More bubble tests

Today, yesterday and Monday I am required to administer the Chicago Benchmark Assessments. My third-grade son is also taking them at his own school. (I’ve only written Chicago Public Schools to opt him out of the high-stakes ISAT for this year.) Here’s an overview of some of the disruption to learning they cause.

  • My classes are shortened from about one hour to less than a half-hour. The tests are 90 minutes, plus setup time. They affect the entire school day’s schedule, not just those two hours – the time must come from somewhere! On the other hand, the persuasive writing test asks students to write a persuasive essay in “10-25 minutes”. What seventh-grader can write a formulaic five-paragraph essay in that amount of time? We gave them enough time to finish.
  • Writing is destroyed of any independent thought or creativity. The idea of adding writing to the test might seem good – a chance for students to show more of themselves than what a bubble does. However, the essays are assessed (and thus taught and learned) according to strict 5 paragraph rules of introduction, three examples, conclusion. According to teachers who have been to the training, diverging from this could result in a lower score. Ironically, the written portions of the “standardized” test are supposed to be graded by classroom teachers. If classroom teachers wanted to give a written test, we would give one! And it would relate directly to what our students were doing, rather than being some surprise topic handed to us 30 minutes before we give it to our students.
  • Special education students are exposed: I have numerous special education students who are included in my general education class. In general, no one knows specifically who they are. Until this test in which they are pulled out to a different room, carrying their own chairs and desks.
  • Coordinated schedules are destroyed: In addition, the special education teacher that comes to help my students also helps other grade levels at other times. The schedule was hard to figure out. It is impossible for her to help all of her students on testing days, because each grade level must alter their schedule to account for hours taken for testing.Students are so tired from an intensive 90 minutes of actual testing (per day) that it is difficult to get full attention during my short time that I have with them.
  • Students are confused as to why they are tested on things they haven’t learned. Or learned last year. So am I. Do I really need a test to tell me my students don’t know what we haven’t got to yet? Should I provide only topical instruction so as to cover everything on the test?
  • Students question why we need all these tests. What am I to tell them?

Next week: ACCESS testing! English Language Learners will be pulled from my room to take that test.

Short explanation of some of the tests:

In Chicago Public Schools, there is much confusion as to the naming of the tests. The Benchmark Assessments used to be called Learning First and are give two or three times a year. They do not count towards the cut score that CPS uses for promotion policy. The writing portion supposedly counts to 50% of a student’s writing grade.

The ISAT is the state test that CPS misuses to determine promotion to the next grade level for certain “benchmark” years (3rd, 6th and 8th grade). Note: they only use a subset of the ISAT that is nationally norm-referenced to determine the promotion criteria. Thus, the promotion policy is based on your student’s performance in competition to national performance. If your student only scores higher than 23 (or less) out of 100 students, s/he goes to summer school regardless of grades, attendance or behavior.