In May, 2010, I wrote this post about being our school’s testing coordinator. How things have changed since then….
Last week, I had a kid ask to take another SOL-like test because, as her homeroom teacher put it, “she is a nervous kid and so anxious to do well.” I’m teaching a 5th grade literacy and math class this year, and throughout the year, whenever I’ve introduce a new skill or unit, they have asked me if it will be on the SOL test and wanted to make sure they had that skill down–it’s not about understanding, though–it’s about making sure they can take the test on it and do well.
Last week, kids asked for examples like our “new type of question” on the SOL (rigorous, technology-enhanced test items that will require mastery of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills from the state viewpoint). Student awareness is heightened, their concern is heightened, and some of them are saying they worry about these tests at night.
These are kids who got perfect, or close to perfect scores on our state tests last year–and the year before. These are kids who have straight A’s (or mostly straight A’s) on their report cards. These are kids who can talk to you intelligently about Bloom’s taxonomy levels and understand what work at high levels means–and how it feels differently from worksheets. These are kids who write blog posts about changing the world, being one with planet earth, caring about homeless people, wanting to rid the world of animal testing, and who share TED talks with each other. These are kids who loved hearing Randy Paush’s Last Lecture and still talk about the impact it had on their thinking. These are kids who are organizing to do a mini talent show to raise money to support our homeless population in Charlottesville. So why are they worrying so much about what I call the “stupid state tests”?
Is it their need for perfection? (I have a LOT of kids this year who care about getting 100%!) Is it the increased talk from a new principal? (This is her second year, and data is and has been an emphasis with her for our teachers.) Is it increased talk from parents? (They have certainly asked questions about the accountability each time we’ve met this year.) Is it increased talk/concern from the classroom teachers? (Both 5th grade teachers are different from those mentioned in that earlier post.) Is it increased stories in the news (TV, newspapers, online, etc.)? I don’t know if it’s any of those, a combination, or something entirely different, but the kids are MUCH more concerned this year than in years past–and vocal about their concerns.
When it gets to the point that 10 year olds are telling me they are worrying about test scores at night, before they go to bed, something is wrong with the system and the intent of the tests, in my mind. (Not that I don’t think something is wrong with the emphasis on multiple choice tests as the sole measure of their knowledge, anyway, but when it affects kids’ sleep, it’s really wrong!)
So, when will the adults making the choice to test kids to death and rob them of their sleep figure out this is NOT the way to go? When will parents stand up and say “ENOUGH! My kid is not taking these tests!” When will teachers begin speaking up to the “powers that be” to complain about the lost sleep (on both kids’ and adults’ parts) and the wasted time, and the need for something different?
Our Superintendent is trying: she and 4 other Superintendents from around Virginia asked to use the tests in a different way, but our state Superintendent has completely circumvented their creativity and resourcefulness as she reinforces the idea of kids continuing to spend time taking tests they have shown they really don’t need. So, schools can get a waiver if they’ve scored 95% for three years–a waiver from accreditation, but not the tests. The school still has to give the tests, the scores are still reported to state and parents, but accreditation is not an issue for those three years. This allows “schools to empower teachers to move away from excessive review and practice — the “drill and kill” approach to preparing for the SOLs — and focus instead on providing rich and varied instruction that exceeds the standards.” (Pat Wright, our state Sup’t).
Does she really think this will make a difference?
When, at the same time, our teacher evaluation system is required by the state to tie teacher evals to student academic progress? Many systems are using the SOL scores to show that progress. So let’s give your school a waiver where the “school maintains full accreditation for three years — even if pass rates slip.” BUT, teacher evaluations are tied to student academic progress–and that, in many cases, will be those very test scores! So will there be a change in how test prep is done? I seriously doubt it–and I bet she doesn’t either. Let’s say the scores don’t count for three years for the school, but put them on teacher’s backs instead.
Hm. Doesn’t seem much different to me.
And, to go back to the beginning of this post, I suspect scores being attached to teacher evaluations will affect more people’s sleep!