A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 22 2010

4 Key Points on Standardized Testing

As standardized tests descend upon the K-12 institutions across the District of Columbia–in the form of the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (affectionately, “DC CAS”)–I find myself amazed by the entire show.

Here are 4 key points:

  1. Standardized tests reveal ironies.
  2. Standardized tests create stress.
  3. Standardized tests induce sleep.
  4. Standardized tests bring out the best in us all.

Key Point #1: Standardized tests reveal ironies.

I must be either good at detecting irony or inclined to find many things ironic.

The most ironic trend I’m seeing is that the students whom I never see–those who are almost never at school–are actually showing up to school; the regulars aren’t.  Like the rain showers that force suffocating earthworms out of their comfy dirt abodes, the hidden, truant, in-trouble-with-the-law students have meekly reappeared in the hallways of our school.  They feel uncomfortable, out-of-place because they have been out of school more than they have been inside.  The classrooms and hallways of our school are foreign places to them.

But why are they showing up all of a sudden? What has changed in their situation?  Here’s the explanation: students are showing up because NCLB mandates that 95% of a given testing cohort must be present in order for a school to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) (an unfocused primer here).   Given that our average daily attendance is about 60% (yes, 4 in 10 students each day do not show up to school), the school has gone to great lengths to reel in missing students.  Testing students’ homes are robocalled every morning.  Those that are missing receive home visits from teachers and social workers.  If that doesn’t work, MPD steps in.  Our school will take every measure to bring our testing attendance above 95% (this includes adding students who have already taken the CAS to the testing cohort–don’t ask me how).  It’s ironic that for 6 days out of the school year, our school does everything it can to “help” students figure out whether they are “proficient” in reading and math while in the other 174 days, we slog along without a sense of urgency about our students’ learning.

Key Point #2: Standardized tests create stress.

I’ve proctored the DC BAS (practice tests for the DC CAS, although, oddly enough, the BAS is written by Discovery Education and the CAS is written by CTB-McGraw Hill–who knows why?), but that is a cakewalk compared to the stress of DC CAS.  We have so many codes of conduct that we have to abide by.  We’ve been made aware of countless “testing violations” and what to do when security is breached.  Testing “spies”–as our teachers have begun to call them–pop in and out of classrooms like prairie dogs, checking to make sure that we are sitting at our desk staring at the students, but not staring at their papers, since the act of peeking at the content of the test, in itself, would be a test violation on the teacher’s part.

Indeed, as a 10th-grade English teacher with a testing homeroom, I am fully accountable for every single atom of matter associated with the tests.  Any pencil that I lend has to come back.  Even used scratch paper must be returned to me (my students were rolling their eyes when I asked them for it).  Obviously, if the test booklet doesn’t return, I’m liable to be guillotined.  Below is a parody of the stress-inducing test regulations with which teachers across the country are grappling:

1. Should a severe weather situation occur during testing, please remain calm. To display any kind of anxiety would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.

2. Please do not look out the window to watch for approaching tornadoes. You must monitor the students at all times. To do otherwise would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.

3. Should students notice an approaching tornado and begin to cry, please make every effort to protect their testing materials from the flow of tears and sinus drainage.

4. Should a flying object come through your window during testing, please make every effort to ensure that it does not land on a testing booklet or an answer sheet. Please make sure to soften the landing of the flying object so that it will not disturb the students while testing.

5. Should shards of glass from a broken window come flying into the room, have the students use their bodies to shield their testing materials so that they will not be damaged. Have plenty of gauze on hand to ensure that no one accidentally bleeds on the answer documents. Damaged answer sheets will not scan properly.

6. Should gale force winds ensue, please have everyone stuff their test booklets and answer sheets into their shirts…being very careful not to bend them because bent answer documents will not scan properly..

7. If any student gets sucked into the vortex of the funnel cloud, please make sure they mark at least one answer before departing…and of course make sure they leave their answer sheets and test booklets behind. You will have to account for those.

8. Should a funnel cloud pick you, the test administrator, up and take you flying over the rainbow, you will still be required to account for all of your testing materials when you land so please take extra precautions. Remember, once you have checked them out, they should never leave your hands.

9. When rescue workers arrive to dig you out of the rubble, please make sure that they do not, at any time, look at or handle the testing materials. Once you have been treated for your injuries, you will still be responsible for checking your materials back in. Search dogs will not be allowed to sift through the rubble for lost tests…unless of course they have been through standardized test training.

Gotta love them tests.

Key Point #3: Standardized tests induce sleep.

I’ve never seen students as sleepy as they have been this week.  Every morning, students file in at 8:45 or thereafter, drowsy droopy frowns exuding anything but excitement for the hours of testing ahead of them.  They put their heads down on the desk until the very last moment, when I begin to read the testing instructions verbatim out of the testing manual.  Once they are done, their heads go down again, like falling plate gun targets.

Their sleepiness rubs off on me.  As I’m sitting at the front of the room–in my usual sleep-deprived state–I have to fight over my consciousness with the Sleep Devil.  Occasionally, he takes it away, and I nod off for a second.  After I flutter my eyes awake, I scan the room to make sure no student has seen me. In the few occasions where I make eye contact, an awkward mutual understanding–something almost telepathic–occurs.  Our thought conversation goes something like this:

Student: Mr. K, I see you sleeping over there! What’s going on?
Mr. K: Yeah, I’m really quite tired.
Student: See!  testing be fakin’! Let’s stop!

Being instructed to do nothing but sit and stare at students’ depressed faces for 3 hours is the least engaging activity out there.  If you’re an insomniac, try proctoring a high-stakes test…

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Key Point #4: Standardized tests bring out the best in us all.

Standardized testing season is clearly the worst part of the academic year.  Students are depressed, teachers are stressed, morale is low.  But, thankfully, DC CAS can serve as creative inspiration for some.  Here’s one catchy teacher creation that shows how testing season brings out the best in us all (props, shoutouts and thanks go to E.L. Haynes PCS):

3 Responses

  1. MJL

    DC lets you sit during proctoring???? Lucky duck! Sitting down is a testing violation in AR! The kids made fun of my tennis shoes, but I ain’t care because I was not fixing to stand up in dress shoes for four hours. But checking and monitoring does have its advantages: theoretically, not that I would ever do so, of course, it is much easier to accidentally glimpse test questions while walking the aisles.

  2. I guess? I was never told I couldn’t. But I guess theoretically I should be standing at attention. Good luck down there!

  3. emy

    hurray to all the teachers at E.L.Haynes for putting together such an entertaining piece of video in this stressful testing week in DC and other places. This is a brilliant production that is fun to watch. As Mr K says, this brought the best in all involved: rapping and singing talent, sense of humor, creativity, Optimism and a lot more. Thank you Mr K for bringing it to the readers’ attention.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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