I'm staring at this bulging envelope on my desk. It's a big envelope, much larger than your typical letter-sized envelope, you know, a big one, one that could fit about 15 test booklets and answer sheets. It was just dropped off by our school's "literacy coach." I put quotes around these two words because I often wonder why she was given that title. Much of what she does has nothing to do with literacy. I think we should just call her the "test passer-outer" or something like that, because that is really the bulk of what she does throughout the school year. Positions like these have been hijacked by testing crusaders in schools and districts around the country. Originally, our district adopted these ThinkLink benchmark assessments for schools identified as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (which was disturbing enough: "Our kids are failing, so let's make them take more tests.") Then last year I learned that virtually all schools were being forced to participate regardless of AYP status.
ThinkLink tests are designed to mirror the format of our state assessments. According to the district and to the salespeople at ThinkLink the ThinkLink "formative" assessments would help our district better predict student performance on our state's high-stakes exams. These high-stakes tests are aligned with our state's arbitrary set of standards for each grade level, standards that tend to be incredibly unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate.
There are four benchmark tests a year. Thanks to the folks at the Discovery Channel, that TV channel with the nifty little logo of the earth spinning, my 8-year-old students have four more opportunities to stop learning and fill in the bubbles. The folks at Discovery Education have added an extension to their suite of services. They've branched into the assessment market and now produce ThinkLink formative assessments for districts across the country.
According to the catchy little press release from Discovery Education: "Discovery Education acquired ThinkLink Learning in April 2006, expanding the business unit's high-quality products and services to include formative assessment. ThinkLink pioneered a unique approach to formative assessment that uses a scientifically research-based continuous improvement model that maps diagnostic assessment to state high-stakes tests." So essentially, it's an expensive assessment program our district spent roughly $400,000 on it this year built on the assumption that repeated testing of children will help them to do better on tests. Forget about reading specialists, art, music, school psychologists, nurses, social workers, or support staff. It's ThinkLink to the rescue!
This is why the overstuffed envelope has landed on my desk. My first impulse is to chuck it in the trash. I'm sure this is the impulse of any teacher who has actually read these assessments. The first time I saw a ThinkLink benchmark I was shocked and dismayed. It was poorly written (e.g., "There was once a little peasant girl. She was pretty as a star in its season. Her real name was Blanchette. She was called Little Goldenhood because of a wonderful little coat with a hood she always wore."); riddled with errors (e.g., "I think of my summers on Grandpa's farm."); and developmentally inappropriate (e.g., "Reread the title of the story: The Armadillo: A Shelled Mammal. What happens when ed is added to the word shell in the title?