It's been two months since my last post, and events of historic and magnificent consequence have taken place during that time in the state of Texas and our forward thinking education system, as we have introduced a new test. (This is the part where I hope the sarcasm shines subtly through.)
The EOC, also know as the End of Course exam, also know as the STAAR, State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, has formally arrived this week at my high school, and in my children's elementary , and it has been less than earth-shaking so far. Wait for it...until results come back some time in May. Then, as they say, the fit may hit the shan. I hope not to get any on me.
Now, as I think that there is an outside perception of the different tests and what is done to prepare for them, the proverbial "teaching to the test", I can speak to that and many other components of this experience so far.
With 500 MILLION dollars in mind, school districts have been compelled by the state to go to their service centers, trek to Austin, to gain insight, figure out specifics and generalities for many months. Conflicting info has been a constant, differing opinions have flown around about the impact of the tests on Texas school children, with a final delay of the inevitable, for at least a year, by the TEA Commissioner, once the howling finally got loud enough that there were too many questions left unanswered. In the meantime, teachers and administrators have been sharing the mantra this test would be "much, much harder" than the TAKS, thus raising the anxiety level to new notches. There have been prep sessions and daily reminders for weeks and weeks in my district.
As we drew closer, there were required trainings given by our testing coordinator, with the help of her loyal counselors, as the fine details of the "new" answer documents were pored over, with my belief that they looked very similar. One big difference was noted in that the new tests would have 4 hour time limits, as the TAKS has been a school-day long window of opportunity for students to sleep, look out the window, reflect, scratch their watch and wind their butt, take a break and eat, and delay going onto class. This has taken on heroic proportions in my years of observation. GONE is the chance to make it more of an operatic ordeal, and this is relieving, somewhat.
When the tests arrived, they were unloaded into a secure room, before being taken and placed into testing boxes by Harriette and LaDon and other counselors, (but not me, as I hate that stuff) which I would equate to paper crates with handles, along with pencils, required signs and paperwork, extra clocks, bathroom passes. This is done in conjunction with room assignments and teacher assignments, which in some districts can be nightmarish, as space is an issue, with appropriate desks and failure of educators to be available and reliable. Ours is a smooth and non-problematic assigning, as I honestly believe we have 99% of our teachers in a "seasoned" status, when it comes to testing. You always have the crank who doesn't like the makeup of their class roster, and there has been the odd ball who doesn't like a student using their faculty restroom, as the hallways we test in requires a cloistering, but people show up and they know how to conduct themselves.
Rosters are placed where students can see them a few days ahead of time, and those students who must be moved are given notice, but both groups seem to have memory losses on a regular basis, so we are around to send them the right direction, which may require a hike for some to the other side of the campus, so there is grumbling. This year we used our math and science wings to give the test to this first group of guinea pigs, uh, freshmen, and there was AC issues and some noise from surrounding classrooms, but no real problems with meltdowns or misbehavior, with the exception of a group of students taking an alternate test, which they weren't happy about, as is the norm for that grouping.
Then, onto the test! There is a lot of hurrying and waiting, and this year felt very similar to me, in that the pacing felt like TAKS, the bathroom breaks seemed like TAKS, and students finished at a normal pace. We all started from the loudspeaker, took at break at the same time for pizza and Subway, and we finished on the dot, with a 4 hour test window. Students mentioned to me that it was easy and breezy, but we will see. Teachers took their tests to turn in one day, picked them up the next day, then we were done with the regular tests, with "field tests" given to a group, ESL tests to others, and one lucky young man got to take his English II test, as he was a year ahead of his class. (Only 9 students out of approximately 600 missed taking test, which will be made up this summer.)
Tests are gone over and bubbled appropriately, packaged in groups of 25, then placed in boxes for send off, with a hauling over to the admin to come. Sighs of relief will commence.
So, ultimately, has the world changed with this new test? Sadly, no, as there was a flow in the same river toward "accountability" with the advent of the STAAR. Other factors regarding true learning will remain secondary, regardless of NCLB being weakened. Districts will be labeled starting year after next, students will graduate or not, as it is with the TAKS, and the waiting can begin...for the next acronym.