It had been my plan to keep a running blog post about the way this spring’s testing affected my teaching. The best laid plans…
What happened in practice was that after spring break, my teaching was affected by testing, but my blogging was affected by my teaching being thrown off, and my the fact that I was playing Harold Hill in a local production of The Music Man. By the time the play was over, the end of the school year was hurtling toward me like a Mac truck, and I never quite got back online to complete my tale of testing woe.
So here I am, two weeks into summer, and I finally have some breathing space.
So how did testing go for the remainder of the year?
When last I blogged about the testing, my students and I had survived a system crash during the Florida Standards Assessment writing test. After that test was over, we resumed our normal teaching schedule until spring break and for about two weeks after spring break.
And then my school engaged in a very interesting experiment.
When testing was all done with bubble sheets and number 2 pencils, everyone in the school tested a particular test (say FCAT Math) at once, and we were done except for makeups. But now the tests are on computers, and this creates some problems. Our computer labs, all four of them, are too outdated to handle the online testing programs, so our school system bought carts of laptops specifically for the purpose of testing. However, there are not enough laptops for each student to have one. Also, moving the computers to different teachers’ rooms would prove problematic, and difficult when they were on the second floor of our main buildings.
So here was our schools admittedly ingenious solution.
1. Limit testing to just four rooms and the media. There would be Testing Zone Black, Testing Zone Red, Testing Zone Purple, Testing Zone Blue, and Testing Zone Green.
2. Limit testing to just four teachers. Four teachers whose schedules were somewhat flexible because they were co-teachers or consultation teachers would do all the testing for the entire campus. They would sort of be like The Giver, taking on the pain of administering tests for the entire Community.
3. Divide students into alphabetical groups for testing and rotate them in and out of these testing rooms: one group in the morning, one in the afternoon.
There were, of course, several problems with this plan. One is that the teachers whose rooms were being occupied as Testing Zones would need to be ousted and moved somewhere else.
So I, along with three other Language Arts teachers, got to move to portables for the weeks surrounding testing.
In addition to the FSA Reading and the FSA Math, there would also be end-of-course exams. Also, at the very start of this new round of testing, we would be administering the only hold-over from our old state test, the FCAT–the FCAT Science.
So here is a rough version of our testing schedule for the FSA and FCAT Science:
Grade 8 FCAT Science (in the morning)
Grade 6 FSA Reading part 1 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 6 FSA Reading part 2 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 7 FSA Reading part 1 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 7 FSA Reading part 2 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 8 FSA Reading part 1 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 8 FSA Reading part 2 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 6 FSA Math part 1 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 6 FSA Math part 2 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 7 FSA Math part 1 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 7 FSA Math part 2 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 8 FSA Math part 1 (morning group, afternoon group)
Grade 8 FSA Math part 2 (morning group, afternoon group)
This schedule was followed by makeup days for students who missed sections. The advantage of this schedule is that, for the most part, we were able to keep our regular schedule for classes instead of holding non-tested students in “holding tanks.” This was good. However, on a particular grade-level’s testing day, you could never tell who you would have. On the sixth grade testing days, I might have ten 6th grade students in a class, but I might only have two students. This made planning difficult. I made the best of it–students got additional reading workshop time to read their own books.
Math testing days became even more confusing, because students taking advanced Math, like Algebra I or II, don’t have to take the FSA Math. Their end-of-course exam serves as their only test. This made who would be in class even more un-predictable.
I moved my basic supplies out to the portable the Friday afternoon prior to the start of testing. On Monday morning, I picked up my old-fashioned number-two pencils, my old-fashioned testing books, and headed out to the portable to administer the FCAT Science to my first period 8th graders. The FCAT Science is two 80-minute sessions given in the same day– a whopping 160 minutes of testing.
If that weren’t bad enough, it quickly became evident as I set up the portable to test that the air conditioning wasn’t working. I alerted administration, who fixed the problem–sort of. As the first 80 minute session stretched on, it became clear that the air was blowing, but it wasn’t really getting any cooler.
At the end of session 1, I alerted administration that the portable had become unbearable, and they gave me an option–move to portable 19. I packed up all the testing materials and we moved from Portable 10 to Portable 19.
Portable 10 had been hot, but hospitable. It was being used regularly as an ESE classroom a couple periods a day (those teachers had been ousted by my presence, but that’s another level of complication). Portable 19 hadn’t been used for a couple of years, so while the A/C worked, we walked into our new testing zone and found it to be… musty. Very musty. It also had a certain abandoned slum vibe, including dead bugs here and there. But it was cooler. We stuck with the lesser of two evils.
I battled the A/C in portable 10 on and off for the rest of my stay, bringing in an oscillating fan to help ward off the heat. I managed to keep on teaching, but it was odd. After the main FSA testing was done, I had three days back in my room, and then three more days back out in the portable during end-of-course exams for 7th grade civics and math courses. One day the system crashed again, so all my students came back to class and I had to pull a lesson plan out of my hat.
From what I heard, the teachers who were assigned to do the testing had it worse than I did. They basically read the script each day, monitored the students on their computers, and then did it again in the afternoon. For two and a half weeks. Welcome to my nightmare.
Three weeks and a few days might not sound like much in the big scheme of a school year, but while you are in the midst of it, it seems to take for ever. Keep in mind as well that one of our testing zones was our media center, so during testing our school essentially had no media center. No book check out, no using the computers for school work (even if you could get into the lab, every mouse had been taken and used on testing laptops).
We have made the whole point of school to get students ready for testing, and then to test them, and if testing completely disrupts the educational process for weeks, so be it.
Something has got to change.