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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.

  1.  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.
  1.  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.


Originally posted to teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 03:30 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (19+ / 0-)

    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 03:30:29 AM PDT

  •  now I will get dressed and go to school (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    khloemi, TexMex, jrooth, KJC MD, danmitch

    I will see only one classroom of students, who since they are assigned alphabetically, will be mainly those from the other teachers of Government.  I hate this day because I do not see my own students, I am not serving them, I am not helping them learn.

    This is part of my required duties.  I am today not a teacher, but a test administrator.

    So be it.  And thank God this will soon be past, at least for this year.


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 03:33:46 AM PDT

    •  Hi Ken! (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, TexMex, sc kitty, Word Alchemy

      Agreed on all points. These days my job is SCORING those standardized tests. Not the multiple choice, "fill in the bubble" parts which are machine scored but the "write an essay" or "solve this math problem, show your work parts."

      I can't say a lot due to confidentiality clauses, but this much is clear:

      a) if we don't teach grammar and punctuation and sentence structure and actually take off points for when its wrong, no one will bother learning it. MORAL: Spell check & grammar check cannot save you.

      b) there are states where parents should sue for a refund of all their school taxes. When 8th graders from one state can run (or write) circles around 11th graders from another state, the parents of those 11th graders have been ripped off for years by the education establishment.

      Good luck fighting boredom. You have no idea how "exciting" it is reading the same crippled ideas is day after day for a whole state.


      "God has given wine to gladden the hearts of people." Psalm 104:15

      by WineRev on Thu May 20, 2010 at 05:05:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You are probably preaching mostly to the choir (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, sc kitty

    here, Ken.  If most teachers think as you do, and they probably do, then the only effective means to change this paradigm is for teachers to prevail upon legislatures of the folly of this entire testing rubric.  Maybe it's too late; maybe the time has passed for effective advocacy to reverse course on this testing movement, but I know of no other group--certainly "parents" are too vast, unsophisticed, and therefore ineffective to do anything--who can congeal and form an potentially effective voice against these testing protocols.

    Perhaps you first have to turn administrators into allies, but if it doesn't start with teachers, any hope of your returning to your profession and from the false side-job of testers is never going to be realized.

    •  I do what I can with policy makers (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GOTV, sc kitty

      and school board members.  It is not, so far, making a difference.

      I keep trying.  So do others I know.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 03:44:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We know that *you* do, but (0+ / 0-)

        what is needed is more from your profession who do as you do.  I'm cynical enough to believe there are no more Davids who can slay Goliaths on policy issues.  If it took a movement of those who believed in the fundamentals of NCLB to get it put into legislation, then it will take a movement of teachers who know its deficiencies to remove it.

        Maybe you have to start at the state levels first--you would know better--but unless there is an organized and populated voice against it, your profession is doomed to repeating this year after year after year.  And you well you that the more this gets entrenched, the harder it will be to reverse course.

  •  one last comment before I go in transit (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TrueBlueMajority, danmitch

    I realize that this is not the kind of thing likely to draw much attention here.  We have other things on our mind, things that are I agree of importance.

    Schools and our students are our future.  If we do not understand what we are doing to both, we are going to wake up one day and it will be too late.

    Yes, we have to be certain our students are learning.  But the way we go about it is destructive of real learning.

    Today I will, unfortunately, participate in that destructiveness.

    I felt I had to say something, for the sake of my own conscience, to maintain some sense of integrity, even though what I will be doing this morning is in many ways contrary to my own sense of what is best for my students.

    So be it.

    And do with this what you will.   I will be able to devote little time to monitoring this - by 8 AM I must be in my test site preparing to to administer the test, and I will probably not clear the room until around 12:30.


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 03:44:06 AM PDT

    •  and now about to head to my test site (0+ / 0-)

      so I will not be able to follow any traffic on this until sometime this afternoon.

      Of course, since it ain't getting all that much traffic, that is probably not an issue, is it?


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:59:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Completely agree (4+ / 0-)

    Testing days are the most soul-sucking and endless of the entire school year. Time enters a no-passing zone and it's so painful for students and teachers alike.

    In Georgia where I teach, the high school graduation tests are so laughably easy to pass that the students think of the whole process as a joke. It's so disheartening as a teacher to see education reduced to such a ridiculous level. Testing and the testing culture is ruining the joy of learning. Period.

    "You must love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art." -- Konstantin Stanislavski

    by emilymac on Thu May 20, 2010 at 03:48:55 AM PDT

  •  I've been meaning to ask.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sc kitty

    I've read at various times that some school districts have responded to NCLB by requiring their low performing students to spend virtually all their time on reading and math, to the exclusion of almost all other subject matter. So you have an direct observations you could share?


    •  oops... (0+ / 0-)

      That last sentence of the first paragraph should be "Do you have any direct observations you could share?" Fingers (and brain) not functioning quite yet.

    •  happening all across the country (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sc kitty

      the transcript may say they had social studies instruction but they had reading instruction that "focuses on social studis" meaning they arrive at higher levels without an appropriate background

      and music and art and even phys ed begin to disappear

      and the students we pass on to colleges have to take even more remedial courses

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:32:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hmmmm... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, sc kitty

        I think one of the most valuable things that school has ever offered to many children is exposure to the wide variety of experiences and possibilities the world has to offer. Exposure they normally don't get in the sometimes narrow outlook of the home environment.

        Forcing low performers to focus on two subjects that they are never likely to pursue to any extent in their future lives seems like a criminally sad waste of their time and societal resources.

  •  It sounds like the government HSA might be better (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sc kitty

    than the English HSA.  I taught in PG until last year, and remember looking at the older tests and being shocked at the high percentage of questions that are in some way ambiguous.  On the 2006 test, I remember, there were 6 questions out of 44 that my department felt were accurate, fair, and non-repetitive.

    Eventually, the narrow focus on testing has driven me out of teaching.  I moved to DC this year, but it is even worse.  

    I got into teaching to have fun and to help kids.  NCLB has made it impossible to do either.

    •  there are lots of problems (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sc kitty

      to be fair, PG's previous Social Studies Supervisor three times nominated me to be on one of the panels that overseas the exam, and each time the specialist in the state Dept of Educ did not take me -  

      on our 2005 exam 1) there were far too many questions on economics; 2) there were questions with no correct answers;  3) there were questions with more than one answer that was technically correct as the question was framed

      but don't try to explain that to anyone in the state testing office.  Been there, in a public forum, where the guy from that office acted so unprofessionally that a formal complaint was registered by the panel before which I was appearing to testify.

      I manage to survive, despite the imposition.  And for now, and as long as I can teach with integrity, I will continue in the classroom.  It is days like today which sometimes give me pause.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:35:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Same thing in Georgia (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, sc kitty

    We're dealing with End of Course Tests in most subjects.  Even if the course you teach doesn't have an EOCT yet it still affects you. Sometimes kids are pulled out of your class to take an EOCT in another subject. Or your students are worn out from taking the EOCT plus all the preliminary test prepping.  

    And in a new twist, the state in its wisdom scheduled one EOCT which involved most of my students for the same day as my AP Exam.  So the kids took an AP Exam that morning, had an hour for lunch and "rest", then turned around and took an EOCT.  

  •  You have my sympathy. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    After too many years, I find myself in the position of not being in the classroom next year.  In fact, I will likely not even be in a school.  I want to feel bad, to be sorry about not being with the kids, but frankly, I'm a bit relieved.  I have applied for a position at our Area Education Agency, where, if I am hired, I will still be able to help teachers and kids.  I really hope I at least get an interview.

    I also hope that you manage to survive a boring, useless day.  With the kind of responsibility that we bear, it's a shame that we are required to waste valuable time on such nonsense.  

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:46:42 AM PDT

  •  I see the effects of this at the university level (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    where I teach in several subject areas in the humanities and social sciences at some good schools in New York.

    If I give grades below A-, I can always expect a visit from the student in question demanding extra credit work to help them to arrive at A level. Similarly, if I give D or F grades, I can expect a visit from student, advisor, and even parents demanding the ability to do extra work to pass the course.

    I routinely hear that it's not "fair" that the student isn't given a chance to raise their score, and that the student "deserves" a better grade than this by virtue of having attended, "tried very hard," or having experienced "stress" about the course.

    In the most recent instance a student received a series of C and lower grades on successive exams and assignments and did not receive a single A/A- grade on any course assignment or exam. Their mastry of the information was poor and significantly below peer level, likely because their attendance was also poor.

    Nonetheless, they mobilized all of the resources they could to demand a grade of A- or be able to do extra last-moment work to bring their grade up to an A-.

    The rationale? They are planning to apply to Ph.D. programs and this grade is supposedly the one "holding them back" from achieving this dream.

    Not, apparently, the lack of work ethic, failure to attend, or poor mastry of subject area material at a level substantially below that of their peers.

    They are about the fourth case in the last week of this kind of discussion/demand, which is always annoying in the context of piles of papers and exams to be graded before rapidly encroaching deadlines.

    -9.63, 0.00
    I am not a purity troll. I am a purity warrior.

    by nobody at all on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:48:12 AM PDT

    •  I should add, to make the connection clear, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that the discussion always involves a significant component of complaint about the fact that I do not teach directly "to" exams, but rather expect general mastry of covered material sufficient to enable a student to confront an exam that they have not yet seen and whose specific questions they may not expect.

      Apparently this is something that many students never experience before their final year or two of undergraduate study.

      -9.63, 0.00
      I am not a purity troll. I am a purity warrior.

      by nobody at all on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:54:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  well, then they are not my students (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        nobody at all, danmitch

        at least, not my AP students, because I do not just teach to the test.

        I do realize that among some of my lower level students, they are only interested in getting out of high school, so all they care about is if it is on the test, whatever test that might be.   And a good chunk of these will not even go to junior college.

        But even in those classes, I do not just teach to the test.  

        The test scores of my students are good enough, I have enough of a track record, that I can get away with what I do, even if on "interim" or "benchmark" tests my students are not "doing well."  Others are not so fortunate.

        do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

        by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:57:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I suspect if there were more instructors like (0+ / 0-)

          yourself, and more of the K-12 curriculum was AP-like, the job upstream in our age group would be easier.

          At the same time, of course, as a matter of social policy the set questions and issues to be confronted through K-12 education and its institutionalization stretch well beyond learning, and this is in part the problem. Culturally and by sleight of collective hand, we've transmuted problems of socioeconomics and deviance-management into problems of education. The result of course is that education's ability to confront the narrow issues of pedagogy, competence, literacy, and erudition is correspondingly complicated.

          -9.63, 0.00
          I am not a purity troll. I am a purity warrior.

          by nobody at all on Thu May 20, 2010 at 05:11:53 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  actually there is an argument (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CentralMass, nobody at all

      that can be made, at least theoretically, for letting students redo work.

      I know those who argue that there should be only two "grades" -   needs improvement, and fully meeting all requirements.  If the student falls in the first category, they should redo/relearn until they fall into the second category.

      After all, if our intent is to have them truly LEARN why are we moving on when they are not yet fully in the 2nd category.

      OF course, that is an issue for a separate discussion.

      And insofar as we are assessing for summative rather than formative purposes, there is of course a need for some finality to the assessment.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 04:54:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I certainly agree: (0+ / 0-)

        And insofar as we are assessing for summative rather than formative purposes, there is of course a need for some finality to the assessment.

        Precisely. I only get them for a semester in most cases, and the grades I assign are expected to represent their ability to progress in more advanced material that builds on this foundation.

        I'm always happy to go the extra mile for students that demonstrate interest and capacity, but not for students that simply expect the kinds of structure seen in K-12 education, where there is a massive push to "pass the exams" that consists largely of teaching directly to them, then providing umpteen ways to manage numbers to ensure that everyone passes.

        They are essentially assuming a pass/fail model, but are mapping these terms onto A/non-A grades. "I definitely don't deserve the drastic and rarely seen non-A grades that are reserved only for special needs and troubled students, ergo if you are a fair instructor you will give me an A grade, even if I haven't been entirely 'up to the usual level of my work' in your class."

        -9.63, 0.00
        I am not a purity troll. I am a purity warrior.

        by nobody at all on Thu May 20, 2010 at 05:01:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  mostly agree (0+ / 0-)

    The teachers have been "teaching the test" for years because that is there incentive.   They get retained on their pass rate - so they make sure the kids PASS not learn.  

    The government (local/state/federal) test the kids almost constantly and test them 9 days after they start school.  I asked one of the testing coordinators why one year with the comment "don't you have to teach them something before testing them" of course I was told that wasn't the point.

    As for them to be bored the rest of the day - sorry disagree - they are allowed to bring reading material to read after testing is completed and there are a lot of books most kids I spoke to never have read - really good books.  With so many good books on the shelves the B WORD doesn't really pass.

    I would let them browse the internet but they lost that right last year because they cannot just read the news or do something allowed.  They have to try to get around the filtering software.  To save us all a lot of grief we disallowed the testing logins to the internet....and they have only themselves to blame.

  •  I want to challenge you a little... (0+ / 0-)

    but it's out of love. It was lurking on this blog that caused me to start an account here.

    If I'm reading your diary right, you don't have a hatred for all standardized tests (how could you, really, when you teach AP courses?). I personally think you hit upon two important reasons how a standardized test can fail right after the fold. But what makes the AP test different?

    I've observed AP classes where they are "effectively doing no instruction" after the test. During the test, both the proctors and the students are under very specific instructions to do nothing else while the test is in progress. AP Test preparation is a gigantic part of the AP curriculum, and eats into time that could be used for other instruction.

    Do you think that the AP test is also a waste of time and resources, that it also interrupts and intrudes on your school year? Or is the fact that the test is better written, better graded and better accounted make it an acceptable standardized test?

    •  I am NOT fond of the AP Gov test (0+ / 0-)

      1/2 of the points come from 4 Free Response Questions, for which I have to prepare my students to write badly.  Seriously.  If they take time for topic sentences and conclusions they are hurting themselves.

      I would prefer not to teach AP.  I think I could actually challenge my students more were I not bound to prepare them for that test.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Thu May 20, 2010 at 08:01:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting (0+ / 0-)

        I could ask "why do you teach AP, then?", but I'm very aware of the multitude of reasons to teach an AP class beyond the validity of its final assessment.

        Let me get to brass tacks, then. Are standardized tests a necessary or unnecessary evil in your mind? Should they be done better, or not at all?

        •  several different issues (0+ / 0-)
          1.  I am the only teacher willing to take on AP Government
          1.  I am the best prepared to teach AP government
          1.  Standardized tests are not really necessary except insofar as we think we need a common instrument for comparison purposes
          1.  Many high stakes tests are not really standardized.  They are certainly not norm-referenced, and some are not even well criterion-referenced.
          1.  The design of many tests currently is to spread out the respondents along a standard bell curve.  It is questionable if that is an appropriate approach if what one is attempting to determine is some minimum level of competency.
          1.  Most people insisting on high stakes tests are ignorant of how tests actually work, and how passing scores are set (for example, through what is a called a Modified Angoff Process)
          1.  I will tell you that my students on Wednesday, which was not a day for state tests, went through 43 released questions from 2008 test.  I know from looking over shoulders at screens while they were testing that there were at least 4 questions that were repeated word for word from that exam.  I have students tell me that there were more than a dozen.  I am far from being alone in using released items from previous tests as a means of reviewing.  Given the overlap, how valid are the ensuing results?

          Just a few thoughts.

          do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

          by teacherken on Fri May 21, 2010 at 05:22:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  thanks for replying (0+ / 0-)

            1 and 2. Kudos. I know that AP can be a taxing load to teach (although in a good way).

            1. Good point. And it is curious that we continue to value comparing and evaluating over instruction and learning (e.g. scheduling tests before, say, the last week of school, interrupting instruction, replacing curriculum with test prep, etc.).

            4 and 5. Your example in 5 is a norm-referenced test, which is a silly way to track academic progress. Works great for height and weight, though. Norm-referenced tests do not tell us anything about how much any single person (or population) has learned.

            1. Again, good point.
            1. Argh. That is frustrating. And yes, it decreases the validity of the test. You absolutely should use previous items for reviewing; students need to be familiar of the format of the test. But the test writers should be producing multiple different forms each year, instead of using the same questions from year to year. That strikes me as pure laziness, which is an interesting charge to throw the other way.

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