Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Smarter than a Fifth Grader? Maybe Not on TCAP Test

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Chris Barbic, ASD superintendent
  • Chris Barbic, ASD superintendent
What I would love to see is the TCAP test for elementary school kids given to a random sample of adults in Tennessee. I bet a lot of them would fail it, or make a score far below what the state considers "proficient" in science, reading, and math.

Not because the adults are dumb but because school knowledge and test-taking skill are not the same as being a successful functioning member of society. Are you smarter than a fifth-grader? The answer is probably yes and no.

As you probably know by now if you are reading this, the TCAP scores for the six schools in the Achievement School District came out Wednesday. Five of the schools are in Memphis. Students improved in science and math, but the number of students deemed proficient in reading dropped by 4.5 percent to just 13.6 percent overall.

"It's the first year the kids have been held to a higher standard, and I think we need to continue to give the ASD our support," said school board member Dr. Jeff Warren.

Said board member Kenneth Whalum Jr., "The fact that some TCAP testing areas show improvement among ASD students proves that student achievement isn't rocket science. Focused attention, additional resources, smaller class sizes, and parental involvement usually enhance a poor student's ability to perform well in school. It also shows that "teaching to the test" works well. The fact that the Reading scores are down, as I understand it, proves that there is no guarantee that a child's comprehension skills are bettered by any measure aside from improving the home life of the child, as home is where
communication skills are honed."

I agree with both of these gentlemen.

The ability to read can't be faked, at least not on a standardized test. Most kids from reasonably well-to-do families learn to do it before they are in the third grade, with lots of help from family members. Kids who can't read a lick by then are screwed, and so is the teacher whose job rating depends on making them "proficient". My first job was teaching reading in Nashville, using flash cards, menus, road signs, and a baby book about "Cowboy Bob" to try to teach embarrassed teenagers how to read. Despite having the smallest classes in the school, I would not have made the ASD cut by a mile. Such is the road to journalism.

Basic literacy might not be enough to achieve "proficiency" because reading comprehension questions about random passages can be baffling and prompt a "don't have a clue" reaction. Reading for survival, entertainment, and spiritual sustenance has little relationship to the goofy questions that show up on tests and compare-and-contrast theme assignments.

Math is a code. If you have a fourth-grader or have ever been one, you know the tipping point is simple fractions, percentages, and relationships. Give Archimedes a lever and a place to stand he could move the world. Give a teacher a pizza, a pizza cutter, and a reasonable class size and he/she can move the scores. If you don't know what one-fourth means, much less that it is the same as 25 percent, you're screwed. Algebra? Bet there are plenty of college-educated business professionals who would flunk Algebra I today if they haven't been in a classroom in decades.

Science, I suspect, is a statistical outlier because it is rarely if ever taught at all in some failing schools, so any exposure at all, combined with practice testing, is likely to increase test scores.

So give the ASD some slack, and I hope the ASD gives its teachers some slack too, because longer hours and higher demands and drill and kill are going to turn classrooms into "sweat shops" as Kriner Cash said and drive them out of teaching, where most of them are badly needed.

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