David Cook: TCAP stole your kid

David Cook: TCAP stole your kid

April 24th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

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 (google.com). 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.