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High Stakes Tests

August 30th, 2010 at 04:59 pm

I live in Illinois and for grade school and middle school we have the ISAT which is Illinois State Achievement Test.

It's a component of the NCLB -- No Child Left Behind. It's a way we are to be held accountable for how we educate students.

On the surface that sounds so good. I mean, no one wants a teacher doing nothing and a kid not being educated. We all know there are great teachers out there who do their best and then are the duds.

However, we've come to the point where a school has to make 85% to pass. On the surface that doesn't sound totally unreasonable. But it's not a straight 85%. Each year it goes up and each year it gets more and more difficult. This percentage not only means the total folks taking the test, but the subgroups. Subgroups contain 45 students and can be gender, race, special education status, and economic status. All subgroups have to make 85%. Confusing? You bet.

My school district is a poor district so we have a lot of folks on free and reduced lunch so just about every school has that subgroup. Of course we have boys and girls subgroups. We have some race subgroups. Some schools have the special education subgroup.

On top of all of that, the school has to maintain a 91% attendance rate. Even if they pass all the academics, they have to have that magic attendance number or they don't make AYP or adequate yearly progress.

This is just a simplified version. I cannot really figure the scores the way they do because there's a lot of this and that ... it's not just 85%.

If a school doesn't make AYP they are labeled failing. I understand the reasoning behind it, but some of the questions on the test I'm not sure are things children will use. We spend so much time teaching to test -- we have to because we don't want to fail -- that so much other stuff is left out.

We look at kids as test scores -- remember when people complained that they were more than a number? Well, it's getting that way in education. A kid is a test score. One school that isn't a true district school, but sort of has district privileges didn't make AYP when the scores were lower. They do now. How, you ask? Well, from what I can tell they don't keep kids who don't pass the ISAT. They send them back to their home schools. Truly survival of the fittest!

I truly believe there should be accountability in education. But I don't think a test given in the spring should be the only way to hold schools and districts accountable.

One of my former schools didn't make AYP. It's not a bad school. It's in a high poverty neighborhood. The teachers work very hard instructing kids. I've seen teachers bringing in things from home to help the kids like clothes, snacks, shoes, etc. One teacher's church has volunteers who come every week to work with the kids on materials she puts together. When a family had a fire, the staff collected money and items to gift to the family. Kids brought in what they could for donations. I think educating people for life is far more important that teaching them to take a test.

I bet you won't see a question on how you can best serve your neighbor on a high stakes test.

8 Responses to “High Stakes Tests”

  1. NJDebbie Says:

    Well said! In New Jersey, if the school fails three years in a row, the state has the right to take over the school. I know that when my son was in the 8th grade he actually took practice tests on Saturdays (voluntarily of course), but what parent would object knowing that funding is totally dependent on those scores. It's never about the "whole" child.

  2. creditcardfree Says:

    I agree, well said!! My sister is an ELL teacher at a school that was labeled as failing. I've heard her say everything you have said. There are so many factors that go into teaching a child and personally as a parent of children who do well in school, I'm actually very tired of teaching to a test score. Ugh!

  3. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    If I were a child in a school so focused on testing, I think I would shrivel up and die.

    Decades ago, my grade school did a lot of standardized testing, yet there was a curriculum totally separate from tests. There was room for teacher creativity and spontaneous changes in plans. Those tests were just something done on the side a few days per year. It seems as if my school 40 years ago was more progressive than the schools I'm acquainted with today. What happened?

    Come to think of it, if I were a teacher in a school that put these tests score above all else, I would also shrivel up and die.

    Dead students, dead teachers. Who else is left alive?

  4. rob62521 Says:

    Thank you for the validation. Our state can take over the schools after so many years, but as so many districts "fail", I'd like to see our already deeply in debt state take over many districts. Yikes!

  5. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    Uh, yeah, the state took over our schools in 2007. State administration has not meant that the state sends in more money. Maybe your state would, though.


  6. rob62521 Says:

    Joan, I doubt it. Our state is so deeply in debt they don't have the money -- they already owe our school districts tons of money for payments not made last year.

  7. Jerry Says:

    @NJDebbie - as far as "what parent would object knowing that funding is totally dependent on those scores..." There are a lot of crappy and/or uncaring parents out there, unfortunately! My mom recently retired from teaching at an elementary school in an area of the Pacific Northwest that was lead through a huge shift in socioeconomic status during her decades teaching there. She was so sad to see the parents who literally did not give their kids a second thought, or even try to get them to school at all, let alone on time. There just is no insurance that all of the kids will have parental support to help them through their exams, classes, or anything else.
    Jerry

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