Thursday, June 05, 2014


Written by Red Queen in L.A., from her blog |

Thursday 5 Jun 2014  ::  “Teaching To The Test” is a pedagogical revolution. Far from benign, it amounts to a coup d’état of not only the minds of our children, but their hearts as well.

Informally, in my personal experience, I became vaguely aware by rumor during the 70′s that some students broke the rules and gamed standardized tests (e.g., SAT and other nationally-generated and administered, computer-graded, entrance exams) by spending a lot of money cramming extracurricularly, all for purportedly little or no gain. Unprofessionally, it was sniffed, some select classroom teachers even debased their craft by gearing its very content, the “curriculum”, toward standardized tests. In so narrowing the classes’ focus, these practitioners simultaneously devalued the tests by introducing bias, pandered to ambitious students and parents and capitulated to self-aggradizement at the expense of their very profession, scholastics.

Flash-forward forty years and it seems the essence of modern “Educational Reform” is to upend that formerly degenerate state of teaching and retool it as The Solution.

This is a new twist on The Big Lie where something wrong is repeated so loudly and frequently that it becomes gospel; this is actually reversing formerly-believed gospel and rebranding it as wrong while its inverse becomes the New Best Practice. The New Black is not just a competing color, but its reverse, the absence of color, say, White.

So in the New Educational Order, computerized Common Core “State” Standards (CCSS) are manifested in tests generated and administered nationally by non-educators, and instructional materials will be back-filled to “align” with the Standards as manifested in the tests.

Not only has it become desirable, therefore, to teach to a test, it is mandated.Teachers are being trained and installed in computerized lesson-administration, replacing experienced teachers of a previous generation who understood such shenanigans to be unprofessional.

To what end, and at what expense?

While the true end is debated fiercely, meanwhile the expense plays itself out daily in the academic experience of our actual children.

As mentioned previously, tests unreflective of, and unknowable in, their relationship to material taught redistributes emphasis from material absorbed during the entire length of a class term, to the mysterious point-assessment of a highstakes final exam (“summative assessment”).

While the claim is made that our schools are “failing” at teaching and failing our children, all this CCSS testing results in significantly less “instructional time” – that is, time spent in the classroom, actually receiving instruction and learning.

For example at one LAUSD school, despite theoretical assurances to the contrary a priori, during electronic test-practice it became empirically obvious that there was insufficient bandwidth to support one and a half thousand test-taking individuals simultaneously. The toll to “instructional time” in service of electronic tests recording already-accrued ‘learning’, amounted to 4 days of practice-testing, plus 9 days of actual-testing, at 1/3 of each day’s instructional time. While there were “just” 3 days’ worth of tests, because only 1/3 of the school could take the test on a given day, for each day spent testing, 2 more days were spent sitting in a non-instructional classroom, literally twiddling fingers. No teaching, no learning, just sitting. Maybe some reading occurred among the more diligent of children. A lot of bored-kid acting out and gratuitous getting-into-trouble happened on account of so much unstructured, vacant time.

In all 4 1/3 days of school were lost to testing by design, 1 1/3 of that spent on practicing the test, 1 spent taking the test, and 2 entire days worth of instructional time lost just to sitting. [NB: at this school the last two days of testing were found to be collapsible into one, so when the dust all settled, a mere 4 full days, not 4 1/3 days, were ultimately lost].

And the sequelae of shifting emphasis from learning to the tests doesn’t stop there. As a consequence of nothing mattering except tests and grades, after the school’s final grades are collected two weeks short of the close of school, teaching simply ceases in the classroom. Instead of conducting an academic unit, say, just for fun, because nothing is written into distantly- and derivatively-constructed curricula, nothing gets taught in the classroom. For days on end.

When all is said and done, corporately structured tests and the curricula written to reflect them, result in significantly less time spent actually teaching anything at all, never mind the age-independent, unproven and alienating dictats handed from on high.

It seems a peculiar solution to a purported problem of “failure”, to spend less time than ever engaged in the beleaguered activity of “learning”.

It doesn’t take a parent’s pedigree to imagine the toll so much academic slovenliness takes on a participant’s mind. A school that formerly engendered rather positive, engaged and academically excited feelings is transformed into an image of boredom and tension and frank aversion. The fuse for betraying a promise of academic pursuit can be short in the young. There is so much to learn and it is all so delicious that enforced sloth turns to disdain very quickly. True learning is considered a youngster’s basic civil right in our society. Scorn is the price to pay for denying their birthright, denying a teacher’s instructional time, denying true learning conditions, convoluting the process of instruction under whatever guise the brand is cagily marketed.


2cents smallThe Red Queen and The Queen of Hearts are often confused; the Red Queen appears in Through the Looking Glass, The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. This false conflation of the two characters did not begin with but is is perpetuated by Disney, Tim Burton and The Jefferson Airplane.

The two share the characteristics of being strict queens associated with the color red. However, their personalities are very different. Indeed, Carroll, in his lifetime, made the distinction between the two Queens by saying:

”I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion - a blind and aimless Fury. The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm - she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the 10th degree, the concentrated essence of all governesses!”  Lewis Carroll, in "Alice on the Stage"

The identity of the Red Queen in L.A. is a not very well kept secret, but I will protect it here. She is real parent at a very real Westside middle school.  ‘Real’ and ‘unreal’ being subject to Carrollian interpretation and LAUSD nonsense. Professionally a scientist, she is recovering from from a Liberal Arts Education.


Richard Sugerman said...

You're a PTA guy? Explain to me why the PTA are in love with the CCSS please.


smf said...

Richard: The cheap+easy answer is National PTA took money from the Gates Foundation early on to support the CCSS, exactly like the AFT. Were we bought and paid for? You tell me.

I am one member in a 6 million person association - and while I see the problems with the CCSS I also see the advantages of some of the thinking behind it...and the disadvantages of some of the folk behind it.

¿Pearson anyone?