Friday, September 21, 2007

Testing Follies

A lot of people want to know what the problem with testing students is. After all, if teachers have done their jobs, the thinking goes, the students should be able to pass the test. While I do not necessarily see the correlation there, let’s proceed for a moment as if it were true. Then in order to pass the tests, the students would need a chance to learn the materials and the teachers a chance to teach them. Testing actually decreases the amount of time students have to learn and teachers have to teach.

We are undergoing the trials and tribulations of Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) testing this week. The first thing we need in order to give the test is a place for the students to do so. An entire wing of our school, around nine classrooms, and the school library are being used for testing. This means that the teachers and classes that would usually meet in those classrooms cannot do so. It also means that for the week the library is closed most of the day. No research can get done there, no books checked out, no references referred to.

All of these classes are meeting in the cafeteria. ALL OF THE CLASSES. I can see why the open classroom plans of the 60’s and 70’s didn’t work out too well. I wasn’t informed my classroom would be needed until last Thursday afternoon, when I was informed via a call on my PA, which interrupted my teaching, that I would need to cover up all my posters or take them down as my room would be used for testing on Monday. That was news to me. In the memo we were emailed several days earlier, my room was not listed as one that would be used. Although I had expected it to be. Apparently my feelings of relief were premature.

I was never officially informed where I was to meet with the class that would be out of the room during testing. As I have first block planning, I was only dispossessed for one class period. Most of the other teachers in that wing are out for two periods. And I found out via an emailed memo that I would be covering another teacher’s class during my planning block on Monday. So much for having time to prepare a lesson or two to teach to my learners.

As added fun, the schedule Monday was further intruded upon as the testing in the classrooms ran late. As third block is the lunch period, holding classes in the cafeteria is not an option. So, all the teachers in that wing, and our students) sat outside the doors to the wing as the teachers in there got there students to the extended testing site. See, there is no time limit on the AHSGE. If the students want or need to work on it for six hours that is allowed.

So, how much time was lost from teaching this week? How many students didn’t learn as much as they could have if they were in a classroom? How many student hours were lost this week because testing is a state mandate and we do not have a choice about it?

When we have testing for the whole of the tenth grade, and all the eleventh and twelfth graders who need to retake it, in the spring, over half the school does not even arrive until third block. So many rooms are required, and so many teachers to administer and proctor the tests, that we can’t have school for the first two blocks each day for a week. How much time is lost from teaching and learning there?

Then there are the remediation classes. These are often test prep classes that students who fail part of the exam are required to take in place of other classes. So they go over and over the same material again and again until they can pass the test. But they lose out on other educational opportunities.

From what I am told by my wife, who teaches high school “across the river” in Georgia, it is much the same there. The details of what exactly is required and what tests and courses must be passed differ, but the overall picture is much the same--massive amounts of teaching/learning time wasted in the name of testing.

Has anyone else reading this noticed the same trend? Or am I seeing something that isn't there?


whit said...

Absolutely! Amen! Our 8th graders spend TWO weeks testing in the spring. It's hell. I am convinced that whoever is deisnging these tests has not ever been in the classroom (excepting the required years needed before obtaining an administrative degree)

Dr. Bad Ass said...

Spot On! Every spring, my student teachers get to spend 3 weeks of their student teaching semester presiding over testing. If they are not actually testing, they are covering other teachers' classes, managing paperwork, or watching exhausted and cranky students who are finished testing for the day.

Oh, and that's the other thing. Even if the students only test for half a day, how much can they actually learn the rest of the day? Nothing. Because they are used up from the test.

I've been saying for several years that I'm waiting for parents to rise up and start shrieking about the amount of instructional time being lost on testing. And that's just the actual testing time, not including the time spent on preparing for the test.

I'm furious about it!