Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 03 2012

Standardized Testing

Today marked the 9th day of the first ten weeks of school that my students have lost to standardized testing. This test, a pre-ACT assessment, was the third one that my students have had to sit through, with each one taking us maddeningly farther away from actual classroom instruction. It’s been frustrating to watch my kids squirm and run wild under the lights of these tests and I feel like I’ve certainly learned a lesson or two in beauracratic education.

Our first test was an English/Language Arts benchmark. The whole test ended up taking five days, so my kids basically spent an entire week away from writing. During the first day, we barely got the test started because it took everyone nearly the entire 45 minutes to get logged on and ready to test. For starters, almost half of the computers that I was provided with didn’t work. Adding insult to this injury, many of my students aren’t technologically astute enough to navigate the process of logging on to a computer, typing in a URL, and entering a password. If I’ve learned anything through TFA, it’s this: hell is 25 students talking over one another while one teacher runs around troubleshooting because the kids decided to misspell their last names. The problem isn’t with the idea of benchmarks, but rather with the execution that had all of my students burned out and not caring. By the end of the week, I only had a handful of students still testing while the rest of my students were forced to read quietly.

After that debacle (of which I still haven’t received results or data), we segued into Gates MacGinitie testing this last week. GM tests are invaluable because they let us know exactly what a student’s reading level is. Unfortunately, we once again had to take three days out of class to do them. That’s three days out of class, not learning, dealing with computer issues, and praying that the students who are in my class (we don’t get internet in the portals and thus had to switch classrooms) aren’t tearing down the walls. Despite these problems, I’m glad we took this test because it is so very important to have an accurate gauge of student reading levels. The only problem is, it took us a quarter of the year to assess this. Will I even have this useful data by Christmas?

Similarily, we just spent today taking an interest inventory that is supposed to identify how kids will score on their ACT and what careers they might be suited for. The problem is that none of my students want to go to college yet, don’t see the value in a practice college exam, and want to work at Burger King. Right now, they want low-paying, mind numbing jobs. They don’t yet undertsand the idea that you can have a job that you want. So right now it’s a grand idea, but there’s little good that can come of it, not until we get these kids where they need to be.

The idea of rigorous testing doesn’t bother me. I like having the data and don’t think that it contributes to a “teach to the test” mentality. But I do think that the beauracracy behind it is horrendous. I’ve spent so much time on these tests and have yet to see any results or data. Right now, I feel like changing mindsets is more important than collecting skewed data.

But, on the bright side, days spent testing are days not spent lesson planning or behavior narrarrating or stressing out about so many other things. I’ve used this time well and as a result I feel like my class is finally coming together and I’m at last getting ahead on my planning and other stuff. That’s the TFA Way- bending and adapting to squueze out every single moment of the day.

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Chronicling teaching middle school English in OKC

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