Well, I guess I should really say most of the truth about NYS testing. Each year when I administer the state tests, I sign a waiver that is pretty much a gag order. I am not allowed to talk about the actual test questions that were on that particular test. I can talk about the test in general, but I am bound by some kind of secrecy to this test that I have administered.
The security for the state tests is crazy! The tests are counted and recounted numerous times from the moment they arrive at our school until the moment the top secret vehicle takes them back to Albany. They are even kept in a locked vault until they are graded. I am not exactly sure what happens to all of the tests once the scores are in, but I am wondering if someone gets paid to stand and guard them forever and ever.
State testing in NYS has become a hot topic over the last few years. I have had many parents ask me questions about the tests that are given to students in 3rd-8th grade. I don’t think many parents are aware of exactly what these tests entail. The following information is based on what I have seen over the last few years.
Preparing for the Tests
Students work hard all year in my reading class with analyzing challenging texts by close reading, annotating and discussing ideas with others. Then they get the test, and it is timed. There is not enough time for students to use the strategies being taught because they cannot possibly read a challenging passage three times, annotate it AND answer questions within the time limit. I always tell my students to take their time and check their work…but when it really comes down to it, there isn’t time for this on the state tests. This is very frustrating!
This year, the new ELA manual for the state tests says that the questions will be more complex and more advanced than on prior tests. The questions will have four answers with only one correct answer. That sounds okay, right? But, it also states that the other answers will be “plausible but incorrect.” So, basically most of the choices will look correct to an 11 year old!
Taking the Tests
Most teachers and students dread testing days. I dread these days for various reasons. Each testing day takes away 90 minutes of my actual teaching time. For some special education students, they are losing even more classroom time because they have extended time which could be up to 180 minutes!
All students deal with testing differently. I know that some of my students will be nervous while other students will just take the test without putting much thought into any of the questions. This is concerning. Many of my students dread the tests because they are expected to sit for extended periods of time without a break, unless they have to use the bathroom. My students know they should put in their best effort and work diligently throughout the tests; but when sitting for 90 minutes or 180 minutes, how can anyone concentrate that long? Some students are very anxious and freeze when they get the test. They suddenly forget all of the strategies they have learned all year and become overwhelmed with the ambiguous questions being asked.
When students begin the test, I am allowed to put the beginning and ending time on the board so they know when time is up….according to the directions (which I MUST follow), I am allowed to state that there are ten minutes left. There are other rules that I must also follow. I am not allowed to clarify any words that are on the tests. It breaks my heart when a student raises his/her hand and asks me what a word means for the essay question. I feel a pit in my stomach knowing that the essay will not be answered correctly without knowing the meaning of that word! But, I am not allowed to help my students. I know what great writers they are, but the person grading those essays does not know the growth that my students have shown over the course of the year!
Grading the Tests
In my district, the tests are graded by other sixth grade teachers, but great care is taken so each teacher does not get any of his/her students. This is to ensure a fair grading process. I generally look around the room at teachers reading essays and try to put my fears to rest by telling myself that all of my students did their best and that is all I can ask for. These tests will be graded and sent to Albany, and eventually be used for part of my teacher score.
After the Tests
When I went to college, I was taught that testing was supposed to help drive my instruction. I will not be able to use these tests to drive my instruction because I will not get the test scores until the following year! The following year when those students are no longer in my classroom. I receive a score for each student, but that does not tell me what each child answered incorrectly or how I can help that student any further. So what is the point? Why am I giving a test that I cannot see afterward to determine what my students did well on or what they need help with? Why am I being graded on something that my students tried their best on, but were tricked by questions that didn’t make sense? The NYS tests are given to students every year from 3rd-8th grade; but why do we keep administering tests that don’t have any benefits to either the students or the teachers?