By James Comans
Welcome to an MSEdBlog series this week called 7 Hidden Truths of Testing.
In this series, I’m going to tell you 7 things about standardized testing in Mississippi that you, the taxpayer, probably don’t know. It’s not because nobody knows it’s happening, or because we educators don’t want you to know… It’s just kind of like Fight Club… we are not supposed to talk about it. No, really. They make us sign all kinds of regulatory agreements to intimidate us into staying quiet.
So, I’m not going to discuss my own personal experience with the testing at my school. That would be stupid. No, I’ve been talking to teachers and administrators across the state, gathering information for articles on testing. I won’t name sources or verify anything, so consider me a crazy person rambling in the wilderness. For the truth, talk to your local educators yourself. They can verify.
I’ll post one article a day for seven days so that we all have 24 hours to recover as we come to terms with each new glimpse at the absurdity taking over our public school system. Fair enough?
All right! Let’s get started.
In the past, standardized tests were paper tests that were handed out, written on, and taken back up. The whole process could be handled school-wide. For example, the Mississippi Curriculum Test (MCT2), which was the middle school assessment for English/Language Arts and Math, took 3 days. The entire state shut down operations for middle schools for 3 days in May, and everyone got it taken care of and over.
Nowadays, tests are administered online. But every school doesn’t have a computer for every student, so instead of singular testing days, we have “testing windows”- longer periods of time the state grants the schools in which to get their testing completed. In many schools across the state, we now have something of a “testing season” that hits mid-spring and lasts almost til school is out. Each school uses the resources they have available, rotating students and computers in and out of testing until testing is complete. Every student gets his own appointed moment with destiny.
You see- the tests require proctors in each testing room- secondary monitors who assist the test administrators and ensure no shenanigans are taking place. These proctors can be parents or other community members, but schools often have to dip into the faculty to cover all the testing room needs.
Taking teachers of electives out of their classrooms is a common solution. For example, in one school, tech foundations teachers assisted in all of the school’s testing and had to finish teaching their curriculum, for the year, in mid-March. Other schools shift arts and music teachers around, subtly sending the message to all that those classes don’t matter.
Librarians are also a common expendable resource. Several schools use the library as a testing room or they have the librarian assist in proctoring, so as a result, students are not able to check out books for about a quarter of the school year. Books aren’t important, right?
In some schools, custodians, office staff, and special education teachers have to be called in to assist with testing, which causes a domino effect of decreased quality of services for the school. For example, if a school’s SPED teachers are helping with testing, IEP meetings have to be scheduled around the testing and shortened, which one principal said makes adequate discussion of those students’ major concerns impossible.
Many times though, students lose out on instruction in their core subject areas. In one school, English teachers teach both 7th and 8th grade. Since they are involved with testing and cannot test both grades at the same time, neither grade gets any English instruction while the other grade tests.
But surely there’s some teachers in the school who actually make it to their classrooms, and end up with students, right? Well, sure, but remember: testing is scheduled based on the classes that took that subject together. And at the secondary level, that means Mrs. Jones’ 3rd period math class tests all together. So while Mrs. Brown is trying to teach her 6th period history class, she may be missing all of the kids who have Mrs. Jones 3rd period. Multiply this by all the testing going on and all the classes that get affected, and you have educational chaos. Nobody in the school teaches at 100% during testing season. That’s just a fact. (If one of my bosses happens to be reading this, I’m not counting myself. I always teach at 100%)
In its current form, there’s no way to sugar coat it: standardized testing is a huge disruption to the educational process. Join me tomorrow when we look at just how consistent testing environments are across the state.
James Comans is an 8th grade science teacher in Southaven and contributor to MSEdBlog. His views are his own and do not represent the views of any other entity.