When did education become torture?

For the first time in my teaching career, I saw high school students cry during the NYSESLAT exam.  Unprecedented.

If you are a student in New York State in 2015, you are subjected to a ridiculous number of assessments.  I’m not talking about the normal ones a teacher would give.  I’m talking about government sanctioned state exams.  In ELA and math through 8th grade, and in the high schools, the Regents’ Exams in all content areas.  Hours and hours and hours and hours of test preparation and test taking. And that’s for the kids in New York State schools who are native English speakers.  If your first language is NOT English, add the NYSESLAT exam.  The NYSESLAT exam, the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test, is given every spring to every ESL student in the state, from K-12.

This year, the format of the exam was changed.  After the individual speaking section, three sections of listening, reading and writing were given to each student, three times.  For the high school students in our school, it took an average of 2-3 hours each day.  So, including the speaking, these students were required to spend about 9 1/2 hours taking this exam over a one or two week period.


I was not exaggerating when I asked when did education become torture. These exams can’t be given to the entire school at a time, so including teacher training, administering the exam and the time it takes for the teachers to score our part of these exams (which are then shipped to the state for the rest of the exam to be scored), I was in my classroom so far this month for 4 days.  I think.

Hmmmmm……maybe they could acquire more language if they were in the classroom learning more language.  You can’t tell me that it takes 9 1/2 hours to determine if a student has advanced over the past year in English language acquisition.  This could have been accomplished in 3 1/2 hours or less.

How do you determine language acquisition?  I can tell you how not to determine it.  Giving a complicated listening/reading/writing section about a specific event in history that the students may never have heard about?  That will not determine it.  Expecting them to answer questions in content areas and infer information when they don’t know the circumstances or vocabulary specific to that event in that content area?  That will not determine it.

Let’s use me as a case in point.  I’m a native English speaker and I’m well-educated and well-read.  But I have never studied calculus or physics in school. So if you were to give me a standardized test, in English, where I would have to write an essay proving that a certain algorithm in calculus, such as computational number theory, the index calculus algorithm is a probabilistic algorithm for computing discrete logarithms, and use that essay to determine my level of English language ability, my score would put me in a beginning English class.  What I wrote above in math doesn’t even make sense because I had to copy the italicized part from a website because I couldn’t even give an example because I know nothing about that content area.

That is exactly what New York State did this year.  The content area was not math, but my example is completely analogous to this year’s test.  Torture.

If my child had to take this test, I would be storming the ramparts in Albany, NY. Immigrant parents usually do not, however, storm the ramparts.

They need the ESL teachers to do it for them.  And this ESL teacher is fired up.

Education should not be torture.

About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
This entry was posted in education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to When did education become torture?

  1. Paul says:

    I just feel like the people in charge of curriculums and administering tests are so in the dark as to the best way for kids to learn and the best way to test them. By the end of high school I didn’t know if tests were supposed to ask us what we knew, or if they were supposed to ask us what we didn’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. amommasview says:

    What a joke… I wonder how far this will go…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. abyssbrain says:

    Every year, t’s inevitable that some students commit suicide in Hong Kong after they failed the standardized exams offered by the HK government. Your score at this exam determines if you would be able to study on a university. However, since the exams are very tough, with a passing rate of less than 25%, many students would not be able to advance their education. And even if you passed, it’s not a guarantee that you would be admitted at a university.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Barb Knowles says:

      That’s terrible. These tests determine level of English for classes next year. They have nothing to do with graduation. Ridiculous test from all sides. NO reason they should be like this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • abyssbrain says:

        Hong Kong only has eight universities, so I think that they intentionally make the exams extremely difficult to pass…

        And studying in Hong Kong is only good in the university level.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Barb Knowles says:

        Do many students study abroad?

        Liked by 1 person

      • abyssbrain says:

        Yes, in fact, it’s easier to be admitted on a foreign university such as in the US or UK as long as they have passed standardized exams like SAT or GCSE, and the English exam (TOEFL or IELTS). Those exams are far easier to pass than the exams offered here.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That does sound completely bonkers. And how much does this cost?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      That’s a good question. Our salaries are contractually set for the year. But the cost that the state pays come out of taxpayer money, I assume. I don’t know the answer to that. It’s how it affects the students that concerns teachers throughout N.Y. Cost can be valued in different ways.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Little Rants says:

    Med school in India is torture personified.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s