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The loss of dignity and the benefits
of play are the cost of focusing
on high-stakes testing.
Is it worth it?

My Cat

417 words


A Parable About School Testing
by Dianne Roth


A long time ago, I had a cat that I trained to be a dog. It took a lot of time and a lot of tiny cheese cubes, but eventually my cat would shake hands, roll over, sit up, and dance on his hind legs. He was a hit with my friends. However, I am sure that if he had been self aware he would have told us that he could see no reason for learning these silly skills and would much rather have used our time for play, honing his stalking and attack skills. The cost: one cat’s dignity, hours of my time, and a lot of cheese.

As the time for publishing this year’s school report cards draws near, I am reminded of my cat.

The report card is designed to inform parents of the quality of their neighborhood school. Getting a good “report card” brings out the success stories. Teachers have trained six year olds to write long essays and fourth graders to “plow” through books that I believe should be read with wild abandon. Teachers reinforce “right” skills and “strike a balance between being relentless and making learning fun”. Schools receive an exceptional rating (a cheese cube?) on their state report card based on a primitive understanding of cause and effect. The effect shows up in school testing, the cause must be the schools.

The cost: music, PE, and art programs cut (not the right skills?), counseling staff eliminated, teachers at school from 6:45 am to 6:00 pm, and childhoods spent behaving like adults.

As a cat owner, I regret what I put my cat through. Not only the hours of trying to force him to do something that was not in his nature, but using him as party entertainment.

As a parent, I would have balked at having my first grader writing long essays at the expense of music and art. And, as a teacher, I am appalled that our state is rewarding teachers for having no life with their own families and for imposing adult behaviors onto small children.

So, I guess I will forego the cheese cubes. In my class we will sing and draw and play. We will learn to read and write and compute and explore. We will relish books and savor the magic of math. We will adorn our school with a love of learning and the spirit of childhood. And, I will take time to enjoy adventures with my family and friends. The cost? You decide.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on October 8, 2012