Thursday, March 08, 2007

High stakes testing, high standards, and my sophomores

Today was Day 3 of our state standardized testing for sophomores. In Connecticut, we call it CAPT. Students wrote a persuasive letter, the second such one they had to write. The test consists of two non-fiction articles, from which the testees must pull information, examples, and quotes to build their case. On Wednesday, their task involved reading a short story and answering four questions based on it. [Disclaimer: I am not an offiical proctor, but I teach 10th graders. When they returned to my class after the tests, they told me the topics.]

Needless to say, it can be dreadful for them. Although I believe that what CAPT is assessing in our students is valid, I still can't get over the high-stakes, high-pressure testing environment it creates in our schools. But how can we get around that? If you're interested in Branford's scores, see the chart above or look closer at the data here.

Essentially, the reading and writing portions of test require students to use evidence to back up their positions, and to read critically for a variety of purposes, and blend their prior knowledge with new learning. That's all great stuff, and I'll be honest, it has helped guide the curriculum in a meaningful way here in Connecticut. Our school has created a series of graduation requirements linked to CAPT standards; for each requirement, a school wide rubric is used to assess student efforts. For English teachers, this includes writing for a variety of purposes, reading non-fiction, and understanding and appreciating literature. None of this is the perfect solution to the issues we have in education. But then again, what or who is perfect? Certainly not me.

Case in point: when the sophomores showed up in F14 this morning - fresh off 3+ hours of testing, all of it essay writing by the way - they were a tad antsy. I started handing out the thinking logs for the day's Literature Circle discussion, and there was a little uproar and groaning that they'd have to do work, and they hadn't done the homework reading for the day. My first reaction: a testy lecture about keeping up with work. That quieted them down. Then I stopped and looked around. And I told them they could have the time to catch up on their reading or to start brainstorming ideas for their papers. And you know what? I feel guilty for scolding them today, and I feel guilty for giving them a break.

Thankfully there's no CAPT again until Tuesday.

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