Thursday, March 27, 2014

Standardized Testing: Notes From the Trenches (From March 2012)

Originally published on the now-defunct Crunchy Progressive Parenting Blog on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 (You can tell by the description of the weather in March 2 years ago from today's writing LOL)

Well, the testing madness has begun in Maryland schools, and apparently in other states as well. Even our Public Television station has gotten on board, showing the Arthur episode about the S.W.E.A.T., a fictional standardized test that has students in Arthur's classroom stressing before it even begins. Because as a proctor in my school I've signed an agreement not to disclose any specifics whatsoever about the MSA's, I'm limited in what I can legally share publicly, but a number of general themes have come across in the many Facebook posts I'm reading from other parents and other teachers in different places:

-The children are stressed to the max right now. While in some schools the only real "test prep" has been the occasional writing of "BCR's" ("Brief Constructed Responses," which are formulaic mini-paragraphs which are supposed to show how much the student comprehended the reading passage being written about but in reality only seem to be scorable if they fit the formula, regardless of actual content), in other schools test preparation has been ongoing and nearly constant for weeks to months. Students in some schools (I have NOT heard this about my school, for the record, but another Maryland school in another county) are being told that if they don't do well on these tests, which are not graded by teachers or counted as part of their report cards, they could be held back, and it's mostly the good conscientious students, the ones least likely to have this happen, who are taking this the most seriously. Other moms are reporting their children having come home last week already, before the testing even began, crying with anxiety about the prospect of repeating 4th grade, even though they're A students. At least one teacher I've heard about was up-front with the students, telling them that schools that do well on the tests get more funding. Infuriating, but at least that one is true.

-Whose IDIOT idea was it to schedule these tests just after the start of Daylight Savings Time? We parents are exhorted to "make sure your children get plenty of rest the night before" the tests and eat a good breakfast, only to find it nearly impossible to get our children to bed when the sun has barely gone down, or to get them to eat breakfast an hour before they're hungry in the morning. I'm sorry, but whoever came up with this idea needs to be slapped. At least our PTA has purchased snacks to be handed out between testing but that's just a stopgap. The yawning kids have been a common sight in school this week.

-On what planet is it appropriate to have elementary-aged children sit for a total of 2 and 3 HOURS for FOUR DAYS of testing, with only short breaks? In regular elementary school classroom instruction, students often move from place to place. Both reading and math have seatwork and out-of-seat components in most classrooms, and students can use the restrooms and water fountains pretty much at will, without having to be shepherded by a proctor at 35- to 40-minute intervals.

The time sucking is HUGE. For all the children who might still be reading or writing or filling in bubbles at the end of each block of time, there are many children who finish early. Some kids finish WAY early. My older daughter has always been a quick reader (like me), and very much like me, tends to finish a 30-minute segment of testing in about 10. She studiously goes back and checks her answers for the next maybe 3 or 4 minutes..... and then has to sit there for the rest of the time. No reading a book, no writing in a journal, not even allowed to draw on scratch paper. NOTHING. Can't use the restroom, can't go get a drink, can start on her snack early. NOTHING. Teachers passing by her ask her to re-check her work repeatedly, knowing that of course she already has - but they ask her anyway. She estimated that her first 3-hour day of testing, she had nothing to do for about an hour and 50 minutes, and that yesterday's 2-hour testing left her with about an hour of down time, so that's about 3 hours of 5 where she was not only not learning anything (at least nothing terribly positive LOL), but wasn't even allowed to occupy herself with anything remotely recreational instead. As a nice little topper, despite the fact that it's technically still Winter here in the mid-Atlantic, and that I remember a Saint Patrick's Day blizzard many years ago that closed schools for a week, THIS week it's been in the upper 70's and sunny. And no, the kids can NOT go outside till ALL the BCR's are finished, ALL the bubbles are bubbled in, and ALL the test booklets have been collected and taken back to the locked closet and checked in. I've been proctoring and just in the two days of reading testing for 3rd grade, it's been nearly FOUR HOURS over the two days that could have been used for actual TEACHING. There are still two days of math testing yet to come, and in 5th grade they add a day of science testing.

-A lot of parents and teachers are wondering about the financial cost to the schools and to the State governments to administer and score these tests and to compile the data. This is something I'd love to know myself, and I'm not sure if there is anywhere I can get a straight answer, but I intend to try to find out. My taxes are paying for this travesty, and I'd like to know how the resources are being allotted.

Today and tomorrow I get a break from proctoring and can get back to actual teaching, although with a radically altered schedule. The 5th graders begin their testing at our school today with two days of reading testing before I have to go back and proctor two days of math in 3rd grade. Meanwhile, I weep for the wasted time, and I feel so very sorry for the children stuck inside and the teachers who'd rather be doing what they do best: TEACHING.

Edited to add this gem (video) that came across my email this morning. Warning: I suggest not having any meals while you eat this. You may lose your appetite.

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Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)