Le Marquis has alluded to the fact that I have spent the last three and a half weeks working with our school district’s Assessment Coordinator, primarily on high school level testing. It was interesting work, but I am finding it hard to summarize. Should I talk about the process, the students and teachers, my reaction to this years experience compared with others, or the politics of the No Child Left Behind Act? Dear readers, what has your or your children’s experience been with mandated testing? (I know your out there, I can hear someone breathing.)
I’ll try not to launch into a full political rant, fun as that might be, because my experience in the trenches did not really change my opinions, and my rant would not change your opinions, but might annoy you. (Like teaching a pig to sing…)
We administered nine different tests at the high school this spring, four of which Missouri requires to be completed by graduation. To clarify, the students can graduate without having taken them, but the school district loses rating points if more than 5% of the students escape without taking the tests. In a small district like ours, that means three students untested is too many. We thought we were done on Friday, but on Monday, we found three seniors who hadn’t taken all four tests. We pulled them in and tested them, even though they might not have been in that class for a year or more. Two students were transfer students, and one was absent last year for the Bio test. Check that off our list. Our District Testing Coordinator (DTC) is known as the “Queen of Spreadsheets” for good reason. There is a lot of organization going on behind the scenes. As we wrapped up this year’s testing, and checked all the seniors off our list, we were putting the tests taken and raw scores received into our spreadsheet for the juniors, the Class of 2012. This spreadsheet will be used before school starts next year to make sure all our ducks (I mean students) are in a row.
The EOC (End of Course) tests are now administered on-line instead of paper and pencil. This is a good thing, and in general works well. Our IT staff has discovered that it works better if we hook up each students laptop to an Ethernet line, rather than using wi-fi. Each classroom has an Ethernet hub set up for testing, and the classroom is configured so that all desks can be reached. In some cases this resulted in two concentric circles, sort of like the Stonehenge program Le Marquis is now watching. I don’t think the IT staff aligns the circles with the sun, but I could be wrong. The students all load the EOC browser, which automatically shuts down all other programs on the student’s laptop until they have finished the test. We did have a technical glitch or two, but they were all resolved, and the tests are not timed, so the students were not penalized for computer issues. In one case, a student complained of double vision, just as the test was starting. Our quick-thinking DTC brought the nurse with her, to make sure it wasn’t a true medical emergency, then set the student up to use a desktop computer with a large screen, setting the monitor so the words were extra-large. After confirming that the student could read the screen without blurring, she left me to proctor the student one-on-one.
I will close this screed with one last thought. Much of the time I was working in a conference room in the basement. There are high windows looking up into some bushes and a tree. A male cardinal kept banging his head into the window, apparently seeing his reflection in the glass as a rival to be attacked. Somehow, I feel that is a metaphor to the No Child Left Untested process, but I did say I wouldn’t get into politics, so I guess I should quit while I’m ahead.