The fact that this even warrants a blog post is mind-boggling to me.
Tonight marked the third time in–oh, I don’t know, two weeks?–when my intelligent, dutiful oldest daughter went to bed worrying about the timed math paper she was going to be forced to complete in school the next day. “We used to be able to do [the math problems] in five minutes but now we have to do the same amount in THREE minutes,” she fretted, her forehead wrinkled in concern as she peered up at me from her bed.
Meanwhile, in a district fifteen miles away, a colleague’s son was recently informed that he had failed a similarly timed math assessment because he had “only” computed 27 out of 30 math facts correctly (or some such nonsense).
When will teachers, parents, administrators, and anyone else creating or administering these ridiculous tests learn that these timed assessments–whether they are math, reading, or basket-weaving, for all the hell I care–are not reliable measures of what students can do?
But there, of course, is the rub. These types of assessments are not intended to demonstrate what students can do. If they were, my youngest daughter (who attends the same school as her older sister) wouldn’t continually be forced to do them, because she has ALREADY DEMONSTRATED MORE THAN ONCE THAT SHE IS PROFICIENT at completing these timed worksheets. Instead, these types of assessments are created and administered for the purpose of exposing what students CANNOT do (e.g., successfully complete 25 multiplication problems or “read” a 150-word passage in an arbitrarily-selected amount of time on a given day). They are created and administered for the purpose of sorting students into categories that only add to the anxiety that our public school system, as a whole, exacerbates with its focus on “accountability,” “standardization,” and “college and career-readiness.”
Never mind that most mathematicians will tell you that when solving a complex, real-world problem, they will not rely on the automaticity of their math facts, but on a calculator–so as not to make a simple mistake that can be avoided.
Never mind that most seasoned, proficient readers will tell you that reading too quickly robs them of comprehension and of the pleasure that comes from savoring a beloved text.
Never mind that both my daughters are blessed to attend a good school, with otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate teachers. This kind of foolishness still takes place on (what seems like) a weekly basis. Why?
I have my own hunch. What’s yours?