Thursday, July 17, 2014

Corporation Created Computer Generated Tests or the Human Touch

Corporation Created Computer Generated Tests or the Human Touch
     In the 1920’s large corporations began buying up family farms in the Midwest and running them at factory speeds to ramp productivity using and reusing land to produce crops.  The result was the dust bowl.  Today corporations are taking over education.  Corporation created computer-generated tests are not an effective solution for schools, because first, they are costly; second, they make teaching less of a creative act, so schools are less likely to attract the best qualified teachers; and third, they bore intellectually-gifted students and worse yet they increase the anxiety of struggling students.  

                 These companies create weekly test to collect data and based on a student's performance assign computer-generated drills to maximize students’ performance on computer-generated assessments.  In fact, an entire industry has emerged to write common core tests, practice tests and teaching materials.  These corporations are getting rich on this new legislation.  Lucrative contracts with states and school districts are earning these companies a fortune while teachers’ salaries are stagnant.
                Teaching has never been a well-paid career, but has always had the benefits of interaction with children and a creative release when developing new ways to reach those students.  More teachers were like starving artist, because they enjoyed both the students and inventing new avenues to reach those students.  Since the corporations have taken over, more and more of the creative aspects of teaching, good teachers are leaving the profession and fewer creative new teachers are joining.  It is true that these testing programs can improve the teaching of those incompetent teachers who provide students with film festivals, rather than actually teaching, but they critically hamper the teaching of talented, creative teachers.  Basically they reduce teaching to a paste pudding.  

                Just like the soil in the Midwest that lost all of its nutrients from over use has a negative impact; our students are going to lose all of their motivation to learn.  Worse is what they do to the struggling at-risk students, because it removes the human factor. There is a high correlation between the students who do poorly on the tests and those with poor attendance or poor attitudes.  According the PBS program, Frontline,  “Omarina’s Story” , students who miss 20% or more of the days during any quarter, receive a failing grade in any of their core classes or an unsatisfactory citizenship grade in any core class are 75% more likely to drop out of high school.  They also found that intervening with these students during the middle grades improved their likelihood of graduating. These are the students who are already suffering anxiety because of outside pressures.  These are also the students who are failing the state standardized tests.  

       How do we really solve the problem?   To solve this problem teachers and administrators need to ask “why” these students are absent and intervene to help them solve their problem.  For example, Ted, one of my past students, communicated to me that his mother had abandoned the family, his father had lost his job and the family was homeless.  He often didn’t come to school because his clothing was dirty and ragged and he did not even have a place to shower or brush his teeth.  I discussed this information with his other teachers and the gym teachers offered to allow him to shower and brush his teeth in the gym before school.  Another member of the team picked up a few outfits for the boy at the Good Will.  The gym teacher agreed to wash them for when he washed the football uniforms.   Ted’s attendance improved and so did his grades.  If a student like Ted is bombarded by weekly tests in every core class and suffers failure after failure on computerized tests, he will become more anxious and instead of helping him become successful, he will drop out.

                Other problems are not as simple and may manifest themselves in other ways than poor attendance.  For example, a student may have lost a parent, been physically or sexually abused, or is suffering from a custody battle.  All of these students are in highly anxious states and may act out or have poor attitudes.  Adding more pressure is not helping them.  For example, another student, Lasandra, a bright girl, but an angry one was not performing as well as could be expected.  The school where I was teaching had developed a program, “Century Club,” where teachers identified students like Lasandra, enrolled them in honors classes, and  a small study skills class for added support.  That was my class.  One morning arriving early, as is my custom, I found Lasandra waiting outside my classroom.  She wanted to talk.  She shared her story.  Lasandra had been living with her mother, a heroin addict, in Florida with four other siblings.  To supply herself with drugs, her mother regularly would bring men home and allowed them to have sex with Lasandra, then eleven.  On top of the countless incidences of sexual abuse, her mother would disappear for days at a time leaving Lasandra to care and feed her four younger siblings.  Her mother’s absences continued to be more frequent and longer.  Eventually, after an absence of two weeks, food supplies were depleted and the rent was due.  Desperate, Lasandra called her aunt in another town.  The aunt came, picked up all the children and contacted each child’s biological father to take custody of his child.  Apparently, each child had a different father; thus they were all separated.  Lasandra was sent to live with a father she had never met in California.  Although she was apprehensive about her father as her mother had painted a grim picture of him, she was more concerned about the fate of her mother and worried about her siblings for whom she had cared.  Luckily, for Lasandra her father and new step-mother were caring parents who after hearing Lasandra’s story got her counseling and helped her contact her siblings.  Nevertheless, imagine burdening such a child with repeated failures one computer generated tests.  It would only increase her anxiety instead of motivating her to learn.
                These types of problems are in every school and every social-economic level.  For example, Juanita's father required dialysis twice a week. Fearing deportation her mother took all of the children out of school to sit with husband.  The children got further and further behind.  She too would be over burdened with the added pressure of these computer generated tests.
                 Schools are not factories and teachers are not robots.  To improve education we need to identify the students who are struggling, learn why they are struggling and give them the tools and resources to help them overcome their difficulties.  If we spend our resources working systematically to solve the problems of these students instead of lining the pockets of corporate America, we will not only lower our drop-out rates, but increase the number of students who are empowered to succeed in life.  The human touch is important.  Fertilize our fields and let our children grow, one child at a time, not the corporate giants.  Do you want to know why America’s schools are behind the European schools?  Take a closer look at each child and don’t let them become the next dust bowl.