having enough classroom time with their students. It is not even just the teachers having difficulty justifying it. Administrators cannot believe how much time we devote to testing instead of teaching, and they voice it to us, too.

It’s an awful position we put ourselves in, truly. All the teachers would rather be teaching, and all the students would rather be learning. So what to do? How do we fix it?

Now, I work in the technology field. And part of my solution: stop using computers for testing at all. Apart from students who need specialized assistance, using technology slows down the process rather than speeds it up. Why? Because not all kids are tech savvy. Sure they can use gadgets specifically marketed to them, but it’s not universal. I have some kids who can work in flash, and others who can’t figure out how to save a word document after doing it for four years.

My assumption on how we got to this terrible place is that it is because it is the technology experts who demonstrate the functions of any piece of software. So when a tech person says ‘sure, it’s a snap’, they mean for them. It’s rare to find one who understands the difference between how they work with technology, and how a layperson does.

So, since not all kids can use technology the same, and since any technology now requires more set up and constant monitoring and maintenance, let’s get back to our pencils and paper. I say the same with all voting systems. Let us mimic the British: check off on a small piece of paper who you want elected, and stuff it in a box. Then, for that precinct, have dozens of little old ladies race to be the first counted and double-counted out of the county and country. Minimal error, humans are accurate, and you can’t beat the simplicity. Simple = error free.

My other solution: stop testing at all! Let’s go to what so many brilliant, industrial, universal education systems do: you don’t move on until you pass a rigorous exam every couple of years. This does two things: leaves more room for teaching and less room for kids to be left in the dust due to thin and hasty teaching, plus it ensures that all kids at a grade level are, in fact, at the same grade level.

Let us actually be tough and get kids up to par. We can raise the bar, and they’ll make it there and push themselves for it. Imagine a world where if you don’t put in the effort, you won’t get to move on. Holy cow, I might even have been a good student in school.

… but probably not.