Category Archives: Standardized Testing

Testing Season

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It is testing Season in Michigan. The M-Step started for 8th grade two weeks back as most students returned from spring break. School schedules are morphing regularly to fit the test in around continuing instruction. Students have mixed reactions to tests. Some want to see where they stand. Are they ahead or behind. Most who care, just want to be “better” than their friends. Others just see the tests as another rite of passage. They endure theses like enduring visits to the dentist. Still others just dread they testing days and the changes of schedule. Often getting physically ill just with the though of having to sit in front of the computer for an hour.

 

I hope every parent gives a similar message to their children as this principal! Tests are just a snapshot, a moment in time. Some students will succeed. Others will fail. The standardized tests schools give don’t focus on all the skills our students learn. Their focus is on rating students in a subject area against all the other students who take the test and a standard. Is everyone good at every subject? NO.

All students learn, but they learn differently and at different rates. Master of one subject or skill doesn’t mean a student will master them all. School need to focus on celebrating the diversity of learning. Our test outcomes focus on all students doing the same work. Students will master what they are passionate about! This passion leads to hard work. Some will grow up to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, painters, artists, actors or musicians. Do all these careers need to master the same skills?

Education is about learning how to learn and being exposed to a wide range of ideas. When this happens in time students will find their passions and blossom. Society can’t let test dampen students passions for learning. Let’s endure the testing season trying our best but remembering it is just a snapshot from the day it was taken. I wonder what all the CEO’s snapshots looked like when they were in school?

He is more than a test score!

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Griffin exploring Tiger’s dug-out during TigerFest16

One of the highlights of my days while I have been on medical leave is when my son, Griffin walks in the door from school. Normally I would be finishing my day at work. He comes in the house excited from his day. Typically he shares about learning in his classes and asks me questions for more information. Then we move to small talk about Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons before he settles in with a snack while doing homework. After that is done, he typically relaxes by watching “Chopped” on the cooking channel, since he has a passion for food. Tuesday was different, the door opened quietly something was different. Griffin had a scowl on his face, dropped his school bag on the kitchen table, ripped papers out to hand to me. Without words he marched over to hand me these papers from school, he almost had tears in his eyes. “HERE” he said, placing them upside down in my hand and rushed away. Was he in trouble? What could these papers say that made him so upset? As I turned the paper over, I realized he was upset with his NWEA MAP scores. Only one of the four test scores had shown growth. Should he be upset? Should I?

Griffin has loved school since he started, even with his struggles. Griffin has apraxia, he didn’t talk until 4 years old. He can’t sound out words. He has always been a struggling reader. Since kindergarten he has been marked below grade level as a reader. He has been tutored  and memorizes words so he can read. His memory is incredible. Since he could talk he could give directions to a house, park or store after only going their once. Griffin works incredibly hard to make up for his disability. He has a passion for science and geography. This year as a sixth grader he won the school geography bee beating out seventh and eight grades. He competed on the school’s science olympics team, winning medals at the county tournament each of the past 4 years. He is a Boy Scout. He plays baseball and basketball. I have coached him in basketball since 2nd grade. His first year he scored 2 points, this year he lead his team in scoring as they cruised to an undefeated season. This is a chid who has grown. He has grown physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. He is more than a score!! Should he be upset about the scores?

I was concerned. Was Griffin doing enough? Would he be ready for a career when done with school? (and I am a teacher just wonder what non-teachers ask?)

Last night Griffin walked in with a smile again, handing me an envelope, his report card. All A’s with outstanding marks for citizenship. Totally different emotion than the MAP test. Grades actually reflect Griffin’s learning efforts based upon teaching. MAP tests are normalized, knowledge based questions that might never have been taught. Which is more valuable? Griffin’s class grades are based on a standardized grading system that he has to score an 85% to meet the standard (A) or he can reassess until he does meet the standard. Not meeting the standard leads to an F. This system has it flaws but stresses student learning. Griffin has worked hard, reassessed when he failed to meet the standard, receiving A’s all year. Does this mean more than the MAP score?

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I hated seeing my son arrive home crying about school. Is MAP testing hurting him? Do students who perform well on this test go on to live better lives with better jobs? Is having a low score going to hurt Griffin? He has already been offered “help” classes to take the place of his electives. On the advice of teachers, we have declined, not wanting take way quality experiences for Griffin. He gets to enjoy Band, Tech Ed, Spanish, Health, and Gym instead. Should students miss opportunities to boost their test scores? Might that turn them off to learning even more?

Schools need to be careful how we use tests and scores. We need to look at the WHOLE child, not just this little knowledge snap shot.

Careers are more than scores, GRIFFIN and every child is more than a test score!!

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Me and My wonderful son, Griffin

 

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.

Our Standardized Journey

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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.