Testing vs. Teaching – Episode 1: Testing the Wireless (2-18-15)

I don’t blog very often. Between teaching and drawing my comic strip six times a week, I’m often too busy. But an innovation in the way a produce my daily comic strip, doing the lettering on my computer with my own font, has made creating the strip a lot quicker. And I suspect I won’t be doing a whole lot of teaching between now and the end of the school year.

Why? you might ask. It’s only February. Surely if school doesn’t get out till June, you have lots of time to teach!

Don’t be so sure.

I have decided to chronicle, over the next few months, the way testing impacts my teaching. And not just in philosophical ways, but in hard minutes and hours of wasted instructional time.

First, an introduction. I am in my 16th year of teaching at a middle school in Florida, and my 23rd year of teaching in Florida overall. I teach Language Arts: one 8th grade class, four 6th grade classes, and one 7th grade class. When I started teaching, Florida had no standards, no school grading, no district grades, and no standardized curriculum maps, and we used a generic standardized test called the CTBS that never changed from year to year and had no “stakes” attached to it. We stored it in a closet. The booklets had gum stuck in them.

Times have changed.

After years of the FCAT Writing (8th grade only) and FCAT Reading (all grades), we are now about to take the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) for the first time starting March 2nd.

A little more back story to get out of the way before I proceed to the real beginning of today’s episode. Today was not really the first time testing has impacted me this year. This fall, I was out for a day to go to a district workshop. I had a substitute, but still, I was out of my class for the day. At this workshop, we learned how to score samples of our district tests, the VLT’s (Volusia Literacy Tests). These tests are designed to prepare students for the FSA Writing, which asks students to “write to text” about some essays and articles they’ve read. It was actually a pretty productive day. Our tests came out of a “Performance Assessment” workbook (previously titled “Common Core Assessment” until Florida changed the name of its standards to the Florida Standards while retaining all of the Common Core Standards; our Language Arts Standards are called LAFS) from our test book publisher.One of the productive things that came out of it was the fact the prompts for these tests were deeply flawed, as we discovered when we decided to take the essays tests for ourselves. The district wisely revised all three grade levels’ prompts.

In addition to the day out, I have already spent three days getting students ready to take the VLT, which is practice for the FSA. And the VLT took three more days to take. That’s a total of 6 days just to get ready to take the VLT and then take the VLT, which will get them ready to take the FSA.

And then there’s today. Today my first period, 8th grade ELA class had to take the FSA Infrastructure Trial. This trial, which took the entire period, involved setting up laptops in my class room, and having students test the wireless system by logging into a make-believe testing site and taking a pretend test that they could just random guess on, just to see if the wireless bandwidth in my classroom is adequate for this online test.

In order to administer the FSA Infrastructure Trial, I had to print out and decipher a 14 page booklet of instructions, complete with a script to read to my students. As Dave Barry would say, “I am not making this up.” A 14 page booklet of instructions and script to test the wireless in my room. I was in the middle of a lead up activity to the VLT to practice for the FSA, but that had to wait.  Reading this book, logging into the system, and figuring out how make it all work took up my entire morning before school  (I arrive early) when I could have been, you know, grading papers.

Today’s total:

1 day out of class.

6 days of practice for the FSA

1 class period testing the wireless.

Now that I have given you the back story and begun the rising action, our tale of testing is underway. I shall try to update this series daily, if only briefly, to chronicle how much of the rest of my year is spent teaching,,, and how much is taken up with testing.

Here we go!