State Testing-Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying ______?

March 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

 The marathon of testing  is over! In the State of Connecticut, the two week window for the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT -elementary) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT grade 10) has ended, and some teachers are looking at the two week “hole” in grade books and unit plans that the intensive state testing created.

While education experts strongly advocate against “teaching to the test” and advocate the development of skills, most classroom teachers feel some obligation to prepare students for the tests by simulating at least one timed practice session for a specific test. Our state releases past testing materials for each discipline, and to be honest, our students do a fair amount of practice with these released materials before the test.

For the past two weeks, the daily school schedules have been modified to accomodate early morning testing sessions. During the school day, the lessons for students who have spent a grueling 45-90 minutes calculating or writing have been modified as well. For example, when they finally have  attended English classes, our tenth grade students have been provided silent sustained reading time for books they have independently chosen or have been watching videos to supplement a world literature unit on people in conflict.

The reading or Response to Literature test, associated with English classes,  requires students to read a short story and then write four lengthy  responses. Sadly, year after year, the quality of the story on this test pales in comparison to the classic short stories a student will encounter in even the most limited literature anthology. So we prepare students how to respond to  a question that asks “Is this good literature?” with even the most mediocre story.  Now that that the test is over,  students will begin the epic poem Beowulf, and the teachers are looking forward to having the students engage with this 8th Century grandfather of literature. We are ready for some “epic-hero-wrenching-monster’s-arm” action.

The writing or Writing Across the Disciplines test, associated with social studies, requires students to read newspaper articles about a controversial  topic, take a position on the controversial topic, and then develop a persuasive argument. There is absolutely no content from the social studies curriculum, in this case Modern World History, associated with the test. Now that this test is over, teachers can return to history content outlined in their curriculums; back to the arrival of the American forces on the shores on Iwo Jima and in the forests of the Ardennes.

Pencil and scantron testing is not an authentic practice in the world outside the classroom, but I am not against testing as a means to determine student progress; I accept that some form of testing is inevitable in education. However, the past two weeks of reading instructions (“Does everyone have two #2 pencils?”), writing in booklets (“Stop. Do not turn page”),  and racing against the clock (“You have 10 minutes left”) has taken a toll on students and faculty alike. Everyone is looking forward to the routine of a regular schedule.

Wearily, our students climbed the stairs for the last time this morning after taking the final  “supplemental” test, an extra assessment given to test materials for future test-takers. The students’ time in the testing crucible had passed; their scores will be posted during the the lazy days of summer when this experience will be nothing but a memory. Hopefully, they will have done well, and we will be pleased with the results.

Post-CAPT, there are several weeks left in the third quarter, and one full quarter after that.  Teachers can return to content without incorporating CAPT preparation with clear consciences. Our tenth graders will have the chance to read Macbeth where they will have the opportunity to create and respond to more significant questions than “Is this good literature?”  The importance of this great play placed against the activities of the past two weeks puts me in the mind  to parody Shakespeare’s famous speech-

Out, out, two weeks of testing
The CAPT is but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a test,
mandated by others, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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