Friday, April 8, 2016

A Teacher Weighs in on the 8th Grade ELA Test in New York State

This week I administered the 8th grade ELA assessment. The test, on the whole, was an abomination. It was so developmentally inappropriate that the state should be brought up on child abuse charges. As I looked out at my hard working students, my heart sank. It sank because I know that they are being set up to fail this exam, but they do not know that this is the motive of the state. They are in their seats, plugging along, trying their best and working as hard as they can. I'd like to share some examples of how developmentally inappropriate this test is. One reading passage in Book 2 was so difficult that between the first and second paragraphs the state itself had to footnote 6 words. The passage went on using so many other words, that were not footnoted, that simply are not in our common vernacular. For example, what are "fastnesses"? This is a word that was used to describe the setting of the story, which became very important to understand as it relates to the questions that were asked on the following pages of the book. Now, I asked 8 of my fellow colleagues to define this word. 1 of the 8 knew the answer. Unless you are a geology major, how is this word a part of our everyday language, let alone the reading capability of an average 8th grader? And our ESL students? ELL students? Special Education students (some of whom are reading on a third grade level)? My heart is bleeding for these kids. Then on day 3 of this marathon came the real whammy. Just trying to navigate the questions in Book 3 was nearly impossible for kids. One of my highest achieving students called me to her desk and pointed at the extended response question and said, "This question is just weird. It doesn't make sense. I don't know what they want us to write. What should I do?" Of course, I reassured her to trust her instincts and try her hardest. She was one of 7 kids in my particular proctoring location that called me to her desk about that very same question. No one understood what was being asked of them. At the end of day 3 one of my special education students lay her head on her desk and tears began to fall. She said, "I'm so tired, I can't do this anymore. I don't know what they are asking, and whatever they are asking I don't know how to answer it because I didn't understand the reading passage." I encouraged her to take a break, get some water and try again. She took my advice to heart and the poor kid sat looking at this one question for another HOUR. In total she had been taking the test for 3 hours and 20 minutes with no lunch. Finally, she called me over, and said, "I just can't do it. I have read the passage a million times and I don't know the answer. " It was at that point that she turned in her test without answering that last question. I told her how proud I was of her. I told her that trying her best is the most important thing that she can do for herself in this world. I am heartbroken for her and for all of the children who were subjected to this horrendous developmentally inappropriate exam.


Julie Borst said...

In all seriousness, for that special ed student, how is her experience NOT a denial of FAPE? There is nothing remotely appropriate in the experience. It is not benefiting her in any way. It's not going to help her teachers teach her. It's not helping her become "resilient" because clearly, she already is. What it is, is cruel. #OptOut16

Unknown said...

In Arizona where I teach, I feel pretty much the same way. These tests rather than assessing what the kids know and can perform, seem to be created in such a way that one would think that there is no teaching or learning at all in the classroom. The use of over complicated vocabulary and open ended questions is typical in these tests. It is ironic that teachers need to be accountable but the people that wish to prove such accountability opt for the easiest type of assessment to correct. If the true purpose of these tests is to assess how much the children are learning then a portfolio portion should be added and it should account for 3/4 or more of the points. But because the correcting process would actually require people to do this work instead of a computer program that won't happen any time soon. Whoever said there is no money in education should talk to the Pearson company people which creates most of these assessments used throughout the entire country.