Monday, April 8, 2013

Why I DESPISE Standardized Tests

(A caveat before you begin reading. Usually if I have a complaint I will vent my concerns, and then I will try to offer solutions. There's none of that in this post. I am fired up. But more than that, I am sad. I am sad about what I'm about to do to my students, and I feel like I have no way out. Because if I don't do it, then somebody else will.  And if the poor kids have to do it, I'd rather they at least have a friendly, caring face there with them. So - proceed with caution. This is just me, angry and upset, about what teaching and education have become.)

I push the limits a lot with what I do in my classroom, and I'm very thankful for the support I have to do what's best for my kids. But I'm pretty sure that I'm as close as I've ever been to getting in B-I-G trouble at work, and to be quite honest, I'm not even so sure that I care. After all, what is being written up or sent home without a few days' pay compared to the torture I'm forced to put my students through over the next three week?

I'm talking about the PSSAs. The Pennsylvania high stakes, bull crap, one snapshot picture of my students. The tests that are used to judge my school, used to label my kids, and next year they'll also be used to judge me. Let me tell you why I am SO fired up this evening.

1. I had to waste 45 minutes of my life, 45 that could have been better spent on planning or prepping for my students, to watch a video and take a test about administering the tests. I can't make this up. The ridiculousness of the video is almost difficult to put into words, but I can tell you that if I had heard the narrator say, "Be sure your students have 2 sharpened number 2 pencils with good erasers," one more time I would have used said pencils to poke my own eyes out.

2. Then, because the 45-minute "webinars" weren't bad enough, we had to have an additional meeting. During this meeting our administrators had to teach us what to do if children had cell phones in their pockets, how to do a fire drill if test books were still in rooms, what to do with disruptive students, how to summon a nurse, and .... my favorite.... what to do if a student pukes on a book. We also got to hear answers to amazing questions like, "Can students use post-its to mark their spots on the scantron sheet?" (Because we are not allowed to help our 9, 10 and 11 year olds track such a thing. That would be cheating.) "What about if a kid has a terrible bathroom emergency?" (You are allowed to let them go, and you may actually tell them what number to start working on when they come back if they ask.) And, "So can kids use calculators?" (honestly - not evening touching that one) Again, 45 minutes of my teaching life that I will never get back.

As annoying and ridiculous as that all is, it gets even better.

3. According to the PSSA information there are several accommodations available to ALL students. One of those accommodations is that students may have any of the tests, with the exception of reading, read aloud to them. But wait.... there's a catch. Even though every student has the right to have this accommodation, the only ones who will get it are the ones who ASK for it. If one of my special ed students, who is reading on a 1st or 2nd grade level, can't read a question I cannot simply read it for them even though this accommodation is included in the legally binding IEP we *must* follow. I have to wait for them to raise their hand and ASK me to read it or I can't provide this accommodation.

Riddle me this. If it says that reading the math test is an accommodation for all kids, why does ANYBODY have to ask for it??? If I want to read to my students, why can't I just read to them?

Oh, and riddle me this. If this is supposed to be a test of my students' abilities how in the WORLD are we getting an accurate measure of their math abilities when they aren't getting the accommodations allowed?

4. Many of our students are also legally guaranteed to receive small group testing. Just out of curiosity, how many of you think 17 is a small group? Or even 11? How about 10 or 9? Personally, I thought small group meant 5 or 6. I thought wrong.

5. We received notification that our reading clinics (Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction for those of you RTII fans) will be cancelled on testing days, but the expectation is that we will use those 30 minutes for test-taking strategy review, skill review, class meetings, or class work. It is not to be used as a study hall or <GASP> any sort of free time where I students may actually be able to talk, relax or act their age after being force to sit still and quiet for 2.5 hours.

I'm upset. I'm angry.

My teammates and I have worked hard all year to help our students, no matter what their challenges, realize that they can be successful at anything they put their minds to. And to be honest, they are finally starting to believe it.  But guess what - everything about these tests sets them up for failure. They aren't getting the testing settings they need and deserve. They are not getting the support and accommodations they are legally required to get. If even one of my kids cries.........

The worst part? There is nothing I can do about it because, "Our hands are tied." Because, "It's not us, it's the state." Because, "That's just the way it is and there's nothing we can do about it."

At what point will we finally put an end to this madness?


PNaugle said...

Dear Becky,
Thank you for your courage in stating what so many of us in classrooms all around this country are feeling.

Today we started PhaseII of our Louisiana high stakes state testing. We completed the reading and responding, using informational resources, and proofreading sections. We started at 9 and finished at 3:15!! Our entire school, PK-5 grade, was on a testing freeze for 6 and a half hours! We had a 45 minute break so that all grades could eat lunch. We don't have recess at our school and all PE classes were cancelled due to the testing freeze. You can just imagine how the students were feeling by the end of this grueling day. And we have three more days of testing this week.

I am proud of how hard my students worked on their tests and we were finished at 12:30. I had to keep them quite for the entire afternoon - no talking, no fun learning activities that could cause noise. I taught them how to do zentangles and they worked quietly on their creations.

Teachers in my state have a new evaluation process in place this year. Fifty percent of our evaluation is based on observations of our teaching and 50% is based on our students' test scores on this high stakes test. I came home exhausted and took a two hour nap!

I wish you and your students the best during your testing madness.

Yes, when will this madness end?

Becky Bair said...

Thank you for your kind words, and thank you so much for sharing what your kids are going through. I can't even imagine what it must be like for no recess and no PE... at least they haven't taken that away from us. Yet.

The new evaluation process you talked about is headed my way next year. But no matter what type of stakes they put on these tests, I will never, ever ask my students to do anything other than their best.

Fingers crossed that my kids are able to use their skills as well as yours did today. And good luck the rest of this week. Once we're all finished we can all get back to the learning that's so important.

PNaugle said...

My students keep asking me when we are going to get back to Mystery Location calls, collaborative projects, blogging, and making videos, instead of what we have been doing for the last few weeks - test prep.

All of the activities I have my students engaged in are preparing them to be ready to face their futures, except for the test prep part. When will the people in charge realize, if you what to see what students can do, let them create artifacts which showcase their learning. A bubbled-in answer sheet doesn't do that!

Becky Bair said...

"When will the people in charge realize, if you what to see what students can do, let them create artifacts which showcase their learning."

Probably when companies figure out a way to make money off of it!!!

Robert said...

I feel your frustration. Here in Texas we just got through the first round of testing for our fifth graders. You see, Texas fifth graders must pass math and reading in order to be promoted to 6th grade. It is the same for the eighth graders to go to high school.

Robin Martin said...

Well said Becky and Paula. Six hours! I can't imagine anywhere else in a child's career that they take a test for that long and the results are valid! I get the standardized test to measure student improvement. But the fluff that goes along with it is crazy. I wrote about this too in my Discovery blog here:

Robin Martin said...

Well said Becky and Paula. I can't believe that your state has 6 hours for elementary kids! That is crazy. State authorities need to get back in the classroom to see what goes on. I too posted about testing on the PA Discovery blog:

Do't forget to bring water to the testing day. It helps your brain!!

Becky Bair said...

Robert, thanks for adding that information about Texas. I wonder how many more states will soon add that requirement. I can't imagine what kind of pressure that must put on your 5th graders and their teachers!

And Robin, it makes me shake my head, too. You don't have to be in education, heck - you don't even have to have your own children! - to know that kids of any age can't do things to the best of their ability for periods of time like that. Who are the people who think this is acceptable??

Justin Stortz said...

I feel your pain, Becky. And it burns me. I know you had a comment on one of my posts many months ago about how hard your year was going as well. I hate that feeling.

Robert is definitely right about that pressure in Texas. My son had to take 3 state tests this year, 2 of which had to be passed. It's stressful. Last year he made a sign for his classroom door that said:

"Disturbed. Do not test."

I was a very proud father. :)

My students and I did a little math a few days ago. We figured out that we have a test (district quarterly exams, Istation, MAP, STAAR) on 27 days of the year. That's about 1 every 6 days. At least it's pretty much over for this year.

Becky Bair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky Bair said...

Justin, I love your son's sign! I would have been proud of him, too! When a third grader can verbalize the stress he's feeling in that creative manner, it seems as though the adults "in charge" should recognize that something is not right!

We did the math, too, but we included all of the required math and reading tests we have to take at the district level, and it worked out to an entire marking period lost to assessment. I understand the value of formative assessments for instruction, but when I'm teaching something just to give a grade because I "have to" then there's a problem.

Hopefully we can all continue to be voices for our kids so that we can move past this bump and move on to a better education for all students!