At my school, in Ohio, we are gearing up for the yearly Ohio Achievement Assessments (OAAs). I teach 4th and 5th graders so I have a lot of tests to administer! My 4th graders (I have three) who all have special needs (that kind of happens when you teach special ed!) all have to take the 4th grade OAAs for reading and math. My 5th graders (there are 9) have to take them for reading, math, and science. If you count them all up, that makes 33 separate tests I have to administer in a two week time period! Believe me, I do nothing but testing all day, every day for the entire two weeks.
What does this mean? It means that even though my students have gone through a rigorous process that has found them unable to learn at the same pace as their peers, they are still required to take the same test as their peers! Now, they do get some accommodations. Some of the kids get the tests read to them (but not the reading test). They might get some extra time to take the test. Most are given the test in a one-on-one or in a small group setting instead of in their general education classrooms. Very few get a scribe (where they tell the person giving them the test what to write down). Sounds pretty good, right?
Well, let’s just take a gander at my class this year. I have 12 students on my roster, 3 fourth graders and 9 fifth graders. One is reading and comprehending at a 4th/5th grade level. Nine students are reading and comprehending at the end of 1st/beginning of 2nd grade level. One student is reading at a beginning first grade level and another is reading at a kindergarten level. But they all have to take the reading achievement test for their current grade and are expected to read and comprehend it like their peers. Doesn’t sound so good anymore, does it?
Now let’s just forget about the unfairness of making them take these tests at their grade level. Let’s look at what it is actually like during testing weeks in my classroom. I have to make a schedule of who gets which test, when they will take it, and who will administer it to them (must be a certified teacher). To give the test in a small group or one-on-one, I also have to plan what the other students will be doing and where they will be doing it while I am busy testing. They can’t stay in their general education classroom…their class is quiet and testing. Our schedule and routine is completely disrupted for two weeks (which my kids have a hard enough time handling).
I finally sit down with a student and begin to read the script given to me (I’m not trusted to just read from the test booklet). The student points to a word and asks me what it says. I can’t answer. I read a test question from the script and they give me a blank look. I can’t help. They start crying in the middle of the reading test because they are unable to read the words. I can’t take the knowledge that they are not smart enough away. Giving these tests to my students is devastating. I work all year to increase their self-esteem and to make them believe that they are smart and that they can learn if they try their best. It is all gone in a flash once we start testing.
Many think that administering tests makes for easy days for a couple of weeks. I tell you, my brain feels like mush by the time I’m done. I have reread the same test a dozen times. I’ve waited patiently for students to write down an answer (desperately hoping that their answer is at least on the same topic as the question). Some students will take an entire school day to finish one test! It is mentally and emotionally exhausting!
As of now, my pay is not determined by the results of these tests…but it’s being discussed. I think I will have to pay to teach if that happens! Most of my kids don’t pass the tests and don’t show enough growth in a years time. Hmmm….I wonder if that is why they are identified as having special needs?
Now my feelings on the tests do not mean I don’t do my best to prepare them. I incorporate practice test questions throughout the year and we discuss them and go over possible strategies of finding the correct answer. For the reading test, we practice matching the words in the question to words in the selection. (What else can they do, when they can’t actually read the words?) Testing data doesn’t drive me instruction. How can it when the majority of my kids would show deficits in nearly every area? We just work on everything!
If you are interested in seeing test questions from the OAAs that have been released to the public, visit the Ohio Department of Education’s testing site and let me know your thoughts.
A whole bunch of teachers from all over are getting together and talking about testing and what it looks like for them and their students. Click the picture below to check it out and add your two-cents worth!