By Danile Ferri
Last March, I stood in front of my classroom and tore the plastic from a stack of papers. On those papers were printed the topic my sixth-graders, and thousands of other Illinois sixth-graders, would spend the next 40 minutes writing about.
We all are graded on the results -- the students, teachers, and schools. Under state law, we all must take the Illinois Goals Assessment Program tests, the IGAPS, to ensure that across the state, all students take the same test at the same time, write about the same topic, and follow the same rules -- so that everyone and everything is the same.
The IGAP is law because the easiest way for politicians to pretend they care about education is to stand up and declare that students are not learning because teachers can't teach and the schools are rotten, and we are gonna fix it by ... by taking a test. Not that those politicians have any idea what we should test for, or how we would test for it if we knew. But that does not matter. Demands for more testing sound good on TV. So the Illinois legislature told our state bureaucrats to design tests in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, and make everyone take them for two weeks in March.
By law, Illinois students learn to write by the numbers. The first paragraph of a paper must do this this this this and this, the three main body paragraphs must do that that that that and that, and the conclusion paragraph must begin with two "thises," followed by three "thats," and end with an exciting "this."