The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Testing for Failure pt.1

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I gave a test last week on the sixth full day of school.  Ninety-five percent of my students failed.  Two days prior, I had given another test to a different group of students.  Ninety-five percent of them failed, too.  These numbers aren’t the most disturbing factor in what is happening with the current state of public teaching, nor is the fact that I’m giving tests on the fourth and sixth days of the school year.  What’s most disturbing is that both of these tests were purposely designed by me to be so difficult that the students would fail, and the harder I can make them fail, the more likely I am to show how much they learn in my classroom and thus prove how effective I am as a teacher.

This is where we are in Illinois and in my district with the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA).  The legislation is now on our doorstep, and next year it will go into full effect.  Roughly two-thirds of my performance evaluation will be based on classroom observations; the other third is comprised of the results my students achieve when they retake the tests I gave them last week.  In preparation for this, my district has been forging a new ironclad evaluation instrument.  I’m not worried about that.  I’ve aced every evaluation instrument I’ve faced.  This new one promises to be much more rigorous, but I know I’m up to the challenge.  This is all in response to tenure laws that purportedly protected ineffective teachers that had the good fortune to be born before younger and supposedly more effective teachers.  Instead of a “last in, first out” approach when a school is facing reductions in staff, less effective teachers of any length of experience can be released instead of the youngest or least tenured, provided those younger teachers prove themselves to be better than the older ones.

What I am worried about is the tests I just administered, and the tests administered by my colleagues.  Administering an impossible test at the start of the school year is one helluva “How do you do?”  Instead of building some trust and establishing expectations the first few days, I’m instead torpedoing my students.  Most students come to the new school year in the same way most teachers do.  We’re glad to be back, and glad for a fresh start.  Most of my students, even the ones I will eventually come to consider my “bad” students, want to start off on a positive note.  They want to take a test and pass it and prove their worthiness.  Heck, well more than half of them gobble up the summer reading tests they have to take and at least pass with a “C.”  But here I am in the position to purposely fail them.  If I can’t do that effectively, I could lose my job.

The tests I administered are exclusive to my classroom.  If it happens in my class, I can test it.  That doesn’t sound like much of a problem, but it’s actually a huge problem.  In my Creative Writing class, the test pretty much amounts to The Gospel According to Burd.  Take my test around the county, and students won’t make heads or tails of it.  It’s a hard test.  It’s one of the best tests I’ve ever written.  Doesn’t matter.  It is generally invalid because it’s not normed to anything.  It’s a non-standardized test.  There is no standard base of knowledge for Creative Writing like there is for basic English and Reading skills, and there isn’t a panel of experts in the field or a psychometrician who created the test.  There’s me and the heavily biased manner in which I teach Creative Writing.  I can no more say what the best practice is in creative writing than I can the best practice in teaching or parenting.  I teach creative writing by handing down the practices that I have researched and that work best for me, and constantly adapting them as I grow as a writer and a teacher.  This isn’t an endorsement for standardized tests—you’ll never catch me endorsing standardized tests.  This is an endorsement for how ridiculous and frustrating testing has become in our public schools.

What’s more, the testing conditions are exclusive to my classroom.  Who’s to say I’m not playing loud music, or constantly distracting students, or short-changing them on time limits, or even imposing impossible time limits when they take the test the first time?  Plus, if students don’t make an effort, or even if they’re absent, those blank answers can work to my advantage if I never have them make up the test.  Why not bet on my students not remembering (or not even caring) that they took a test way back at the start of the year?  With so many tests already being taken, what’s one more that may or may not have been missed?

I counted the tests my Reading students will be taking at the start of the school year.  This includes all the PERA tests in each of their classes, a benchmark test my district administers, a pre-test they’ll soon take for an online database we use, plus, a standardized reading test we administer because students are placed in Reading class based on a score from a standardized test they took nine months before they came to high school.  If they didn’t take that test seriously, or if they learned some things in those nine months, their abilities may have risen and they deserve a chance to show that.  Nonetheless, my students will have taken ten tests in the first fifteen days of class.  These are already mostly at-risk students who dislike school and especially dislike tests.  Tests have rarely if ever brought good news for them—they’ve served only to show how much they don’t know or how far they are behind grade level.  It’s hard enough to get them motivated and believing that the major assessments like the ACT are important and to take them seriously.  Now we have to get them to believe the same thing seven more times at the end of the semester when they retake the PERA test in each class—in addition to the regular final exam.  At what point does the adolescent brain say “Enough is enough,” and shut down?  How can all these tests be serious, and why should I take them all seriously?

continued…

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Written by seeker70

September 15, 2014 at 12:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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