The US has its share of schemers claiming to prepare people for various tests but only filling their own bank accounts. There are sham colleges too whose "diplomas" aren't worth the paper they are written on, but folks fall for the scheme and throw away their money. It's all disgusting. As to the high stakes testing, this article expresses what I've seen very well: http://www.eval.org/p/cm/ld/fid=76 I didn't know the terms "extraction" and "extrusion": but understood them immediately. I have no theater background, but I've given that kind of writing assignments in my classes with good results as far as what is expressed. No one suggested this to me, but I always assumed that all English teachers do this from time to time. There is little time for it now that everything we do is dictated by whoever puts the state tests together, tests for which we have no input at all as to what is tested or how. I think your colleague with the "Zombie invasion" idea is right. All of this testing was preceded by a campaign in the media to discredit educators and rally people to question everything schools were doing. Then it was easy to bring on the tests to "force accountability and high standards" on schools while dictating curriculum with no regard to what is actually best for kids because that is not what's wanted. The real powers that be in the country want to eliminate the troublesome (to them) middle class, and the way to do that is to keep people from learning. Their goal is to have only the elite and the rabble, who will be their slave labor. That's my theory, and I'm sticking with it. Many don't see such a plot and think the testing is the result of having non-educators (politicians) making the decisions and that they have simply made some mistakes. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.
You aren't imagining it. It is totally disgusting and frustrating, and I'm counting the seconds until June when I will walk away from all of it and not go back. The injustice we are being forced to impose on children is reprehensible.
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The students are being trained to use their native language in a grammatically correct manner and to write argumentatively without errors in logic. That is what is expected of them on the state writing test in two weeks. I don't think it's asking a lot, but for this particular group it is because they have never bothered to learn the most basic tenants of English grammar, and there is no other way to know them. They have had horrible writing test scores from the primary grades on up to high school, and they are making no effort to do better now. They don't seem to believe or care that they cannot graduate without passing this test even though they could be moved along even with failing scores at the lower grades.
If it's the history of the English language, someone has uploaded an excellent BBC documentary on that topic to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsVz5U76kX0. If you are interested in the history of the country, here are BBC documentaries on that: http://shop.bbc.com/us/video/documentary/icat/videodocumentary#esp_cf=CategoryTitle&esp_filter_CategoryTitle=British%20History&esp_hitsperpage=48 I have found the great majority of BBC documentaries to be excellent. I didn't look on YouTube for any of these, but some may be there. I have used the history of the language more than the history of the country for classes. I teach juniors. It's the senior classes that get into the country's history. I hope this helps you some.