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Testing Time

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It that time of year-testing time! My fever blisters have returned, my principal has very dark circles under her eyes, our testing coordinator’s face is drawn with anxiety, the teachers’ faces show deep lines of worry, and the students have rarely smiled during the last two weeks. This is my first testing experience in a school where our test scores determine so much of our future.

During the past two weeks, I have watched the tension and the effort of the entire school as grades 3-8 go through a battery of tests. The students did a wonderful job and for the most part worked so hard. Our school had 100% participation in the younger grades and 99% in the older grades. It was a complete school effort to achieve this participation rate from offering daily student incentives to making phone calls to homes. One morning, one student was late and our school secretary called her house and told her parents they had three minutes to get her to school. Believe it or not, the student was at school in three minutes! This is the advantage of having a school secretary who lives in the community and knows everyone!

Prior to testing, our school initiated a program called, “Encourage a Kid”. Each teacher in our school along with school secretaries, aides, and custodians, adopted a student to seek out daily and give extra encouragement. Teachers recommended students for this program based on need. Many teachers took this assignment to heart and really made a special effort to make daily contacts with these students. One of the students I was assigned to would seek out me before the test if I did not get to see her first thing in the morning. This confirmed to me one of my beliefs about the importance of building relationships with students. We also had some outside support in encouraging our students. A local high school’s Key Club adopted two grades in our school and wrote personalized notes to each student. The younger students loved these letters. In a thank you letter one of our students wrote back,” Thank you for helping me not be so nervous.” Some days students were very anxious. One day two classes did not finish the test in the allotted time. The teachers were almost in tears over this and after school one of the students came up to me agonizing over not finishing. I tried to reassure her all we asked was for her to do her best.

I am not one of these people who whines about testing. I have accepted this is the age of accountability for our schools and as a classroom teacher, I welcome accountability. However, when I was going thought the test booklets to erase stray marks,(one of my “fun” jobs during the past two weeks) one student’s test booklet struck me as I turned the pages of the immaculately bubbled in test. This was the test of one of our special education students. I had been told how hard he had worked during the tests. I thought about him and the effort he gave to completing this task of these many tests. I do not know what his scores will be, I just know he gave 110%.

I hurt for our students who are giving their very best and yet by our testing standards may never have the reward of high scores. I wish policymakers could see this student’s face as he worked so diligently for the many days of testing. My concern is how we measure student achievement. Somehow we must find a way to reward all students for the growth they make each year and give every child a chance for success.


I welcome your comments on this subject.

14 Comments

You wrote from my heart. These are our children. They are coming from so many differnt places in life, why do our schools have be pressured to have them all in the same academic place on the same day?

They don't all learn to walk on the same day, and in the land of the free and home of the brave, we need to do better than high stakes testing.

I agree with you so very much. We have just finished testing this week. Boy, what a week! I watched as my students in 4th grade agonized over some of the questions and others breezed through. One of my students, who is currently at a 3rd grade math level,diligently worked on the math portion trying his best even though he couldn't understand many of the questions. It saddens me that even though he is at a lower math level than others in my class, when his scores come in he will still probably be ranked as Below Basic and yet he has worked so very hard this year and has made much progress. Even as a parent, I watched as my own children (8th & 5th grade) worried about these tests and later told me that some questions were so hard they just had to guess. I understand accountability and showing growth, however, what are we doing to our children? They are pushed and pushed by curriculum and then tested repeatedly. Is this in the best interest of the children?

We finished our testing in March. The same senario- In Florida our school is graded by our test scores. Third graders do not go to fourth and seniors don't graduate if they do not pass. Our ESE and Esol(non english speaking students) do count as part of our grade. I do not fear accountability. I welcome true accountability. I can tell you the horror stories here of moving targets and lack of true growth scores. I do not like the politics of it. If all public schools fail we will have all private schools which have NO accountability.

Accountability is fine if we test on where the student starts and ends in a year, but that is not what is happening. It seems that the teachers are working so much harder than most of the students and the powers that be have no idea what the classroom teacher is dealing with day after day. Testing is great with moderation but it seems as if we are constantly testing (standarized) and the students just get tried of it and don't try. It is natural to have high goals but if the students in your classes have not yet made the goals several steps back then how are you to meet the goals set for your level. And of course in diverse groups you can have the highest learner with the lowest, and in our district the class sizes just seem to go up. Plus all the sub groups from special needs to CI all in the same class and can we possibly think that a CI student with a 1st grade reading level can and will learn or realize as much as a student on grade level 6-8 ? We try but it isn't always possible and all students are included on the tests.

I, too, agree that there should be accountability. My area of interest is technology and how technology can empower students and encourage better results to learn content. Much of this occurs in constructivism using the technology which will often not show up on standardized tests. Because technology is such a huge part of our world today, I feel the testing measures in place do not account for the total picture in analyzing student achievement. We must find a way to do that. While I am 100% for using data to determine steps to improve the future, you can't always measure all a student is learning in project-based learning with technology.

As a poet in residence for many years, one of the ways I have found helpful in being accountable to the students I teach is to ask them to write down a list of three things they learned during my presentation or what was the most important idea they would take home with them and share with their family. I was always amazed what students wrote and found this helpful as a teacher in accessing what the students had learned and if I had been successful in teaching about creative writing. It has been a simple way of documenting and assuring myself to being on the right track.

THANK YOU! Your comments hit home. As a 4th grade Resource Center teacher we push this group even harder than the so-called "regular" education kids because we know many times they are blamed for the low district scores reported. But thanks to NCLB, this will continue to be the case. The one group this law is supposed to help is the one group who suffers the most during testing.

Possibly if districts were not made to post these scores on the front page of the newspapers once they are released there might not be so much pressure to perform on these tests, and that is exactly what these tests have become - a performance to be memorized, performed and then forgotten!

A lot of people overlook the connections between testing and expectations. In an earlier post, you noted the inequity of standards and expectations from one school to another. That is the very target of the testing that is being done -- the inequity of standards and expectations that leads to poor and non-white students being measured with a different yardstick than are other students. If you were to look closely at the standardized tests being administered, you'd find that they really aren't terribly difficult (Achieve did a study) and that the expectations reflected by the tests aren't unreasonable. Of course, there are students at all different levels of achievement in a single classroom, and a student who can't read shouldn't be expected to take a reading test. But the visibility that the assessments give into the different expectations that different schools have is intended to be a good thing in that it's meant to help districts give more resources to the neediest schools. Testing is just a tool. If it is misused, that practice should stop. But having clear and equitable expectations should never stop.

Dear Betsy,
I guess I'm done biting my tongue.
Kelly hits on an interesting point; a key point in the current debate on standardized testing.
That is, the belief that providing the same test to everyone will force teachers, schools,
districts to give the same education to everyone.
Kelly, do you honestly believe that
because the immigrants in my school, and the children who have been malnourished, and
the ones who have been in seven schools over nine years of schooling, and the ones who
are living with grandma in the single room of the nursing home and the ones whose
parents use them as baby sitters so they only get to school two times a month are given the
same exam as the children of my middle class neighbors who have provided a stable home,
a special tutor, exposure to plays and travel (when their son was studying the Civil War,
they took a trip to Manassas) that this will assure that they all have the same chance to do
well on the tests? Will a universal test make up for the fact that teachers in my city are
paid $10,000 to $25,000 a year less than those in the nearby suburbs, and so, for many of
the best and the brightest, the city schools are a training ground where they can learn and
make their mistakes and when they start to catch on, can do what is best for their families?
For politicians looking to please a public that prefers to pay as little as possible to help
other peoples’ children, the lie that testing will raise expectations is an elegant way to
wriggle out of their responsibilities for showing real leadership. Thousands of teachers
whose expectations for their students are quite high, and who struggle every day and work
late every night to find a way to overcome the destructive results of poverty must shake
their heads with wonder at the people who believe this.
“If you were to look closely at the standardized tests being administered, you'd find that
they really aren't terribly difficult (Achieve did a study) and that the expectations reflected
by the tests aren't unreasonable.”
That’s an amazing statement. Achieve did a study? Well I guess that settles it. Forget
“Adopt a student”; forget weeks of preparation; forget fever blisters, dark circles,
unsmiling children—the tests are easy, if your kids are having trouble, it’s because you
haven’t done your job.

Yes, testing it just a tool, but not a tool for addressing inequities, not a tool for measuring accountability, not a tool that fits every job. There is no "If it is misused"--it IS misused.
Joe

We just completed Week One of testing at our school. I can relate to your comments about the school climate....we're all a bit bleary-eyed! I thought your idea of "Encourage a Kid" was fabulous. I'm going to pass it on to our administrator. Maybe we can institute it next year.
I too have come to accept that this is the age of accountability. I think the concept is extremely valuable, however, I wonder about the accuracy of it all. I proctored in a 2nd grade class this week. I wonder about a test that requires a 7 year old to sustain reading (passages & questions) for a period of time lasting up to 40 minutes? Isn't this close to eternity? I wonder about them reading story passages that follow with several questions that seem to test obscure concepts....Who writes the standardized tests? How does this group of individuals decide what aspects of a child's academic learning is MOST important? And how does this reflect an entire school's growth toward certain goals?
I'm middle aged but a beginning teacher - this is year #2 for me. I still have lots of questions and concerns!
I fully agree and support your last comments. We must not "over focus" on the importance of the scores of these tests. We must find a hundred different ways (I do and I know you do too) to show our kids how proud we are (and they should be too) of their hard work and progress and achievements.

Betsy,

In an imperfect society things go wrong. I'm not saying that high stakes testing is always and everywhere a good thing. But the alternative is a lot worse. Low expectations are deadly for many of our students. And Joe Bellacero's comment is exactly what I mean and why I was so excited to read the comments from Kelly.
What Joe suggests is that immigrant children in his school should not be expected to do well.
I have news for Joe: immigrant children can do as well or better as non-immigrant children. But if we all start with adapting the curriculum and the tests for these kids and praise them only because they're doing their best, many of them will never get anywhere. And NOT because of a lack of potential, but mainly because of a lack of expectations.
Of course there are exceptions. But the standards I see (in California where we seem to have pretty high ones), are NOT too hard. Maybe 4-5 hours a day is not enough. But with parent support, high expectations and effective teaching, I KNOW that most of the children can fall in the proficient (standards based, not percentile) category.
Just yesterday I analyzed a group of students and there actually is a chance that one subgroup in one of our elementary schools gets 100% proficient students. One down, many to go. It can be done and in Gilroy it will be done.


Upon reading Rob van Herk's comment, I went back to my posting to see where I had implied that expectations should be lower for some kids than others. I am constantly pointing out to my students that language at its best is an imprecise tool for communication, so we must try to use it as carefully as we can if we want to make our points clear. That Rob took from my words the idea that I do not believe in the ability of immigrants to learn, grow, contribute, achieve is very embarrassing. I want to assure him that that is far from the day to day reality of my practice.
I think the problem I'm having with communication is that belief Rob and Kelly have that the results of standardized tests actually measure anything worthwhile in terms of comparing one group with another. THAT is what I reject. We can get kids to pass tests. I do it all the time, with varying degrees of self-loathing depending on how many of the educational needs of a particular group of students I must ignore in order to prep them.
The results of standardized tests (assuming they are well made which is emphatically not always the case) can give teachers useful information about Oscar, Luisa, Angie, Shaniqua. And they certainly serve as motivators for teachers and students to focus on certain kinds of knowledge, skills, and performances. I wouldn't do without them (although, like Kris Miller, I sometimes wonder what is going through the heads of the people who make them). But the reality of life is that the tests cannot be used to compare one cohort to another, one school to another, one subgroup to another (I tried to suggest some reasons in the previous posting but there are more--all of which come down to the nearly infinite number of variables which no test can account for). To me, 15,000 students down the line since I started teaching, the feeding to the public of the idea that standardized test results and high expectations are the same thing is the single biggest lie in education. A lie used primarily to distract the public from recognizing the willfully uneven distribution of resources.

Accountability does mean testing is here to stay. My objection is the failure to test special education students in a way that can measure the progress they have made. When a student performs several years below grade level, a test that starts 5 years above his level of performance will show his gaps. The problem is that it does not adequately show his progress. For many of these youngsters testing does not celebrate their progress; it emphasizes how far they have to go.

We are in the midst of state testing right now at our school. After that we move on to our district testing, which looks at the individual gains, and seems much more applicable. Your comments were so true, expecially about students giving 110%, but then no one ever grades them on that. Why can't we look at their achievements on a more individual basis? What about all the assessment that takes place on a daily basis, that of the classroom teacher. He/she knows the gains their students have made and work daily off their informal assessments to help each child reach their goals. Somehow we need to take that into account.

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  • Joe Bewllacero: Upon reading Rob van Herk's comment, I went back to read more
  • Rob van Herk: Betsy, In an imperfect society things go wrong. I'm not read more
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