Online forum dedicated to teachers review of ELA Exams

By | April 9, 2014

Want to know what teachers know about the Common Core assessments?  A new website called testingtalk.org is providing a platform for teachers to share what they know about the students taking these exams.  From their website…

This site provides a space for you to share your observations of standardized tests your students are taking this year. What works? What doesn’t? Whether your district is giving its own, CC aligned test or is piloting PARCC or Smarter Balanced, we want to pass the microphone to you, the people closest to the students being tested. The world needs to hear your stories, insights, and suggestions. Our goal is collective accountability and responsiveness through a national, online conversation.So find your state, click in, and share your observations. Please keep your comments constructive and specific. If you are able to sign your name, that’s great, but anonymous is okay, too. Encourage everyone to contribute. Return often to hear what others across the nation are saying. Your voice matters!

Overwhelmingly, and unsurprisingly, the accounts are critical.  But what is really telling is how consistent the comments are.

See for yourself: http://testingtalk.org/responses/

Here are some examples….

NYS ELA Thoughts from a Teacher

Author: Deborah Linscott, Teacher|State: NY|Test: State test: Pearson|Date: April 8 at 11:46 pm ET

The opacity of the ELA tests in NY block critical evaluation. This is a big problem when tests are supposed to reflect educational standards common to all.

Embedding trial passages and questions on tests that are already way too long for young learners makes the other passages less valid due to the fatigue-factor. This practice justifies secrecy so that educators are unable to access the permanently embargoed tests. Commissioner King calls for blind trust. Why are we teaching argument from kindergarten to high school if that value is not embraced by our own leadership?

I think it is time we call in our best linguistic and psychometric scholars from the top universities in America to check the reliability and validity of the NYS Pearson tests which have cost billions to create, execute and score, and have also had untold costs upon our students, teachers, administrators and their families.

The construction of so many questions appear to be IQ-ish in their complexity and demand for extremely abstract reasoning; a student’s success would depend more on his ability to predict what the test makers were asking and upon his or her cognitive persistence in the face of acute confusion than in reading comprehension.

The over-testing of structure, similar to last year, was apparent; the test sacrificed meaning making-analyses to focus on abstractions. For example, a context clue was more important than the meaning that could be derived from an unknown word, and flipping back and forth to determine organizational patterns was more important than deriving the meaning from those structures. In fact, meaning was seldom assessed.

And this one….

From Fiasco to Failure

Author: Katherine, Teacher|State: NY|Test: State test: Pearson|Date: April 5 at 11:28 am ETFrom the perspective of a NYC middle school 8th grade ELA teacher:

Last year’s test was a fiasco. It defied the very call of the Common Core Standards, which is to engage students in the process of closely reading complex texts with the goal of understanding them on a variety of different levels: literally, figuratively, comparatively, and structurally. That kind of multi-layered comprehension requires careful reading and careful reading takes time. Time to read, think, reread, analyze, question, write, and reread some more.

My students are becoming excellent careful readers. They have learned how to develop highly effective questions that enable them to dig deeper into content and construct strong connections to material they read–even if the material was initially far outside their scope of experience and knowledge.

Last year’s test was a fiasco, because it demanded that students do this careful, multi-layered reading lightning fast. That demand alone was unreasonable, unwarranted, and unfair. But that, of course wasn’t the only demand: students had to answer questions that were crafted as highly-complex texts, too. The questions had to be read and reread with great care in order for students to understand exactly what was being asked. Then there were the answer choices. These, too, were crafted as though they were seeking the Pullitzer prize for craft, nuance, and complexity. Students had to be extremely careful readers in order to differentiate one answer choice from the next, and the next, and the next. All in 90 minutes. 90 minutes to read about 6 complex passages and answer 42 complex questions with complex answer choices. Unfair. Fiasco. Students shed tears. That was just day 1.

I will spare the detailed description of days 2 and 3, which required carefully constructed written responses. You get the idea. Tears. Fiasco. Unfair.

This year’s test brings me to the failure part. The test makers’ failure. Failure to respond adequately to last year’s feedback. Failure to create tests that respect the demands of common core and respect the fact that growth takes time. Failure to respect the fact that our children are responding fantastically well to the rigor of common core, that our teachers and schools have worked hard to incorporate the standards into our work so our students are becoming high school, college, and career-ready.

This year, for the first time in my decade-long teaching career, a large part of my ‘test prep’ work was emotional preparation. I would not lead my students back into a test that would cause them the unreasonable stress and self-criticism that my students experienced last year. Instead, I coached my students on developing ‘realistic’ expectations for the test and their performance on it. I talked about perspective, helping students place the test into the context of their lives. I explained that the test is not matched to their experience and so they should not feel personally responsible for the following possible experiences: self-blame for not working harder than they already did all year long; overwhelm at the enormity of the task; self-blame for not taking a speed-reading course when they still had time; feeling like a failure for running out of time with 10 questions left unanswered, or a partial essay composed; wondering why they are not smart enough to understand the question; feelings of inadequacy when they have to read something a 3rd time to make sense of it; and so on.

This is a sad turn in my teaching. Never before have I been unable and unwilling to help my students approach state tests with the confidence they earned from all of their hard work. Instead, I had to help them compartmentalize: “I am confident in my ability to… and I understand that my ability may not meet the demands of this test, but that is not because I have not done my part or because I am dumb, or because my teacher has not assigned rigorous engaging work, or because I have failed to learn.” Never before have I been obliged to prepare my students for possible “failure.” I worked hard to implore them to understand that the failure is not theirs. That they have a lot to be proud of regarding their growth and achievement. Still, I saw shoulders slump with defeat during the test. I saw heads drop to tables in a pose of “I give up.” Still, some tears were shed. Not as many as did last year, but too many to ignore.

The promise of Common Core aligned tests that authentically assess the skills, knowledge, situational adaptive thinking and creativity of our children remains a distant one. These tests do not deliver.

To the test makers of the future I want to say one thing: We are not asking for ‘dumbed down’ tasks. We are asking for tasks that respect our students and our schools. We are asking for tests that resemble what we are aiming for as a nation: a chance for our students to demonstrate their ability to understand, on many levels, texts they read; to express their understanding, thinking, and imagination in writing that is grammatically correct, with appropriate spelling, capitalization, and punctuation; to problem-solve; to present claims and support them; to analyze, question, and build contextual knowledge through literacy. The test should not be where ‘learning’ happens, they should be reflective of the learning that has already happened. And they should be age-appropriate.

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