It all started when a small black and white mosquito had landed on my husband's face. I brushed it away to find that the aggressive little bugger soon landed on my leg. I swatted it, annoyed, and found that it had joined some friends mid-flight in dive-bombing my 4-year old son. The family retreated back into the house and I immediately Googled the species that had ousted me from my own backyard.
The Asian Tiger Mosquito is an invasive species of blood-sucking insect that is quickly spreading across Los Angeles County and is setting up shop in the San Gabriel Valley. The theory is that global warming has allowed more tropical species to invade and flourish in otherwise drier areas. This species is potentially dangerous, apparently carrying all sorts of nastiness. I have even found some in my classroom, a few miles away from my home. But I don't care about the science behind their migration or population patterns; I just want them all dead.
Now, some may laugh it off, but I survived Typhus some years back from a flea bite (possibly the result of a similarly frightening trend happening in our local mountains and foothills), and while I have since physically moved on, I was left with a total lack of compassion for bugs, an apathy verging on revenge.
But I digress. After all, I haven't answered the question in the title yet.
IS MORE BETTER?
So we have this growing problem that needs to be solved, and I recently read in Scientific American that to combat this problem, scientists have decided to release a whole bunch of, wait for it...additional mosquitoes into the area. These, they claim, are male mosquitoes (females are the only ones that bite) and were raised in a lab where they were affectively made sterile. So, the logic is, that if the male and female bugs can't get it on, then they can't reproduce and make other annoying little bugs.
But didn't anyone read or see Jurassic Park? "Life finds a way," says Jeff Goldblum in his ultimate Goldblum-iest delivery ever. Haven't we all learned that science fiction often precedes science? I even recently heard a story on NPR that shared evidence of a yew tree inexplicably going through a sex change.
Now, I'm not a scientist, so I have to assume that there's a reason we don't have a pesticide to combat this problem. I'm also assuming that someone smarter than me has decided that we can't, for whatever presumably legitimate reason, enlist the mosquitoes' natural enemies, bats, to help us out either.
But surely combating a problem by throwing more of that problem at it is not a way to solve said problem.
So this got me thinking about education.
Specifically, it got me thinking about testing and President Obama's recent push to lessen the call for this other kind of aggressively invasive element.
For years, the answer to combat lower test scores was to create more high-stakes tests. Obama claims that we are not to test more than 2% of our day, but when the few federal tests are so vital to evaluative practices, then there's a mixed message here.
Look, I'm not particularly conspiratorial. It's not that I don't trust that he thinks he's doing the right thing in this all-call for reason. It's that I know that you can't just put your hands up after the damage has been done and ask people to be rational. They still run for the doors in anger or fear or whatever path you had set them on. You can't ask people to act reasonably and still continue to tie tests to how we judge teachers, schools, and students. You also can't assume that over-testing is an easy habit to break.
Which brings me to the other stakeholders that need to have some ownership in this problem: teachers, schools, districts, and even parents.
WE ALL HAVE SOME CULPABILITY
The government, state or federal, was never the only culprit here. Each year, my students were subjected to 1 week of standardized testing by our overarching federal or state-mandated system. But that's only 1 week.
From there, my students had to have 1 week per quarter of district reading and writing tests, and no fewer than 2 weeks during the year of district tests that were meant to supposedly mimic the high-stakes tests to come. And many teachers have additional tests once a week in their own classrooms.
Now, I tend to embrace Project Based Learning, a strategy of content implementation that is untraditional in its assessments. Many times, students and parents don't recognize a "test" because it's embedded in real-world practice. As a result, I yearly field calls from parents asking why they haven't seen their kids make flash cards for weekly spelling tests that don't exist.
However, what many in the larger "workload debate" don't realize is that for every parent that asks for less work, there seems to be three wondering why there isn't more. But that's for a different post.
Bottom line: It's a lot of testing, and we have to stop finger pointing because the pressure is coming from all sides.
Quantifying educational achievement is an addiction, and we adults are not showing moderation in this vice. With testing, as with Asian Tiger Mosquitos, more is not more.
STOPPING THE ADDICTION TOGETHER
If you are a teacher, learn more about Project Based Learning. Experiment with more formative assessments. Make sure that what we do aligns with the world outside of school, and if it doesn't, ditch it.
If you are administration, make sure teachers know they are more than their test scores.
If you are a parent, support schools as they experiment with different strategies of implementation as we seek a more rational place with testing.
We as stakeholders can do this together. In the meantime, you'll find me outside, sprayed with DEET, surrounded by Citronella, answering emails from students, and undoubtedly being eaten alive in the process.