Schools are shifting into “Teach the test” mode, non-testable information is off limits

In a week or two, many local public schools will be shifting into “Test Preparation Mode.” That means that the regular instructional pace will be halted or slowed to a snail’s pace while the teachers switch to preparing students for high stakes standardized tests next month.

When schools switch into test mode, it means that for the next few weeks, until state testing begins, teachers are expected to digress from their regular plan of instruction and focus only on skills that will be tested next month.

Don’t expect any public school to spend any time on subject matter that is not testable. For example, don’t expect a single public school to focus on cursive writing skills. Although the ability to read and write cursive is an essential skill in the workplace or intellectual circles, it is not tested.

Today very few high school students in Monroe can read or write cursive writing. Recently a local educator wrote a note of praise and encouragement and gave it to an outstanding honor student to read. The student who scored high on the state exams in English and reading and posted a Straight-A average stared at the paper and was completely dumbfounded. She could not read a single word on the paper, even though it was written with a beautiful “school teacher” hand. She went through 12 years of public school, learned to scribble her signature in the third grade, but never read or wrote anything in cursive script since.

Cursive writing is not on the test, so it is not emphasized in most public schools, despite a state law that requires its instruction. The legislature passed a law in 2016 requiring schools to teach cursive writing by the third grade and continue the instruction through the 12th grade. That means schools should be insisting that assignments, homework, and other handwritten matter be written in cursive.

Although it took effect in August of 2017, there is probably not a school in the area that obeys this law. Why? The new law is being ignored because the legislature did not require that cursive writing be included on the statewide assessment test! Since schools are only evaluated by test results, the cursive writing law will be ignored. The Instruction for next month will be mostly test preparation.

Even the test itself will ignore the law because it will allow students to print their essay answers instead of writing them in cursive script.

In the weeks ahead students won’t be asked to do any memorization projects such as poems or sonnets. Anything that is not test prep material will not be taught in any public school. Black History instruction? Not on the test. Music? Art? Dance? Sports?Theater? Not on the test. Foreign Language? Memorization of timetables? Not on the test.

Anything that will not be testable will not be emphasized for the next month. That’s even more important to teachers since 30 percent of their professional evaluation will be based on student test scores. No matter how hard they work, their career can be tanked if test scores comeback low.

It gets even tougher because the BESE Board voted this week to toughen its standards for awarding letter grades. The prevailing argument is that an A school in Louisiana is far less than an A school in other states because the state grades on a curve. Local schools called D schools this year could very well be F schools next year. So schools are scrambling to teach the test to their students. Nothing else matters.

The state is expecting as much as 48% increase in the number of F schools next year.
This increased emphasis on the test gets more difficult because of the shortened school year. Because state testing will begin for most schools in April, schools don’t have much time to actually teach material before its time to test. School starts in August but is interrupted for Labor Day. From September to November school rolls at a steady clip until the Thanksgiving Holiday, followed by the Christmas Holiday, followed by the King Holiday, Teacher Inservice Days, Bad Weather Days, Presidents Holiday and Spring Break then the Easter break. Since all of March and April will be spent preparing for the test not much else will be on the school calendar academically.

After the test has been given, school is effectively over for the year. Schools will go through the motions until the end of May and fake it like the rest of the year matters. There will be field trips on top of field trips, school parties and other babysitting functions, but after the test is over both students and faculties of schools are burned out.

Once the state test has been given. It’s over.

Oh what a game the state plays!