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Teaching the Test

We are in our countdown to LEAP testing. Beginning on March 10th, our fourth and eighth grade students will be taking high-stakes, state mandated criterion referenced tests in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. Their scores will determine whether or not they can be promoted to the next grade. Students in grades three, five, six, and seven will take norm-referenced tests, but they are not high-stakes.

Several of our eighth grade students failed the test last year. About 25% of them failed the test when they were in 4th grade also. These are the students who are 15 years old. If they don’t pass this year, they will have to attend a special school for over aged children next year. That school is also for disruptive students. I’d much rather that they get into a regular high school.

The local school district started a homework hotline this week. One night the superintendent called me to let me know that quite a few calls had come in from our students. These were fourth grade students seeking assistance with Math problems. I was happy to hear that the students were serious enough to get help. Their teacher said she gave the students the hotline number because they were starting new skills and she didn't want them to be too frustrated or confused if they forgot the rules for working with fractions.

There is so much pressure on the students to pass these tests that sometimes they get physically ill during the testing sessions. I know how they feel. I’m starting to get a little nervous myself. We started school in early August to give us a few extra weeks of instruction before the test dates. It’s one of many strategies we’ve tried for students who are admittedly behind their peers in other less devastated areas of the state. I'm convinced that the students can learn anything we want to teach them. They just need time; our time is running out for this year.

I was never a person who believed in teaching the test or teaching to the test. When the stakes are so high, it’s hard to take your mind off the test. It’s impossible to stop thinking about it. It’s a challenge to do anything that is not LEAP-like.

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