"We don't teach kids anymore. We teach test-taking skills. We all teach
to the test. I long for the days when we used to teach kids."

Rocky River Middle School Principal David Root critical of emphasis on school tests

By Regina Brett

from The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Wednesday, July 23, 2008

he school report cards came out in June.

Rocky River Middle School did well on the 2008 Ohio Achievement Tests, required to be given each year to assess math, read ing, science, social studies and writing skills among all the state's public-school students in grades three through eight. The school earned an "Excellent" rating and met the mandates for Adequate Yearly Progress.

For all those accomplishments, Principal David Root has only one thing to say to the students, staff and citizens of Rocky River: He's sorry.

Root wants to issue an apology. He sent it to me typed out in two pages, single-spaced.

He's sorry that he spent thousands of tax dollars on test materials, practice tests, postage and costs for test administration.

Sorry that his teachers spent less time teaching American history because most of the social-studies test questions are about foreign countries.

Sorry that he didn't suspend a student for assaulting another because the attacker would have missed valuable test days.

orry he didn't strictly enforce attendance rules because all absences count against the school on the State Report Card.

He's sorry for pulling children away from art, music and gym, classes they love, so they could learn test-taking strategies.

Sorry that he has to give a test for which he can't clarify any questions, make any comments to help in understanding or share the results of so students can actually learn from their mistakes.

Sorry that he kept students in school after they became sick during the test, because if they couldn't finish the test as a result of illness, the students would automatically fail it.

Sorry that the integrity of his teachers is publicly tied to one test.

"I have a strong compassion for the puberty-stricken."

He apologized for losing eight days of instruction because of testing activities.

For making decisions on assemblies, field trips and musical performances based on how that time away from reading, math, social studies and writing would affect state test results.

For arranging for some students to be labeled "at risk" in front of their peers and put in small groups so the school would have a better chance of passing tests.

For no longer focusing as a principal on helping his staff teach students but rather on helping them teach test indicators.

Root isn't anti-tests. He's all for tests that measure progress and help set teaching goals. But in his eyes, state achievement tests are designed for the media to show how schools rank against each other.

He's been a principal for 24 years, half of them at Rocky River Middle School, the rest in Hudson, Alliance and Zanesville. He loves working with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. "I have a strong compassion for the puberty-stricken," he joked.

His students, who are 11, 12, 13 and 14, worry that teachers they love will be let go based on how well they perform.

One asked him, "If I don't do well, will you fire my teacher?"

He cringed when he heard one say, "I really want to do well, but I'm not that smart."

He wants students to learn how to think, not how to take tests.

"We don't teach kids anymore," he said. "We teach test-taking skills. We all teach to the test. I long for the days when we used to teach kids."

Unless we get back to those days, principals and teachers all over Ohio will continue to spend your tax dollars to help students become the best test-takers they can be.

NCLB's Big Booster Makes a U-Turn

A Mar. 2, 2010 profile piece by Sam Dillon in The New York Times described the disillusionment of Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of NCLB's most ardent boosters. The piece, "Scholar's School Reform U-Turn Shakes Up Debate," can be found online at: www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/education/03ravitch.html.

The first two paragraphs of the article:

Diane Ravitch, the education historian who built her intellectual reputation battling progressive educators and served in the first Bush administration’s Education Department, is in the final stages of an astonishing, slow-motion about-face on almost every stand she once took on American schooling.

Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical. She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education. She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative research groups.


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