Category Archives: Guest Posts By Denis Ian

About This Testing… By Denis Ian

“In the heart of a child, one moment …. can last forever.” – Denis Ian

About this testing …

There is no virtue in making children so brave that they might withstand the idiocy of adults. Nor is there any virtue in lying to children so as to protect adult ridiculousness. And when adults trip over their own commandments and reason away the subtle wounding of children … then they themselves have committed a great sin.

Childhood is an extraordinary moment. It has its own sanctity because it is the maker of first memories … and we make big deals of firsts in our lives. And first memories should never be ugly. Not ever.

But what has become of us? Why have we arrived at this moment when children become fair game in an adult controversy? Instinct tells us never to place children in the middle of a muddle. But here we are … hearing unbelieving tales of adult unfairness that seem such the antithesis of what is expected from the guardians of our children.

Life is a long frustration. The great beauty of maturity is that we learn to keep our cool and to react only to the most insistent frustrations. Adults learn to separate the important from the unimportant … and it prevents us from the nasty human inclination to settle on easy scapegoats … and then to punish the weakest and most vulnerable.

Scapegoats are born of frustrations adults cannot control … and we have loads of frustration surrounding this wretched reform. But frustration is never a green light to exercise a disturbing dominance over the smallest of the small. If that is the first impulse of an adult, then they are in a queer orbit.

Children cut off from pizza parties and ice cream treats because their parents exercised their right right of refusal? Little humans in little desks made to sit and stare for hours … in of all places … a school? Children confronted by some towering goliath … insisting that they revoke their parents’ own wishes? What the hell is going on here?

Where is the wisdom in gluing children to desks for hours as they squirm their way through some asinine educational gauntlet that has no real purpose other than to pay homage to some testing god? Who thought that a good idea?

This is a mess that cannot be unmessed. When will we start over … and get this straight?

Is this how children should ever be treated? Are there not school campaigns to disarm bullies … and to champion kindness? Have those champions vanished? Were those just paper heroics? Empty nonsense? I sense adult ugliness seeping through a holy firewall behind which childhood is protected. It seems too many are now comfortable liars … even with children. And worse, some have become hypocrites.

There is never an excuse to scar a child. And if you’re in the child business … that sort of action condemns you to a special sort of hell.

For children, school is a majestic cathedral. A near shrine where every minute should be crammed with as much wonder as a minute might hold. To disturb that atmosphere is to violate the inviolate.

A school has no place or space for anyone unable to plug into their memory bank for recollections of their own childhood. If one cannot stay linked with with the memories of their own past, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the memory-making business at all.

When one’s memory of childhood evaporates, so does one’s empathy. And that is a signal to move on.

“Childhood is a short season.” Give it its due.

Denis Ian

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Just What Is At Stake With The “High Stakes” Tests? How About Childhood?

I wrote my local school board a letter with some of my concerns in regards to the High Stakes Tests and misinformation being spread in the local community about the parents right to Opt Out of these tests.

The first two sentences of the short reply to my letter are as follows:

Thank you for contacting the school board with your comments on testing.   Could you please clarify what tests you consider to be “high stakes” at the elementary level?

Sure. I’d be happy to answer.

  1.  Any test taking two months of a teachers time at the beginning of the school year and requiring over 80 data checkpoints to be collected one on one with 5 year old children is HIGH STAKES. This robs the teacher of the time to set up a welcoming classroom community and an atmosphere of safety and warmth.  Rather the children are out doing “independent activities” while the teacher meets with individual children.  This is the last thing children need with their first experience in school.  The teachers time is saturated with collecting data and entering in data… and for what purpose?
  2. Any test determining a placement for the next grade is HIGH STAKES.  Whether it be a third grader whose ELA scores are being considered for promotion to 4th grade… or a 6th grader whose MATH scores determine the track they are placed in for middle school (especially when said tests are being found to be seriously flawed), and ignoring classroom work and classroom based assessments… is a complete HIGH STAKES tragedy.
  3. Any test claiming to determine if a child is “College and Career Ready” and ignoring years worth of classroom accomplishments and work patterns is HIGH STAKES.  When the ex U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said we should be able to look a 7 and 8 year old in the eye and tell them whether they are on track for college or not, um… we have a high stakes situation being pushed early.
  4. Requiring any test to be taken in order to graduate is HIGH STAKES.
  5. Any test used to rank, sort, and compare children and schools is HIGH STAKES.
  6. Any test requiring a 95% participation rate by a State Department of Education in order to be recognized for outstanding and innovative teaching and learning is HIGH STAKES.  (A school who has a high number of parents opting their children out of the tests because they believe the tests are invalid, does not decrease the incredible teaching and learning going on in said schools.  Currently, Seattle School District has 40 out of 98 schools reporting higher than 5% Opt Out rates.  Are those schools not outstanding?  Are those schools not innovative?  Are those schools filled with inept teachers?  Are the principals of said schools inept leaders?)
  7. More importantly still, the HIGHEST STAKE of all… is the loss of CHILDHOOD.  The loss of play and developmentally appropriate classroom experiences in the youngest grades will have long term effects beyond anyone’s imagination.  Worksheets and dittos do not grow dendrites. (Depression and Mental Disorders are on the rise for a reason).

The School Board, and School Boards at large, may also take some time to consider why the behavior problems have escalated in our elementary classrooms.

  • Just how much recess are children getting in our schools?  Many only get a total of 30 minutes to eat and play combined. (This was the case for my son last year.  He came home with uneaten lunches because he learned he gained more play time if he didn’t eat).
  • The current adopted curricular materials are filled with worksheets… is boredom a problem? What happens when children are bored?
  • How much time are children spending on testing and test prep?

Maybe we all should be asking, rather than what tests are considered “high stakes”…

1) What exactly is at “stake”?

And…

2) How are our children being robbed of their childhoods in the current Testing Accountability Regime?

Denis Ian, teacher and child crusader extraordinaire, sheds some light on these questions in “About This Testing“.

“In the heart of a child, one moment …. can last forever.” – Denis Ian

“Childhood is a short season.” Give it its due. – Denis Ian

Thank you, Denis.  You are SPOT ON.

The “Highest Stake” of All… Childhood

Passionately Submitted,

RAZ ON FIRE