Testing, Testing, Testing III

Tuesday was a long day, with testing in the morning and a two-hour meeting about assessment for proficiency in the afternoon.  Interesting connections between the two!

The testing in the morning was relatively uneventful – more trauma and drama for non-sophomores (who had been absent Monday and hadn’t remembered the altered schedule) than from sophomores themselves. In fact, due to the pre-administration work they’d done on Friday, tenth-graders were back in class a bit early.  Exhausted from testing, hyper from testing, but back in class.  “I need to work on timing myself in long sections,” said M.  “The math parts were really, really easy,” said P.  (“Did you know that N. and I are dating?” asked D.)  “That was a complete waste of my time,” said many.  “It was really helpful for me,” said … one person?  Anyone??

I guess they all learned something from the testing –except possibly D.  But she probably had the better day.

But what about the confusion?  After all, the schedule and room changes had been announced – over the intercom, no less – at 2:30 on Monday afternoon.  One whole time.  There were small posters, too, in a few places.

But why are students usually the last to know about changes in schools’ schedules?  They’re obviously affected, at least as much as teachers … but we wait till the last possible moment and use the least effective means to inform them.  Then we blame the “bad, lazy ones” who “didn’t listen!”  They’re “irresponsible,” we say.

Talk about the power of labels!

One day late last week, a cryptic indication of “Midterm Exams 1st and 3rd periods” appeared on the school’s electronic calendar  (for today if you’re reading this post “live”), and “Midterm Exams 2nd and 4th periods” appeared for the next day.  Apparently midterms have become a thing we do … because we do them.  “I had forgotten all about midterms,” said Ms. D at lunch, “but I am giving a regular test then, so I guess I’ll use that.”

It would be one thing if the reporting period ended then … but it doesn’t, not till next week.  Why schedule an exam the day after a quarter of the school took a mandated standardized test, missing one of the class periods scheduled for testing?  If midterms are important and valid, why  no discussion of the dates – or the process or purpose  – at any recent faculty meeting?

Why do we give mid-course exams anyway? “Because?”  “Just because??”  “Because they need practice before final exams???”

I thought of George’s Google+ comment about tests that prepare you for other tests.

Ms. Z, a fairly young teacher, was busy making copies during lunch Tuesday.  “I have to give them a practice test before their midterm,” she said, “and it’s so frustrating because of the test this morning!”

Apparently tests for tests’ sake are alive and well in my face-to-face teaching world!  They have terrible effects on students … and teachers, too.  In a comment on this Google+ thread, Debbie noted many of those ill effects:

as I’m reading the end of your blog I wonder if it isn’t the system that needs to change, to make the assessments meaningful but rather the teachers themselves? Or… going the other direction, maybe it is a societal shift that needs to happen?

Although we are (still) in the process of shifting from the mentality of power and control over children, “we” cling to the old habits in many ways. I saw a poster shared on Facebook this morning about the problem with children today is that we can no longer smack them, we are soft on “discipline”. And I think of the many fathers at the correctional centre who said, “My father hit me and I’m ok”. (This always received the comeback from a fellow inmate, “You’re in jail!??” But the “I’m ok” sentence was uttered by as many people who were not incarcerated. And then there is the variation “My father hit me and I respected him. Kids don’t respect their parents today.”

This all goes back to your discussion about pain. Until this connection to pain (giving and receiving) is severed people will continue to find ways to bring it into the homes and into the classrooms. This includes using assessments not as a tool to help students.

My students theoretically know how our end-of-reporting-period assessments work. But they were still anxious on Monday and Tuesday.  “What will our midterm be like?  Will it actually be on Wednesday or Thursday?  Will it be big and scary??”

Will it hurt, in other words?  Will it cause pain? Will it be a punishment?

It shouldn’t feel big and scary, of course – it should feel like a celebration of what you know and can do.  That’s always been my stated belief about assessments anyway.  But all too often, I fell into the pain and punishment trap, or at least into the “rigorous means long” trap.  Ironically, when I abandoned those long, written examinations (and oh, how I loved writing them!), I suddenly had time for real conversations about students’ progress – and they suddenly started “doing much better” on the shorter, more focused assessments.

Funny thing about that!

But how can we change the paradigm of tests for tests’ sake? Long, hard tests may not really measure anything, but by golly! They’re tests!  So they’re important!  After all, in the Real World ….

Tests are very different in the Real World, aren’t they?  How can we – or should we – get the school-based ones to be more like the real-life ones?

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Published in: on October 24, 2012 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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