Thursday, May 19, 2011

Test Driven Creativity

May Madness is Here!  Testing season is officially open.  My third grade daughter told me just the other day that her school had a pep rally.  Confused about why an elementary school without sports or other competitive activities would have a pep rally, I would find out quite matter of factly, "for SOLs dad."

I can't find fault with the measures that our elementary schools take to encourage students to perform well on their end of year tests.  I've yet to really figure out if there are any incentives (external or internal) for the students to perform well, but I know for certain that our teachers and schools face quite a bit of external incentive for their students to perform well.  That probably explains the trio of videos I want to share this week that my son shared with me last week.

This one is a parody of "Tik Tok" by Ke$ha.  I have to hand it to the band director that created this one.  Well made and quite entertaining.  If you're out there, I'm not poking fun, I admire your ability and creativity.  It does pain me that there is a need to direct this talent toward motivating students to do their best on standardized tests.

The next video comes from the same creative mind.  Geared toward a middle school crowd, who better to parody that Justin Bieber.  "Benchmark, Benchmark, Benchmark ooohhhhh".  At forty-one seconds, we are able to see what has become the "holy grail" of education, the completed bubble sheet.

I'm not quite as much a fan of this next one.  I can't quite explain it, maybe it's the song, but the mood of this video just seems so much more "Brick-in-the-Wall" Pink Floyd than "Teach Your Children Well" Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  These are fifth graders ready to put on their "Test Taker Face."

I don't intend to be offensive toward any of the students or teachers who created these videos. Your creativity and excellence in production is quite evident. The reason these videos stand out so much for me is because I've seen first hand from my own children in elementary school, from other elementary schools that I've visited, and in the high school where I teach just how these standardized tests take over a school and bring it to a stand still. Activities, educational and otherwise cease to accommodate and make room for the sacred space of testing.


  1. These are incredibly disturbing. Why not just have the kids think of the tests as "no big deal" ... they are so confident and well prepared by doing all the hard work yearlong that these are just something to do -- and have the Pep Rally afterward!

  2. To answer your question "Why not just have the kids think of them as 'no big deal'"?

    Because they are a big deal; a HUGE deal. What kind of headlines hit the local papers when a school fails to meet AYP? It doesn't matter that much of the public doesn't even completely understand what that means, the fact that your school didn't make it is a headline.

    New York and Virginia just passed legislation (already in place in some states) that will tie 40% of a teachers evaluation to these tests. That's partly been the point of the last several posts on the Underground. These tests are a big deal no matter what anyone else says.

    It would be nice to think that you could just teach a good course and test scores will follow. That is likely true much of the time, but we've put way too much at stake on these tests.