Kids are more than a test score

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By John Pawlak

Last month ended yet another semester for Los Alamos students. The new year promises to bring forth new discoveries, new challenges and new adventures.
 But one thing remains stolidly constant, like an ink stain on the educational carpet. Students will have a warehouse of testing to look forward to.
 Ah, everyone loves tests, don’t they? Like Mary Mary, oh so contrary, students sit silently all in a row, with pencils sharpened and spirits dulled, pouring out their competencies in scribbled reflections of measured competencies.
 Make sure you completely fill in all marked circles. Do not make any stray marks on the form!
 Use a number 2 pencil only.
 Now, heels and toes together, close your eyes, extend your arm and touch your nose.
 Keep your eyes focused on your own paper! Wandering eyes will be plucked out and fed to incoming freshmen!
 MAPS testing. Chapter tests. PSATs, SATs and ACTs. Final exams. NMSBA/HSGAs. ADCs.
 And somewhere in between all that testing, students are expected to learn! There must be a better solution.
 Fortunately, we “enjoy” the leadership of designate secretary of education Hanna Skandera, an expert in the art of testing, the science of collecting test results, the circus talent to juggle data, the culinary skill to cook up meaningless statistics, and the political posturing to do nothing with the results.
 So from the infinite wisdom of those with no teaching experience comes ... (drum roll please) ... the EOCs (End of Course testing)! Yet another test!
 As a teacher, I understand the need for testing (and I do test my students).
But with the myriad of problems plaguing New Mexico’s educational system, is mandating additional testing a sensible solution?
We need for someone to address the needs of the students rather than the bank accounts of testing organizations.
And that’s exactly what Los Alamos High School senior Emma Lathrop is doing. Her Facebook-based grassroots effort to refocus education on learning is gaining nationwide attention. Search on Facebook for New Mexico Students “D”Mand Better and join the crowd by “liking” the page. Then sign the “Stand4KidsNM” petition to stop corporate education reforms in New Mexico.
There is ample evidence that more testing doesn’t help. Even the state of Texas, teeming with warlords of test banks and textbook publishers, has revamped its testing policies and passed legislation to reduce the amount of testing their students receive.
And so I’m willing to listen to Emma.
She’s certainly more qualified to criticize the educational environment than the people who profit from the tsunami of tests imposed on today’s students.
It’s not about teachers, it’s not about Scantron cards, and it’s not about politics. It’s about students. We need to ask ourselves how to improve our schools. No, strike that. We need to ask our students!
If the New Mexico Public Education Department is so fond of testing, how about letting students create and administer a test to Skandera and Gov. Martinez? Do you think either of them knows who the 13th president was? Or how to put a quadratic into vertex form? Or the difference between irony and satire?
I know, I know. I’m being satirical. Ironic, isn’t it?
Lathrop stated in an interview that her public objection to the EOCs and her movement to “D”mand Better (filling in the test with only the answer “D”) would eventually get her called into the office.
I think she should in fact be called into the office! Isn’t that where administration would normally congratulate a student for demonstrating such a commitment to education?
She has reminded us all that testing does not define education. A sign put up in our school by the students said it all — “You are more than a test score!”
I strongly encourage everyone to visit and “like” Emma’s Facebook page, New Mexico Students “D”mand Better, and to sign the petition on the page asking NMPED to stop the insanity.
Our students “D”serve better from NMPED, not from testers.
If the NMPED continues to test its way to educational mediocrity, it should change its motto to reflect this mentality:
“Education is our business — not our policy.”