Like most states, my students have to participate annually in high-stakes testing. My eighth graders are responsible for taking two days of ELA testing, two days of Math testing and two days of Science testing. The ELA and the math are on the computer this year, as they were last year. The science is still on paper this year as it always has been. Although, I have heard that starting next year the science is on the computer also. It is spread out to three weeks, two days per week, and it’s going to be a long few weeks!
How do you prepare your students for high-stakes testing? My students are in middle school, so this is their sixth year doing testing like this. They seem to go on autopilot, they just want to get through the test and on to whatever is happening later in the day.
With math, we work really hard to cover the whole year’s worth of curriculum before the beginning of May. This is when they take the test. We have no idea what topics will be on the test this year and which won’t so we can not plan well. We want to at least expose the students to everything to make them more prepared for the test. This is difficult because teaching this way often prevents struggling students from every achieving mastery.
For ELA, I do a lot of modeling. I go to the state’s website and I look for the releases of the previous years’ testing. With the students we work together to use all of our strategies to go through the test, previewing questions, underlining evidence, crossing out answers that we can eliminate. And I just hope that when seated in the class while taking the real test, they remember some of this stuff and use it on the test.
Teaching to the test
Teaching to the test I think is the struggle that every teacher goes through. In our state, the exam has become a measure of student achievement. In high school, students are required to pass the test in order to receive their diploma. This creates a level of stress in the students. My eighth graders are not required to pass the test, but it is their last year before high school and they are starting to feel the pressure. We have had students who were completely healthy, be so nervous over the test that they have been sick because of it. Is this really fair?
As a special education teacher, I struggle with the debate over mastery versus covering the curriculum for the test. I spoke more about this in another blog post, Special Education Pacing. They use the test as a measure of how we are doing as teachers, so obviously I wish to have good scores so that my bosses will see that I am doing a good job. But, I do not think that this is worth all of the stress it causes the students.
Is it worth the stress?
I teach students with mild to moderate disabilities. These students often struggle with high-stakes testing because of the nature of the exam. Students have to read long passages and answer higher level thinking questions about what they read. I am a college educated teacher with multiple degrees and several years of experience. Yet, sometimes I find the wording of the questions confusing.
How is this fair to students who already have difficult with inferring and comprehending? I appreciate that the state is trying to raise the bar and make our students the best they can be, but I feel like my students are being left further and further behind. My students would benefit more from a school year where we focus on building on their specific skills and not from a year where we focus on making sure they do well on a test. I have students who still struggle with their multiplication facts, but I struggle with finding time to work on this because we need to make sure they can solve systems of equations by the beginning of May.
Adolescents are under so much stress these days, and schools are focusing so much on making the curriculum more competitive with the rest of the world that we have students that really need more time working on social skills. We have students who are struggling with their personal lives, who are being bullied in person and on the internet, who have so much going on at home, and we are in school pushing them to work harder and harder. I personally believe that as a whole we need to be helping students become the best people they can be and less time teaching to a test. I have so much more to say on this that I can guarantee that there is another blog post to come.
I truly feel that the testing is not going to go away. Not anytime soon at least. We just need to continue to do our best and work hard so that students are prepared for the test. But, at the same time, we are raising a generation of educated, healthy, and compassionate people. And that these people will be successful in life.
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