A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Actually, Tyler's first response was correct.

How crazy has the testing environment gotten? Get a load of this:
Tyler Stoken was a well-behaved fourth grader who enjoyed school, earned A’s and B’s and performed well on standardized tests. In May 2005, he’d completed five of the six days of the Washington State Assessment of Student Learning exam, called WASL, part of the state’s No Child Left Behind test.

Then Tyler came upon this question: “While looking out the window one day at school, you notice the principal flying in the air. In several paragraphs, write a story telling what happens.”

The 9-year-old was afraid to answer the question about his principal, Olivia McCarthy. “I didn’t want to make fun of her,” he says, explaining he was taught to write the first thing that entered his mind on the state writing test. In this case, Tyler’s initial thoughts would have been embarrassing and mean. So even after repeated requests by school personnel, and ultimately the principal herself, Tyler left the answer space blank. “He didn’t want them to know what he was thinking, that she was a witch on a broomstick,” says Tyler’s mother, Amanda Wolfe, sitting next to her son in the family’s ranch home three blocks from Central Park Elementary School in Aberdeen, Washington.

Because Tyler didn’t answer the question, McCarthy suspended him for five days. He recalls the principal reprimanding him by saying his test score could bring down the entire school’s performance. “Good job, bud, you’ve ruined it for every- one in the school, the teachers and the school,” Tyler says McCarthy told him.

Aberdeen School District Superintendent Martin Kay ordered an investigation. “My suspension was for refusal to comply with a reasonable request, and to teach Tyler that that could harm him in the future,’’ McCarthy told an investigator. “I never, for a second, questioned my actions.’’

Tyler, who’s 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall and weighs 70 pounds (32 kilograms), hasn’t been the same since, his mother says. “He liked the principal before this,’’ she says. “He cried. He didn’t understand why she’d done this to him.’’ Now, Tyler blows up at the drop of a hat, his mother says. “They created a monster. He’ll never take that test again, even if I have to take him to another state,” she says.

Tyler’s attitude about school changed. He became shyer. He’s afraid of all tests and doesn’t do as well in classes anymore, his mother says.

McCarthy’s May 6, 2005, letter to Tyler’s mother detailed her son’s suspension. “The fact that Tyler chose to simply refuse to work on the WASL after many reasonable requests is none other than blatant defiance and insubordination,” McCarthy wrote. In the letter, she accused Tyler of bringing down the average score of the other 10 students in his class. “As we have worked so hard this year to improve our writing skills, this is a particularly egregious wound,” McCarthy wrote.

Her accusation was wrong, state regulations show. There is no averaging of the writing scores. Each student either meets or fails the state standard.

Well, it appears young Tyler was right on the money in his initial assessment of his principal. Do you think they actually have to reserve an entire parking space for the broomstick?

Personally we are expected NOT to look at kids' answers, which I think is a wise policy, given that one's response may betray a correct answer and end up getting your school in a huge pile of trouble. (And this article is actually a sidebar to a longer article detailing the problems with the grading errors testing companies have made in this high-stakes world.)

But a three day suspension for a nine-year-old who hadn't made anyone go to the hospital? Good grief!


At 11/7/06, 7:30 AM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

This story kills me. They've got a tender-hearted child with a conscience beyond his years and the principal is slamming him for it. If I were Tyler's mom he would never darken the door of that school again as long as that principal was there.

At 11/7/06, 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this had been a class created by and given by his teacher, I know for a fact that he wouldn't have gotten suspension for refusing to take it. He merely would have received a zero and a call home to mom. Of course, if he'd been rude about the situation or physically defiant, there would have been some other consequences, but they still would not suspened this kid.

I hope Tyler's mom fights all the way for her son, especially since there have probably been kids who've done worse things and gotten off with nothing more than a warning. This situation really pisses me off and makes me feel embarressed for all the good principals and teachers in that district who have to interact with the community with this over their heads.

At 11/7/06, 1:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That should have read "class test" in the first sentence.

At 11/7/06, 2:26 PM, Blogger Fort Wayne Student said...

I could not believe what i was reading when i first saw this story. I hope the boys mom did take action. The principal is very shallow. How can she say something like (thanks bud you probably brought the whole schools scores down) that to a little kid. I can see how that could ruin his self esteem and motivation to take another test.
I recently have started a a blog discussing some of the issues that happen at my high school and other local high schools. If anyone would like to check it out my link is:


At 11/7/06, 7:07 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

In a way it was a "class test" in which Tyler proved that he has class. The principal failed hers, utterly.

At 11/7/06, 8:48 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

This is a wonderful example of how wrong testing has gone in the US. I imagine that this is not an isolated incident but just one that we have heard about.

At 11/7/06, 10:06 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

IF this happened to one of my boys, I'd sue. This is harassment and imtimidation of a student by an "adult" at the school. IMO, the responses by this school staff were also grossly unprofessional.
And the education bureaucrats wonder at the increasing number of homeschooling families....

A class of only 11 students????

Thanks for sharing this story with us.

At 11/7/06, 11:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What has happened to our education system. Apparently the powers that be care more about tests than students. We need to get back to the days where we want to see all students do the best that they can and stop putting all of our eggs in the test basket.

At 11/8/06, 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This happened a LONG time ago, and yet it's like it happened yesterday. May 2005 is over a year and a half, but since it got picked up it's like it happened yesterday. And the Central Park School website is still down.

At 11/8/06, 6:22 PM, Blogger ms-teacher said...

Wow this story hit me hard. My youngest went through a horrible 3rd grade year as a result of a teacher and principal who were hell-bent on maintaining the school's top spot in the district.

The end result for us, after my child refused to go to school, was switching his school. This was after multiple meetings with the administration. No one at this school would acknowledge that prior to the 3rd grade, my son was a good student.

After we changed his school environment, he started feeling safe at school again. It took a long year and a half of getting him back on track. I think this is yet another example of high stakes testing at all cost, even the cost to the mental well-being of children.

At 11/10/06, 9:48 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

You know-- I am sure it doesn't feel like yesterday to Tyler and his mom.

At 11/14/06, 11:35 AM, Blogger Goldie said...

Holy Moly, it's a bitch on a broomstick! Really, a new low. I hope the principal is out of her job by now, since it didn't happen yesterday and all, y'know.

That said, after a few similar experiences, we started teaching our kids to write what's expected of them, instead of "the first thing that pops into their head". They will most likely encounter hundreds of morons in their lives, most of them in positions of power, and they might as well learn now how to deal with them. The boy did well, BTW. If I were his Mom, I'd take him on vacation for the entire week he was suspended.


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