Kristen put this in my comment section, and my answer is very long, so just skip it if you aren't interested in education. (Nancy, I'd love for you to weigh in with your opinion! Several of my readers are products of the Texas education system.)
Frances: This is not controversial or meant to be, just a question. I was wondering how you feel about the situation going on in the news regarding the 3rd graders being held back b/c they can't pass the test with basic reading and math skills. You being a teacher who deals with the kids that were never taught and just passed through the school system, I would like to know how you feel about this issue. Thanks
I think the current method of just passing kids along has got to stop. At some point, these students are going to find out that they can't just slide by, and unfortunately, that usually happens in the business world. If kids know they have to pass a test, they work hard and do pass it. If they know the test isn't going to matter, they shine it on. The San Francisco Chronicle reported a Canadian study which indicated that students of whom expectations were higher performed better. Well duh.
The problem in implementing this--as we have found with California's STARS test--is that the tests are not aligned with the curriculum, so students are being tested on things they have not been taught. The two have to work together to be successful.
The current procedure in early elementary school is for everyone to be creative and have a wonderful time. They celebrate every holiday, cutting out construction paper shapes, and they do big projects like making pigs out of Clorox bottles. This has got to come to an end to make time for more math and phonics. I think third grade is just about right to give such a test.
Teachers will probably fight this. You'd be surprised how many teachers don't have basic reading and math skills. They'd rather make pigs out of Clorox bottles and Easter baskets out of milk jugs. (I'm the first to admit, there is nobody more fun to go play with that 25 second graders.) There is a test called the PRAXIS--used to be called the National Teachers' Exam. It tests general knowledge, and someone who passes it is considered knowledgeable enough to teach all subjects in a self-contained classroom. In California, if you pass the exam, you can get a multiple-subject credential with it. (You still have to do all the other credential stuff, but the curriculum part is done if you pass the test.) I took this test because I had applied for a job at the prison, and those are self-contained classrooms. A girl I knew from grad school took the test with me. Before the test, we were talking to the other people who were there, and most of them had failed it before, some of them several times. One lady had taken the test eight times and she was planning to go to San Jose the next weekend to take it again! All these people could do was moan about how hard it was.
At the lunch break, I met my friend and said "Am I missing something? This test is a joke." We agreed that it was probably one of those tests that you think you are going to ace it and then it turns out you missed the point entirely and you are a dismal failure. Oh well, we thought. Well, I got my results and I was in the 99th percentile--without having studied, taken a refresher course, or even (forgive me!) prayed. During my five years teaching for the elementary district, I met a lot of people who had been unable to pass the test but they are still teaching on emergency credentials, and occasionally trying to pass because there is such a shortage of people with a valid credential.
The high school district was worse. Those people want to spend zip time on basic skills, which they believe should have been learned in elementary school (as they should have!) and they only want to teach their subject matter. Plus, a high school teacher has a couple hundred students a year. There is not time and manpower enough to remediate everyone by that point. Kids have got to get the basics down before puberty, because once they hit middle school everyone is just going for six years of survival.
And that is why I have a job. Some of my students are thirty years old and not able to read at a third grade level. Recently in the news, the University of California and the California State University systems announced that they would no longer accept students who were unprepared to work at university level in reading and math. Guess where those students are going to go? Job security for me.