What It Looks Like When Test Prep Eats Ur School

report card

It looks like this, as a matter of fact. This is an actual report card from a fifth grade student in Massachusetts whom we will call Ginny, in place of the inevitable Johnny. A note on the notations: the slash marks indicate *not introduced at this time,* meaning that Ginny seems to have gone entirely history/social studies/and map free during the all important spring testing season. The *D* stands for developing, as Ginny likely spent much of her time developing short essays in response to the out-of-context passages she spent most of the rest of her time reading. That is when she wasn’t honing her math skills.

Meet the frameworks
Which got me thinking. What WAS Ginny supposed to be learning about during fifth grade social studies and history? State frameworks: take it away…

Students study the major pre-Columbian civilizations in the New World; the 15th and 16th century European explorations around the world, in the western hemisphere, and in North America in particular; the earliest settlements in North America; and the political, economic, and social development of the English colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. They also study the early development of democratic institutions and ideas, including the ideas and events that led to the independence of the original thirteen colonies and the formation of a national government under the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the grade 5 curriculum is to give students their first concentrated study of the formative years of U.S. history.

So nothing much. Which is great, because Ginny apparently got nothing of this.

Isn’t that what IPhones are for?
iphoneNow I can guess what you’re thinking—does Ginny really need to learn any of this old timey stuff anyway, since she can just look it up on her phone when she gets to college? Also, maps are SO over as we have GPS now, and by the time Ginny learns to drive her car will drive itself. Also, also, democracy seems to be on its way out anyway, so far better that Ginny devote her time to practice choosing between some predetermined choices.

Where are we?
No doubt you are wondering about the location of the school that apparently answered *none of the above* to the entire fifth grade social studies curriculum. While I’m too discrete to simply blurt it out, allow me to say that is at once among our most historical districts, and also our most data-driven. And it has as its mission preparing students for *personal growth, continuing formal and informal learning, productive work, and active, well-informed participation in self-government upon graduation.* Whatever that is…

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  1. As a fifth grade teacher I miss teaching U.S. History. Now it’s all using The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s not just because of test prep, it’s the ELA Modules dictating by scripting and required texts, what to teach. Check them out and see. They are each around 600 pages of repetitive work. Now they tell us there are going to be “enhanced modules” soon and SS inquiries by the start of school. Many say they are like the DBQ’s we had. Why can’t state ed leave well enough alone? We were fine. Teachers challenge kids always to go beyond the text and learn, as well as learn from your community, too! Why can’t they “Just Let Me Teach!” ????

  2. Even if they did study all of the stuff on the list the treatment would be so superficial.
    This is fifth grade? Really ?
    I bet they all did well on the math, if not the ELA.

  3. Hmmm, that report card is strangely familiar…as a k teacher I use the slash key quite readily in this “historic, data driven” district. In kindergarten though it’s not because of test prep it has more to do with the fact that since the implementation of the CCSS our report cards are no longer aligned…which is another can of worms just waiting to be opened. It’s a report card that gives parents no clear understanding of how a child is progressing. I put very little stock in it as a parent and as a teacher I spend most of a parent teacher conference explaining the grading criteria to parents who see the D for developing and immediately think it means “my kid is one letter away from an F!”
    Even in kindergarten We are very ELA and Math focused leaving very little time for the “secondary” subjects like math and social studies and don’t even get me started on the time for play in kindergarten issue!

  4. As a history teacher in middle school, I am routinely horrified at the lack of historic and geographic knowledge that my students have. I don’t blame the teachers or students for this; it’s the stupid testing. Many schools in my area won’t even ALLOW teachers to teach history and geography, because they are not tested. I have students that don’t know that Christianity is a religion or that France is a country. I’m not making those past two examples up; they both happened this last school year.

  5. One of the most pernicious ideas in modern education –one held by pro- and anti-testing folks alike –is that teaching facts is passe. The capitalists want blank but powerful minds to build their products. The leftists want blank but critical minds to attack the capitalists. But a mind cannot be powerful or critical if it is blank. We think (and read and write) WITH the facts that are built into our brains. Yes, we supplement these built-in facts with Google results. But the built-in facts are critical –and the more built-in facts we have (not trivial facts; core facts –e.g. “France is a country”) the faster and more accurately our brains will operate. People used to rightly deplore ignorance; now ignorance is the official aim of most schools! Ask almost any educator today and he’ll tell you, “Students don’t need knowledge; they need reading, writing and thinking skills”. E.D. Hirsch, Dan Willingham and other scholars at Brown and UVA have exploded this myth. Sadly most educators I talk to are ignorant of these scholars’ work.

  6. Uh, based on those “State frameworks” the truth is that what little Ginny is missing out on are the great American nationalistic myths that guarantees an education that is far from nurturing critical capacities.

    Let’s see, a narrative that references the “New World” from who’s perspective? Oh right, in relation to Columbus (i.e. “pre-Columbian”) and the conquerors. That perspective is at best Eurocentric and in reality furthers the genocide that ensued through its denial. It goes on to refer to the “European explorations around the world” which were in fact motivated by and resulted in the violence of subjugation, colonialism and imperialism. In North America specifically, it led to the American Indian Holocaust. As far a “the early development of democratic institutions and ideas” – well – at some point we all got to come to terms that democracy in the US was not a reality then and certainly is far from a reality today. Basically, there cannot be true democracy when class inequality and white supremacy are woven into the very fabric of a nation and its constitution is structured to protect property rights over all else, only allows for negative rights, and suffrage is based on republicanism and the cruel joke that is the electoral college.

  7. Did “Spring Testing Season” run all through Term 1, Term 2, and Term 3?? According to this report card, History and Social Science was NEVER taught. Was Ginny on an IEP? I know that some districts use this time of the day to pull students for resource room support. That could explain why she never received grades in this subject.

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