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Guest blogger Ashley Hermsmeier is a teacher, runner and writer in her sixth year of teaching English at El Capitan High School in Lakeside. In her blog titled “I Run Because I Teach” she discusses the two aspects of life that simultaneously give her enjoyment and frustration: teaching and running. Here she takes on the topic of class sizes. These are her reflections and opinions, not mine, so if you have burning questions or comments, please contact Ashley via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or post a comment here on the blog.
Some of my favorite moments as a teacher involve watching my students take tests. The furrowed eyebrows, the bouncing knees, the hunched shoulders and chewed pencils. Whatever it may be, there is just something sweet and innocent in it all — which is hard to imagine if you heard half the things they talk about in front of teachers these days. But this silent solace is the only aspect of standardized testing I find pleasant.
State tests are just around the corner. At my school, this means changing the schedule for an entire month, and every year the tests encroach upon our schedule a little more. My school switches to a block schedule during testing so that students take the English portion of the test in their English classroom and the science portion of the test in their science classroom. The idea is to help students feel more comfortable during the test and therefore earn better scores
This means classes will meet every other day for two hours, instead of every day for an hour. Block scheduling can be great. But dramatically changing the schedule like this at the end of the school year throws the teachers and students off kilter.
It’s not that I don’t see the point in spending an entire month taking these tests, because I do. If I were an administrator, and my school’s reputation relied on these tests, I would probably make it an even larger focus throughout the year.
But a major flaw in the entire testing process is the one thing they will never get: student buy-in.
The test scores do not affect teens’ lives in any tangible way and therefore students do not care about the tests. Threatening that something “might” happen “next year” doesn’t even register on the teenage radar. They know their score will never be seen by a college admissions counselor, will not affect their grade and will not go on their transcripts.
This translates into complete apathy toward the tests. Students can bubble in whatever they want on the answer sheet with no personal consequences, making (often inappropriate) designs out of the bubbles on their answer sheets. (Yes, this happens each year.)
There’s another problem with the state test in English: It skips writing. The state standards expect students to learn multiple formats and styles of writing. It could be tempting for administrators to instruct teachers to skip writing and focus on the other aspects of English that are actually tested. Good administrators, of course, don’t do this because they (and we) know that writing is an essential part of life.
The idea that these tests may one day be used to determine teacher pay is laughable. How can you ask a teacher to link his or her teaching ability to a test that students couldn’t care less about? But that’s a blog for another day.
Today I just want to offer a simple solution to the currently flawed system of standardized testing. If California deems these tests so important as to make them the basis for budget allotments, then they need to make the tests something kids will care about.
The simplest and fastest solution is to put the scores on student transcripts. Do this and we might also be surprised to find that kids in this country are smarter than current test scores reflect and that education in this country may not be as far behind other countries as we think.
— ASHLEY HERMSMEIER