Wednesday, April 29, 2009

State Testing

At my school we've been doing state testing for a week and a half now, Monday through Wednesday of last week, and Monday through Wednesday and also Friday of this week. Long-time readers of this blog will know I'm a fan of standardized testing--outside, objective eyes are a good thing--but implementation, from the state on down to my school, is just idiotic. I'll only mention a few things just to give you a flavor.

Let's start with the state. Why do we have stringent standards, standards that certainly require a full school year to teach, but test on these standards in mid-late April? Can anyone come up with a good, academic reason to do this?

Add to this, some of the instructions are silly. For example, for the math tests the students are to write on their answer documents the two-digit version number that's on their testing booklet. Then they are to bubble in the number that number that they wrote--but the bubbles contain only one digit. Yes, the version numbers all begin with zero (e.g., 01, 02, etc.) and there are only bubbles for numbers 1-7, but why the inconsistency? The rules are so rigid that I have to read all instructions to the students verbatim, yet it's impossible to follow that particular instruction about bubbling in the number. Are other instructions so requiring of interpretation?

Additionally, all tests are untimed--students can have as much time as they want or need. However, each of the math tests contain 2 parts. Why, I don't know--there are problems in the first part, and similar problems in the second part. We allot 2 hr 40 min to do the whole math test; if students need more time, they can go to a special room once "regular" classes start and finish the test. However, if a student finishes Part 1 and moves on to Part 2, the instructions forbid the student to go back and check work in Part 1. But remember, the student can take as much time as he/she wants in Part 1! I can come up with no explanation for this seeming inconsistency.

Go down a level to the school districts. Some will want to game the system, to gain an advantage over other districts when Academic Performance Index scores are calculated and released. Those districts will try to cover all the standards before the testing in April; they'll cram 181 days of instruction into 140 days, meaning those districts spend 22% less time on each standard just to "expose" students to the material so they stand a better chance of getting the right answers on the test. I assume they go back and reinforce some of this material after the tests, but I don't know.

And now, my school. We're given a window in which to conduct the tests, and at my school we spread the tests out over 2 weeks. We tested 1st period students on Monday of last week, 2nd period on Tuesday, and 3rd period on Wednesday. After the 2:40 testing period, we held ordinary classes (either odd- or even-numbered periods, so the classes can be 70 minutes long instead of only 30). On Thursday and Friday we held our regular schedule.

This week we did 4th period on Monday, 5th on Tuesday, and 6th today, and sophomores will take an "NCLB Science" test this Friday. Non-sophomores signed up for "study hall", presumably with their favorite teacher, for Friday.

After kids spend over 2-1/2 hrs testing, you might imagine that they're "all tested out". So for two weeks it's difficult to schedule ordinary tests or quizzes--remember, ordinary classes are supposed to go on as usual, and we're supposed to be teaching. Our schedule makes that a bit difficult, though.

It's possible to write valid, reliable tests, and to create a testing regime to administer those tests in a logical manner. Sadly, I don't think we have such a testing regime here in California. Remember, I'm a proponent of standardized testing. If I can complain this much about our testing, imagine what opponents must be saying.


Scott McCall said...

dont forget, the students who dont need to take the tests for the 2:40 must attend school, even if they have no assignments.....what a waste of time

Rho said...

Our state tests in Ohio are given in the middle of March for the sophomores. I'm an English teacher and usually have all of the kids as freshmen and about 1/2 of them as sophomores, so I can be reasonably sure that they have had ample reading and writing prep. But our science and social studies teachers lose 1/2 of the 3rd grading period and all of the last nine weeks. So in the two areas where the tests are the hardest, the students have less than 3/4 of the year to learn a year's worth of material. AND since way too many come into high school with an abysmal lack of mathematical knowledge, abilities, and anything like a math "sense", the hs teachers end up trying to get 3-4 years taught in less than two years. Where did common sense go?

MiddleSchoolSecretary said...

What's bad is if they make a mistake on that one confusing bubble for the version of the math test, they are scored on the wrong test with no going back. In middle school, the kid who bubbles in algebra while taking a pre-algebra test will be scored for algebra, and so there goes the API. We had all sorts of emailed clarifications about those confusing instructions today, and so teachers had to walk around and check each students individual test to make sure it was done right.

I think my entire district has a testing window and each individual school can make up their schedule within that window. I know the middle school are all testing on different dates.

You didn't mention the parent education level. :)

Ellen K said...

We are testing as well. And we must 'actively monitor' which translates into walking around the rooms as if you have some sort of attention deficit issue. It's like watching paint dry. No, it's worse.
The only exciting thing is that when I got back to my room, I discovered that one of the elementaries that feeds into my high school is now closed for a week thanks to Swine Flu. And all of those kids big brothers and sisters are probably in my classes. It's just a matter of time. I have bottles of hand sanitizer around the room like ornaments. And what's worse is that the state of Texas will probably find some way to make us extend the school year to accommodate this untimely closure.

Chanman said...

We just started testing today, and for the first time, my school's administration is doing it right: They ditched the idiotic "test for two hours then have an abbreviated class schedule for the rest of the day," and instead, for the next three days, we test until 1:10pm, the students eat lunch, and then they go home at 1:40pm.

That's how it was done when I was in school 20-30 years ago.

It's wonderful!

maxutils said...

You don't have to imagine what the opponents are saying . . .you have me> :)

Steve, USMA '85 said...

Darren, how to account for the inconsistency in the Part I/II test doesn't seem that hard to me. I have taken tests like that going from my Master's degree, even some at our Alma Mater. I'll forgo the unlimited time issue, not sure I agree with that part.

However, not being allowed to go back to part I after starting part II is a strategy normally used when something in a part II question is part of the answer to a problem on part I. Part I may ask you identify which diagram is an Isosceles triangle. Testing the concept of whether the student understands that an Isosceles triangle has two sides of equal length. Part II might ask the question prove that all triangles with two (and only two) equal angles are Isosceles. The student has to use geometry to prove that the two equal angles causes there to be two equal sides. Now given that the Part II problem basically gives the definition of an Isosceles triangle, the student is given the knowledge to answer the Part I question. Knowledge he may not have had beforehand.

Not a testing technique used often but valid none the less.

Sidenote: sorry if my Isosceles analogy isn't the best, I thought it up on the fly and didn't take time try for something more apropos.

Darren said...

Steve, I think you give the state folks too much credit :-) I see your point, but no student has *told* me that your scenario exists on our tests. Who knows.

Steve, USMA '85 said...

Agreed. Rarely used but this leaves the State the option.

Along the same lines, the '02' versus '2' on the test form number leaves the State the option over the years to use more then nine different test forms. I have learned in my Government service that redesigning a form, or even a single question, is a headache.

Anonymous said...

darren, i find in interesting that your school test both math sections on the same day. in PA we have 3 math sections and test each on a seperate day -- thereby they have an unlimited amount of time that single day (which is really a limit, isn't it?) to finish that particular section. then, the next day they cannot go back to the previous section(s). the reading is the same, and we do the tests every other day - reading, math, reading, math, etc. and our dayslooks like chanman's for that week.

i also think that testing in MARCH (when we test usually ) is ridiculous. my school makes us teach the next grade level's content after PSSA's are over to get a jump on the next school year. but then, the next school year we get pacing guides that we must follow rigidly -- which will ensure that we cover all the standards before march, so that march can be left for test prep. um. . so basically, nothing is mastered, just familiarized.

and ellen -- active proctoring IS the worst! haha


Mrs. Bluebird said...

Your tests are untimed?!?!?! Seriously? Man, ours are timed to the second...