Yes, I did give the test despite my very public objections. Following the request to my school board be excused from administering based on my professional objections, I was informed by my superintendent that although he did share many of my concerns, refusal to administer the test would be considered insubordination which could result in discipline “up to and including termination”. I need my job, and I am still hoping that we can stop this madness, so I ultimately decided to administer the test. I plan now to bear witness to what is happening and continue to report on it.
“How was it?”
That’s a question lots of people have been asking me, specifically people who are not required to give the test such as parents and, frankly, most teachers in Oregon. In Oregon, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is only given in grades 3 through 8, and again in grade 11. If students are in a middle school or high school, only their English Language Arts or Math teachers might be administering the test, or maybe a trained proctor.
When people ask me that question, sometimes it’s followed by, “My son (or daughter) said it wasn’t that bad.” I have heard this from parents of upper primary and middle school students. High school parents are usually aware of the way that testing has affected the schedule of the entire high school for weeks, not just the Junior class, due to the fact that most high school classes include a mix of grade levels. They don’t ask that question. They are frustrated by the level of disruption that their kids are experiencing in their regular schedules.
This year, when I took my sixth graders to Outdoor School, the staff there informed me that they have never had so much trouble getting high school counselors, due to the new tests. A week of testing versus a week of working as an Outdoor School counselor: Which one makes a student more “career ready”?
And from what I’ve seen, the test is pretty bad for third graders. On the first day of third grade testing, I walked by our school office and saw a third grader coming out crying. She clearly had been sobbing, judging from the appearance of her nose and eyes. I thought she might have gotten in trouble, as I had seen her sitting and talking to an administrator. When I asked what had happened, the adult she had been speaking to said, “The test.”
Yes, that’s right: a little girl was in the office sobbing because of Smarter Balanced. She had reached a level of frustration that had caused her to burst into tears. What a great learning experience, huh? That’s sure to make her love school.
When I asked her teacher about it later the teacher said, “Everyone was crying.” Now I’m sure she doesn’t mean every single child in the class was crying. I took it more as, “Everyone likes chocolate.” Clearly not every single person likes chocolate, but a whole lot of people do. So I guess a whole lot of small children were crying out of frustration in the teacher’s room.
Third grade testing was supposed to last one week. It took two. And this is only for Language Arts. Their math testing starts next week, after a one week reprieve from testing. One child took 13 hours to finish the test. Let’s remember, these are eight and nine year old children. The longest test I ever had to take as a graduate student was somewhere between two and four hours.
At sixth grade, no one cried. I’m chalking that up to maturity. Sixth graders are twelve, not eight. That’s half a lifetime more mature than a third grader. I know who was frustrated, but they have learned better coping skills. I’ll bet most sixth graders who were frustrated just guessed on the multiple choice answers. Heaven knows what they wrote in the blank spaces on the short answer questions they couldn’t understand.
One thing I know was the same in both third and sixth grade: many kids sat in front of a computer and felt stupid, day after day, for an entire week. Or two.
I just read a Facebook post by a friend who was sitting in a professional development session. She was quoting Dr. Stephen Krashen’s theory regarding Affective Filter in language learning: “A student’s feelings and emotions, such as stress, anxiety or boredom, may interfere with language acquisition and learning.” In my experience, this is true not only for students who are learning language, but for students who are learning anything. Stressful testing is not only not a learning experience, it is an anti-learning experience
And how are their scores? Even for the kids who said, “It wasn’t that bad”? No one knows yet. And even if some kids did okay, this still doesn’t address the inappropriate length of the test and the multi-month disruption in schedules and learning we are experiencing.
So how was it? I guess that depends on who you are. And on results that aren’t in yet. Stay tuned for that. Some people who think “it wasn’t that bad” may change their minds.
Photo credit Leah-Anne Thompson at Daily Kos, where you can read more about the problems with testing.