Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Pendulum Swings Too Far

Last week someone called and asked if I would be interested in writing an editorial piece about testing, especially in light of the FAIR kindergarten testing in Florida being halted, Lee County pulling out of the state's testing program and a Kindergarten teacher putting her job on the line and refusing to give the FAIR test because she thought it was developmentally inappropriate.  I think the caller was looking for a more "balanced," positive spin on the testing environment saying that the public was getting lots of misinformation.

I'm not really sure what the message is that the public is getting, but I do understand, only too well, the message that teachers are getting.  I am so disappointed in the state of Florida's recent FAIR debacle.  There was a time when we gave the FAIR three times a year in Kindergarten and looked forward to the information that we were given.  The test was fairly quick and gave really pertinent information.  I could quickly, within the first month of school, pinpoint the students that were going to need extra support during the first trimester of Kindergarten.  I  could especially identify students who were going to need an extra boost of that all-important phonemic awareness.  Then at the mid-term I could monitor the success of my interventions and prescribe another round of small group instruction, if needed.  The testing monitored and drove my instruction.  I'm not sure what happened, but the test that Kindergarten teachers were asked to give this year was too long (it took 25-45 minutes per student and had to be given individually which cost teachers very valuable instructional time in those beginning days and weeks), was not ready to start in the time frame given, and depended on students' computer skills that at that early age are non-existent.  Of course, that's just one test.

Last year our county started the year saying that kindergarten teachers were going to give a Reading, Math and Science baseline and final exam and then quarterly tests to monitor progress.  I think we were even supposed to give a baseline and final exam in PE, Art, and Music.  Any Kindergarten teacher knew from the beginning that that was absolutely ridiculous because most of those had to be given individually and there aren't enough hours in the day.  Of course the initial outcry from kindergarten teachers wasn't enough to stop the initial round of testing.  What do teachers know? It took several weeks of that lunacy before the county backed off most of those requirements and decided to only require a baseline and final in Reading and Math but by then that group of children had missed almost six weeks of initial instruction.

So this year, all of those tests in Kindergarten are gone... and instead we have new computer-based Reading and Math assessments.  I think the cut scores are more guess than Science, as this program is only a few years old, without much in the way of proven results.  Professional development in using the program has been spotty and depends on an infrastructure that is non-existence, at least at my school.  Just getting all the students tested initially is a massive undertaking with 1300 students and one computer lab, a logistical nightmare.  Even the login for our youngster learners is unreasonable, taking us about 30 minutes in the computer lab to just get everyone signed on to begin the testing!  After the assessment, the program itself is suppose to be daily but we were told to try to get students on Reading twice a week and Math twice a week for about 30 minutes.  I have three computer stations in my room for 36 children.  There is no way that can happen, but nonetheless, all the apples are being put in that basket.  Recently we were given a cut score for the Reading portion of the computer program and told that all students below the cut score had to have the individual DAR, which means 22 of my 36 children need this more intensive test.  Really?  In order to get that test done (which again has to be done individually) I will be giving up individual conferring, guided reading and small group reading instruction for about three weeks, giving an additional test to half the students that don't need it.

I could go on and on about unimaginable testing decisions being made at both the state and local levels.  The truth of the matter is that even in this environment I believe wholeheartedly in accountability.  I am a diagnostic prescriptive teacher.  I use both formative and summative data every single day to make decisions about what I am going to teach tomorrow.  I get it, but what is being done in the name of accountability across this state right now is ludicrous.  I applauded the teacher who put her job on the line and drew a line in the sand and said. "Enough!"  I wonder if we will ever come to the day when teachers are at the table so that their voices may be heard on this all important issue?

Needless to say, I won't be writing that editorial, putting a "positive" spin on the public's misinformation.

1 comment:

VRS said...

Amen! I teach in FL also.