Lost in standardized tests

Having just completed the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (MSTEP) with my 7th grade students, I am finding we are lost in standardized tests. After years of media reports that the American Educational system is in need of life support. Our government in a need to justify funding for education has decided to find an easy measure to “see” the effectiveness of the educational system.  States have been encouraged with “Race to the Top” financial incentives to measure teaching by examining student standardized test scores. This entire process has made our educational system all about “THE TEST” and not about learning or the STUDENTS.

American students are anything but standardized. Coming from a wide variety of ethnic and economic background. Some students arrive in kindergarten reading books others arrive without being able to recognize a letter. In our current system the expectation is that ALL students will be meeting the same standard by the end of the year. Is this system fair for all students? Once a student is behind, without major supports they will be behind for their entire educational career.

From my vantage point our testing culture is KILLING students passion for learning. This year Griffin, my 11 year old son, came home from school for the first time saying “I can’t wait to be done with school!” He loves learning, but this passion is being driven out in school. When I asked why? He responded, “This dang test sucks, too long, with no feedback as to if I am going in the right direction.” I was taken aback.

As I pondered his comment, I realized how right he was. MSTEP was sucking the learning out of students. During “regular” school assessments students are connected to the current content by instruction. Standardized tests are just random questions with no logic of order. Students are allow to ask the teacher questions and get feedback on the direction they are heading on classroom assessments getting clarification on misconceptions. Standardized assessments teachers have to stick to a script and ONLY re-read the directions. Classroom assessments are corrected in a timely manner, often the day of the test so students know their outcomes immediately. Standardized tests like the MSTEP, have delayed results that often are confusing to students so no corrective actions can be taken.

Do standardized test results equal success? I wonder, what is the correlation of SAT, ACT or MEAP score to career success? Didn’t the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, score highly on the SAT? Should states be putting SO much weight on these snapshots?

I wish politicians would listen and trust the educational experts, teachers, and stop this standardized madness.

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Numbers

Numbers

NUMBERS 

They are everywhere

Surrounding our life, filling it with strife

Starting at birth

7 lbs 11 oz, 21 inches 10:42 am

Weight, height and time

every wellness visit

and volume consumed

Numbers are there

5 marks the start of school

IQ and lexile tell if your a fool

As we grow the numbers mount

Strive to improve but

Don’t let them define you

Numbers only describe

a moment in time and effort

Our Standardized Journey

standardized-testing-comic3

Week two of MSTEP (Michigan’s standardized test) is now in the books, only two more days of checking if our students are up to standard left. Of course we already know they are anything but “standard”. This process is taking a toll on our students having spent over 6 hours this week staring at questions on a computer monitor. What can we take away from this process?

The Good:

  • The test is aligned to the common core state standards: I feel these standards are moving our students in the right direction with learning.
  • MSTEP moves us away from multiple choice ONLY tests. While monitoring test taking, I have noticed numerous open response questions for students to show their knowledge and work. No longer are they ALWAYS offered a chance at getting credit by guessing the best answer.
  • The test is more literacy focused. I notice on all test reading is a key for success. Whether it is reading the directions, a passage,  a diagram or a chart, students need to show their literacy skills. Even the math portion contained a multitude of literacy based questions.

The Bad:

  • Its long! Try getting anyone to sit for two plus hours to take a test, let alone my seventh graders. After 10 minutes, shifting occurs. Many students have a hard time maintaining focus or put forth their best effort after being worn down by a couple of days of testing. (18 hours total over 3 weeks of time.)
  • Its random. The questions order seems to have no rhyme or reason in math and science bouncing from physics to biology or Geometry to fractions. Most school testing groups all similar questions together so students can build up stamina for the task. MSTEP seems to have missed it, jumping all over their learning experience in a very random order.
  • Online is challenging for our students. This is a relatively new medium for them to be taking a test on. Sure computers are great but students need time to get comfortable to taking a test on them. For many students it is the first time using all the tools and reading online for the extended period of time. Testing online is a novelty for our students right now.

The Ugly:

  • The loss of instructional time. We are losing over 18 hours of time that is meant to be for instruction to taking the MSTEP test. This is a bit excessive, especially since districts like ours also have NWEA MAP testing coming up in the coming weeks. Why do we need both tests?
  • Student Burn out. After a two hour testing session, what student wants to go back into the classroom and start working on the next unit? Do homework? Our students want to get outside and let off steam. Be a child!
  • Early Finishers: Not all students work at the same speed. I have some students done in one hour, others need more than two. How do we deal with this? Students are expected to sit quietly until ALL are done. Any teacher knows this is impossible for a class of 30 plus students. It would be nice to have a place to send students, but that would serve as a false incentive for students to “be done”.
  • The Done Syndrome. Our students are feeling like it is finals week. After all this testing is done, will they want to achieve in the classroom or are they ready for summer break? Our school is not out until June 17. Our staff is working valiantly to make sure we have engaging lessons till then so students won’t check out.

I hope the Lansing is watching and listening to teachers and students feedback about testing. The bad and ugly are out weighing the good right now. We need to make adjustments to make this process work for ALL students.