published Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

David Cook: TCAP stole your kid

It's TCAP time in Tennessee, when prepubescent kids — chocolate milk stains on their shirts and stubby No. 2 pencils clutched tightly in their grip — spend hours and hours bubbling in question after standardized question.

Good moms and dads will want to serve up fresh fruits and veggies for dinner, get their kids to bed early, and then do the only thing a sane and caring parent can during TCAP week.

Keep your kid at home.

Boycott the standardized sucker.

"It's killing creativity,'' one Hamilton County teacher said Tuesday.

Of course it is. It's killing the true spirit of education, the morale of teachers and any sweet belief our kids may have that education is more than memorization.

This week, kids in grades three through eight take the TCAP, also known as Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, also known as The Craziest Assessment Possible. Next week, some first- and second-graders will take their own standardized test.

(Look out 5-year-olds. Some Tennessee schools already have started testing in kindergarten. Just after nap time, you'll take your college entrance exam!)

I'm not against testing. It has its place, just like cauliflower and trips to the dentist.

But to insert the monster of standardized testing into the center of the classroom, thus proclaiming it the most important thing schools do all year, is to doom this generation and future ones to a bland, robotic and utilitarian experience with education.

All year long, stressed teachers -- test scores affect as much as half of their final evaluation -- are forced to "teach to the test,'' which means they have to forgo the unexpected or unpredictable: a student asks a question, a conversation begins, a new project is dreamed up.

Schools spend weeks on test preparation, which means they aren't doing those things .... or taking field trips, having guest speakers, doing hands-on work. The most promising part of the classroom is not able to be tested, and thus is sacrificed.

"It's corrupting,'' said Walt Haney, a retired education professor at Boston College and senior researcher at the former National Board of Educational Testing and Public Policy.

Haney spent much of his career chronicling the problems of overtesting: teachers and administrators cheating to alter test scores; teachers kick low-performing kids out of schools to bolster test scores; the increase in repeat ninth-graders who are being held back in order to not take the test their 10th- grade year; how corporations that create standardized tests are making money hand over fist.

"Literally billions of dollars,'' Haney said.

I spent part of Tuesday taking a practice eighth-grade TCAP test. It wasn't so bad, full of information that will prove useful in years to come and other stuff that will become forgotten by Friday.

Who's the best teacher you ever had? Did he spend weeks teaching to the test? Or did she teach life and how to live it?

That's what is most wrong about overtesting; it robs teachers of their ability to work their magic.

In this changing world, the careers your kids will choose haven't even been dreamed up yet. With the speed of new technology, the ability to find information comes with 10 key strokes ( Schools should reflect this new world, putting emphasis on collaboration, creativity and problem-solving, not on standardized testing, an experience that will never be replicated in their adult life.

Want to really get kids an educational experience? Test them on the real world. Give kids a local problem -- low voter turnout, how to reduce waste, traffic jams, unemployment -- and give them the semester to solve it.

But you can't test that stuff. And as long as we allow our standards to be driven by a lack of imagination and a lack of respect and trust for our teachers and students, then we'll continue to get all of the above.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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medrep63 said...

Bravo Bravo Bravo David Cook....the state and the powers that be need to frame your column today! Kevin Huffman is such a joke as is the rest of the "education" dept. in the state. They havent' a clue as to what teachers deal with on a daily basis. What they should be doing is making the parents accountable, and not putting it all on the backs of teachers. But some parents are too busy scamming the system, hanging out with their friends, and doing drugs to help their kid learn, and when the kid fails, it's the teachers fault??!! Right...great column...Love Love Love YOu

April 24, 2013 at 3:24 p.m.
mitziyates1 said...

To much testing? A. Yes B. Absolutely C. H-ll Yes. D. You betcha

April 24, 2013 at 4:23 p.m.
alsmith35 said...

David Cook, are you feeling well? You wrote something that i can actually agree with. lol

April 24, 2013 at 4:28 p.m.
magenta said...

RE: medrep63 said...But some parents are too busy scamming the system, hanging out with their friends, and doing drugs to help their kid learn, and when the kid fails, it's the teachers fault??!! Right..

That's a most horrible and cruel broad ASSumption to make. It's apparently obvious you're speaking from your a&^hole, rather than your mouth or using your brain. Many parents today are working two, three and more jobs, or second and third shift jobs just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Once politics and prejudices get out of the schools, the schools will go back doing what they were originally created to do: Shaping and molding the brains of future generations.

Students are the only product the more flawed the product the more money is poured in to continue to produce even more flawed products. Any other business would have been out of business a long time ago.

April 24, 2013 at 6:29 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Magenta, don't forget that most businesses can control the quality of what COMES IN, unlike schools. I know that there are some teachers that are bad, but the inability to remove disruptive kids from the classroom is the biggest impediment to education. The fault lies with a large number of folks, from parents to administrators to the educational establishment that can't get past the idea that special needs kids need their own learning environment.

April 24, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

We need to promote students from grade to grade by participation not by achieving a minimum amount of standards. Maybe those passing can move on to Peace Studies in the college of their choice. On second thought, participation is unfair also, since it's too much to expect parents to get kids to school.

April 25, 2013 at 9:55 a.m.
steve_smith said...

If you want your child to apprentice with a welder, there ought to be a place you could make that happen. If you want your child to work on an organic farm and learn how to be productive, there ought to be a place for that. If you want your child to follow the other lemmings, prepare for college, go six figures into debt at a liberal arts college, drop out and hitchhike across America, more power to you. You know best about your child.

And we need to come to terms that students aren't equal. There needs to be someone who gives a damn about the kids who are incapable of performing engineering. No amount of magic or mysticism will give a kid the ability to use differential equations.

It is time to respect productivity, even menial productivity. It is time to shame people capable of being productive but who choose not to be out of some sense of entitlement.

Three of my children have an aptitude for scholastics. It looks like one might not. I'd much rather he learn a trade where he can earn a living than waste his time sitting in a classroom learning how to "think critically," or paint a still life or tackle the wide receiver after he catches the skin of a pig inflated to 20 psi.

The man hours and money wasted on "education" is staggering. Really the money is secondary. When the government focuses everyone's attention on "getting an education" so that some corporation might hire them and/or turning everyone into a cross between William Shakespeare and Picasso, the full and beautiful panoply of human productivity falls by the wayside. Years of kids' lives are wasted with nearly nothing but prom pictures to show for it.

So sure. Boycott the tests. But it might be time to boycott the education industry and make sure your child knows at least one marketable skill before he/she turns 30. Becoming cultured is wonderful, but it needs to come second to being able to make one's way in the world. Culture is the fruit of productivity. All of the mystical, magical believers seem to believe the opposite. And these people think religion is make believe?

April 25, 2013 at 5:23 p.m.
steve_smith said...

In essence, David is saying that education suffers from testing because testing takes away time from the "magic" of learning. Was there profound learning before we instituted tests? This testing fascination, both pro and con, is a red herring.

I'm tired of the magical, mystical. Old people have taught young people from time immemorial. There is nothing magical about it. The fundamental problem we have is that since the gov't is in control of what and who ought to be taught, and since we are all the gov't, and since we share no consensus as to what and who ought to be taught - teachers are fighting a losing battle.

Every interest group and every gov't education bureaucrat thinks a child's brain is their real estate. Music lovers, art lovers, fitness addicts, nutritionists, sports junkies, social scientists, peace activists, STEM proponents, special education parents, etc., etc., etc.

It's time to call bullsh_t.

Centralized gov't education is a failure and cannot be reformed. Even though everyone believes the gov't ought to fund education, the gov't ought to end the "accountability" illusion. Give every child a scholarship, just like we do for college bound students. The gov't is terrible at predicting the needs of society. So let's make them stop trying.

If you are worried about some kids using public money to go to a religious school, stop being a bigot. If a religious school can teach a kid to read and write on the 12th grade level while the kid is in 12th grade, that is what we all ought to care about.

April 25, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.
Easy123 said...


"If you are worried about some kids using public money to go to a religious school, stop being a bigot."

It's unconstitutional. You might want to look up the word "bigot" while you're reading up on the 1st Amendment. You seem to be unaware of the definition of both.

April 25, 2013 at 5:40 p.m.
Lr103 said...

JonRoss said... What Cook is proposing is essentially the great Dalewood experiment in Chattanooga in the mid 1960s. It was a Progressive “free to be, you and me” mentality. Even the school was constructed physically to fit the theory. It was a disaster. I was a victim of it.

It wasn't the idea that failed you, john. The idea, like so many ohters in education throughout the decades, were sabotaged and set up to fail. There truly are others who fear others rising above their situation. They throw a wrench into the solution every chance they get.

April 25, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

I'm trying to decide if the overall anti-learning, anti-knowledge for knowledge sake attitude in this country is the cause or the result of our failed public education policies. For the most powerful nation on earth, it is a shame that true learning and curiosity about the world is mostly gone by age 18, and we are obsessed with aliens, celebrities, reality TV, the supernatural and sports. We have lost our BS detectors and our love of the natural world, and we are mostly ignorant of the huge variety of peoples, cultures, languages and traditions outside of the US.

And here am I, the perfect hypocrite, posting online while it is a beautiful morning. I think I'll play outside now...

April 26, 2013 at 8:08 a.m.
medrep63 said...

To Magenta: You must not work in public education. Too many of our parents are scamming the system. They don't want to work much less help their kid with homework. I am actually not talking out of my ^$*@# as you said, but with the experience and knowledge of being a counselor in a I actually deal with the parents who are doing meth instead of taking care of their kids. There are great parents who love and take care of their children and put them first. There are great parents who are poor and need help who take care of their kids and want a better life for their kids...but my experience is with a population who are scamming the system, who don't want to work, who don't want to take care of their children, and would not help with homework if their "check" depended on it. And these are the parents who are the first to complain when "their baby" has a problem..and it's the teachers fault?? Maybe you need to come and work with me for a day or two, and you might change your opinion. Thanks David for bringing a terrible subject to the front of the heap...

May 1, 2013 at 8:24 a.m.
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