Thursday, October 31, 2013

These Questions Need Some Teeth!

Perhaps I'm being too dramatic and reactionary here, but a recent experience has really pissed me off.  While in a training, the presenter passed out what they claimed was a Smarter Balance sample question for writing.  The prompt asked, 3rd graders, to "write two to four paragraphs describing and comparing different tooth traditions.'

What the hell is a 'tooth tradition?!'  These ridiculous tests have the potential to have significant impact on the children to who take them, and the teachers who bust their asses to better them.  Peoples entire careers can be affect by these test results and this is how they assess?!  Tooth traditions?!

Students of affluent backgrounds already generally do fine on these tests.  It's often children of impovershed backgrounds that struggle.  So why are we stacking the deck against them with questions like this?

Several years back we had a boy who was having such severe tooth pain that another teacher and I drove him to a free dental clinic.  He was in 4th grade and had never been to a dentists.  He had teeth that were literally rotting in his head, were infected, and that need to be pulled immediately.  Is that the kind of 'tradition' the test writers are after?

A couple years ago one of the principals in my district delivered a Christmas tree to one of our families.  The children cried and hugged him- refusing to let go.  They'd never had a Christmas tree before.  I find it difficult to believe that families that can't support one of the most common American holiday traditions, have an abundance of background knowledge on traditions of teeth.

I'm obviously aware of the tradition of putting a tooth under your pillow and having the Tooth Fairy leave you some money.  But this simply isn't a traditional for all.  Schools and churches collect canned food, toys, mittens, coats, soap, etc., all holiday season because of the volume of families who need them and can not afford them.  It is fair to conclude that many of our families do not have the means to place money under their young childrens pillows when they lose a tooth (or won't if they work nights, are neglectful, or gone from the child's life altogether).

Sure, a great writer could read a couple passages and depending on what knucklehead is scoring the test, probably 'pass' it (I barely know what means anymore).  However, there is no doubt that having a background in having your mommy sneak in and put money under your pillow each time your lose a tooth gives those students a profound edge in succeeding on this question.  

But it's the teachers and schools who are failing the kids right?

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