today all my students will sit for a state required test in Local, State, and National Government. For some, this will be their third (out of four) tests in three days, with Bio on Monday, Algebra on Tuesday (and English for all 10th graders tomorrow). This year, for the first time, all tests will be taken on computers, as they now consist only of multiple choice items.
Our test will consist of 3 45 minute sessions. I am not quite sure, but I think it is around 25-26 questions per session. This will be painful for many of my students, but not because the test will be that difficult - in a paper and pencil practice yesterday, my students were able to complete 43 questions in less than 30 minutes of testing time (we went 10, 10, 10 and 13 questions at a time, and then reviewed the answers). None of my AP students will fail, and few of my non-AP will.
No, the issue will be one of boredom. They will finish the questions in their sections, and have nothing to do for the rest of the 45 minutes.
Let me explain a bit below the fold, then offer a few thoughts of my own.
- The quality of the questions sucks. Yesterday we were using questions released from the 2008 examination. There were 5 questions asked twice in different formats, which means only 38 subjects were actually covered. There were 6 questions with no technically correct answer, although in each case the answer considered correct by the state was fairly obvious.
- The state is so desperate not to have too many students fail to graduate that they are given multiple opportunities to pass the tests. And even then, students can graduate without passing any of the tests.
First, each test has a scaled score, in which raw scores (number correct) are translated into a score on a scale that goes up to 450. How the state makes that conversion is not public, which allows them to manipulate the results. Thus on our test, the passing scaled score in 394, which could represent 50% correct, 60% correct, 65% correct - we simply do not know.
Second, for each test there is a floor - let's say that for our test that floor is 380. Although that is not "passing" a student may not have to worry if s/he passes another test with 14 points more than necessary on the scaled score - that is, if a student achieves a total score on the four tests equal to the sum of the cut (passing) scores s/he is allowed to graduate.
Third, if the student still does not have the total score necessary, part of a failing grade can be offset through what is called "the Bridge Plan for Academic Validation" after two unsuccessful attempts to pass the actual test. This requires doing one or more projects under supervision to "raise" the score. I have, during the summer, taught in this program, and the quality of projects that are accepted is laughable.
Oh, by the way, a passing score on an AP or IB exam is allowed to substitute, but since those scores are not returned until after the school year ends, students are still required to sit for the High School Assessments in the year they take the equivalent course, and I have NEVER had an AP student come close to not passing the HSA, so that alternative way of meeting the requirements seems somewhat pointless.
Two of these four High School Assessments count for Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind, those in Algebra and 10th Grade English. Of course, our state superintendent of schools was, at one point, allowing school systems not to test in May those students who had already failed the course for the year, provided they were mandated to attend summer school, and then tested in August, when their test scores did not count towards Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Whether or not you are either an educator or a psychometrician, it should be obvious of that lack of meaning of such an approach to assessing the students' level of knowledge. It is hardly a rigorous standard, given how much the system has been manipulated to maintain a politically acceptable rate of graduation. The date used for AYP is also somewhat bogus for the reasons noted. Given the lack of transparency of the conversion of raw scores to scaled scores, there is a further problem of the meaning of the test results, even were the questions (a) of decent quality, and (b) a representative sampling of the course content, which I can assure readers is not the case in my subject of government.
For these results, this week we are effectively doing no instruction.
Maryland schools put so much emphasis on these tests that many students effectively shut down once the tests are done, even though our school year usually goes into the 2nd week of June - and this year, because of the lost snow days, five of which were forgiven and four more days were added at the end of the school year, we will go into the 3rd week. If one does the math, we are doing tests for "yearlong" courses about with between 1/6 and 1/8 of the school year remaining.
I will keep my students busy with other learning activities, and my assessments for those activities will carry a major weight in calculating their quarter grade, so most will continue to learn. Hopefully I can make some of this enjoyable - learning should have a joy, an excitement to it, something our current approach to testing tends to drain.
And fortunately, we will not have to do more benchmarking, more test prep, because it is not just this week we lose from meaningful instruction, it is all the practice tests, all the test prep, that our school system requires, even for my AP students, in order to have 'data' that indicates whether they are on course to "pass" these tests.
Today I will spend several hours in a computer lab watching my some of my students spend most of their time sitting around waiting for the clock to expire on that testing session. I cannot do anything productive during that time. Nothing in this process is helping my students learn or understand.
It is not just No Child Left Behind, that abomination foisted upon us by the Bush administration and unfortunately continued by the Obama administration.
It is the previous generations of education "reform" such as Goals 2000, and the supposed increased 'rigor" and higher standards.
For me this is a bastardization of what education should be.
I am a teacher. This is not teaching.
I am required to participate. I hate this. And so do my students.
Today is Test Day. Thank God it will soon be past.