Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 19 2013

What is testing like at a low-income community?

Over the course of a school year, there are thousands of things that a student attending school in a low-income community deals with that his or her more financially stable counterparts don’t. From lack of parental support to poor nutrition, gang violence to high teacher turnover, the kids that I have become so close to have been through things that 7th graders simply shouldn’t have to experience. Should we choose to, we as educators and they as students could fall back upon myriad excuses as to why test scores aren’t high enough.

The test is supposed to be the objective measure of how much a student has learned over the course of a year. It takes out all the variables that I mentioned earlier and spits out a raw score. While this can be frustrating, I get it and I understand why these scores exist. They simplify everything. They’re like a sporting event. They take everything out of the equation and all that you’re left with is the final score of the game.

But what happens when the game itself is rigged against you?

Right now, we’re knee-deep into testing season at my school, just like many other schools in the district and (I presume) the state. I talked to my grandfather recently about how the testing went at the elementary school where he volunteers his time and he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.

“It went fine. The teacher said they did pretty well.”

Meanwhile, down here on the south side testing has been an unmitigated disaster. Not only were the odds stacked against our kids from the start due to socioeconomic factors out of our control, but now the testing process itself has made it even harder for our students to succeed.

To show you what I mean, I’d like to walk you through our testing process through my eyes:

Last week:

Testing was supposed to start last Wednesday with half of the 7th grade (not my half). Because of that, I planned my day around last minute preparations: encouraging the kids to eat breakfast and get a good night’s sleep, reminding them to take their time, and reviewing vocabulary words that would show up on the test.

With about five minutes left in first hour, the administration came on to the intercom and said that technical errors were postponing the testing process. For me, that meant Thursday’s test wouldn’t be until the next week. I feel bad for the teachers who had the test canceled on them and found themselves with nothing to do for the rest of the day.

This Tuesday

Our first scheduled test was for Tuesday afternoon. We were initially delayed because the class ahead of us was still using the computers, so I had to entertain 30 rambunctious 12 year olds who were intent on delaying the test for as long as possible. When the computers finally opened up, we marched down there and tried to log on, only to realize that no one had actually gone through the process of installing the test on our computers. IT eventually found a way to push the update through but not before 3:15, a mere 45 minutes before school let out. By the end of the day, we’d spent three hours and hadn’t tested any students.

This Wednesday

On Wednesday we took our reading test. The test was scheduled for the morning so we met in our testing room (different from my normal room due to the inconsistency of Wifi in my room) straight away. At 9:05, students started to log in. By 10:00, the first students were able to access the system.

Yes, you read that correctly- for nearly an hour my students had nothing to do but sit and wait for the system to boot up while the pressure mounted all around them, thickening the air. By 11 (two hours after the school day started), half of the class was still not on, at which point the counselor made the decision to start testing those who could while the others would spend the day in the gym.

We tested until 12:45, when those who had finished were dismissed and those who were still working ate lunch in the room. The counselor and I put on latex gloves and served pizza and chocolate milk to the kids, who after nearly two hours of silence weren’t allowed to talk. While I’ve served many roles in my first year of teaching, I never thought I’d be a lunch lady as well, but I suppose I can now cross that off my education bucket list.

After lunch, we all logged back on and got back to testing, with the exception of two girls who took too long to unpause their test and were subsequently locked out of the test. For those two, it took another hour on the phone with the technology department before they were able to resume testing.

Finally, at 3:00, six hours after testing started, the last student finished. By that point, I was a puddle of melted brainpower pooled across the floor. I couldn’t imagine how my students felt.

This Thursday

We encountered many of the same problems as yesterday, but chose to dismiss the students experiencing problems much earlier. Because of that, roughly half my kids were testing by 10:30 today, (only!) and hour and a half after school started. Because the math test is a naturally quicker test than the reading test, they were all finished by 1:15.

In conclusion:

-          All testing pushed back a week

-          None of my kids were able to take their Geography test

-          Half of my kids were unable to take their Reading test

-          Half of my kids were unable to take their Math test

-          The shortest delay for my kids was an hour and a half

How can they be expected to succeed when their testing environment is so tumultuous? Let it be known that I’m not placing the blame on anyone. The administration has been a bastion of grit, determination and optimism. The counseling department has put in a heroic amount of work recently. All of the teachers have worked tirelessly for their kids. I don’t think its my job to place any blame, but I can absolutely tell you that this isn’t right.

3 Responses

  1. GregW

    As an IT professional with over 12 years experience prior to joining TFA, I found the district’s IT infrastructure problems nightmarish. The networks in many schools are far below substandard and the IT staff is ignorant of industry best practices. They work with the typical non-urgency of civil servants who collect a paycheck just for showing up. It was infuriating!

  2. Meg

    My state has been talking about moving toward computer-based standardized testing (as opposed to the pencil/paper testing we do now), and you more or less described my biggest fear for these new tests. How can you get an accurate picture of what students know with all these mitigating factors? Nevermind that the majority of my students cannot use computers effectively enough to be successful with something like this.

  3. Susan H

    Added fun at my school: no one tells us the correct icon to push on the dekstop the first day, MAPS construction/destruction going on behind a plywood wall at the back of the computer lab (complete with loud power tools, exhaust fumes/concrete dust, and totally inappropriate loud discussions from the workers), the district turns on the air conditioning (no individual control) with an outside high temperature of 43 so we are all huddled in our jackets and coats trying to feel our fingers! Who will be held accountable for this? Oh, right, the teachers and the school.

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Chronicling teaching middle school English in OKC

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