The most requested thing for dinner around here? Noodles. With butter.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Timing makes champions

In the last post I told you that standardized tests aren't a bad thing, and teaching to the test isn't a bad thing if the test is valid and reliable.  Today I'd like to address the problem (as I see it) with the particular standardized test situation in our state.

The problem is timing.  Timing of the test, timing of our bell schedule when it is testing season, and timing of the results- all problems.

We get out of school in June- usually in the third week or so.  But we take the test in May- usually around the first week or so.  This means we have to finish teaching all the state standards about 6 weeks before the end of the school year, and it causes quite a gap from when we are done testing to the end of the school year.  We try to maximize our time and the taxpayers' $$$ by starting the standards for the NEXT year of school so we can hit the ground running in the fall.  My 6th graders will start learning more about integers, measures of central tendency, and what the calculator buttons mean next week when the testing is over and we settle back to regular classes.  It's not a bad idea to do this, but it doesn't always work like we would want it to.  Many of our kids move a lot- they are in and out of school boundaries and district boundaries and there's no guarantee that the students who started the 7th grade standards with me in the spring will actually be enrolled in our school in the fall.  In a perfect world, the standardized testing would occur around the first week in June instead of the first week in May.

Changing our regular bell schedule to accommodate the testing also is a matter of timing.  In the past, we could just have the kids sit down with the paper and pencil tests and all take the tests at once.  But most of the tests are on computer now and we don't have a one-to-one student-to-machine correspondence at our building.  This means we have to take turns and do the test in shifts.  This takes two weeks of our schedule.  We still see all our students each day, but the class periods are short and it's tough to convince a 6th grader that they ought to keep doing homework when they have already taken the BIG TEST.  I've been showing math movies.  A good use of time, but two weeks is a bit much.

The last issue is with the timing of the results.  We take the tests in May but the results are not published until late August.  There is no way for a school to use the results to celebrate the successes or provide support for those who didn't pass.  It's not easy to track down my former students in the building in September and say, "Hey- you passed!  Great job!"  The 8th graders have moved on to high school, the incoming 6th graders are all new to everything, it's very anti-climactic and quite a let-down.  Also, I only know scores, I do not know which questions were problematic to my students.  Very hard to make plans for the next year, very hard to try to improve my teaching with so little to go on.  It is not an encouraging situation for teacher or student.  The weird thing is, they take most of the tests on a computer- certainly the results could be tabulated and sent to us much sooner than August.  Sigh.

So the next time you hear in the national news that a teacher has quit because of standardized testing, pay attention to the reasons they give.  Check and see if they are just spouting the same old stuff about teaching to the test, or if they have really given the issue some serious thought.

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