It is said that there are three seasons in the year for those ensconced in our nation’s public schools: learning, test preparation, testing.
These roughly correlate to Autumn, the opening of school to the winter break; Winter, the return to school until spring break; Spring, when the ever-wearying, never-ceasing, onslaught of testing gets underway.
To corrupt Elizabeth Barrett Browning: How do we hate thee (testing), let us count the ways.
- Annual state testing of reading and math for Grades 3 – 10. These tests everyone is familiar with and knows that they come in the Spring, much as The Iceman Cometh, an O’Neill play of despair and hope.
- End of Course exams, known by different names, but doing the same thing, which is a summative evaluation of what a child has learned at the ‘end’ of a course. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has to put ‘end’ in quotes because the timing of these tests means that they often come before the actual end of the course.
- English Language Learner exams, now underway, in which students identified as such must take tests to measure their progress in learning English.
- Separate writing exams, which some states fold into their reading scores, that must take place early as they require human beings to score them, a process that is only less problematical when compared to having computers score the writing of human children.
- SAT exams, which more and more colleges are now ignoring by either outright deleting them from admissions requirements or, more subtly, making optional. Yet the College Board is successful in repositioning the exams as something every high school student should take rather than something that college applicants should do.
- Alternative tests for students who cannot take the regular test. This requires a trained administrator to test one-on-one and score the student response. In GOT’s particular state, known for its testing fetish, severely disabled students must be tested using an alternative test. If the kid sits and is unresponsive to the test, the administrator grabs the hand and moves it to the correct answer. If the kid does not resist, that gets a score above zero, not a full mark, but an indication of … something?
- Specialized program tests like those for IB or AICE programs. Some of these have a verbal component, like foreign language courses, in which students record responses in the course language onto thumb drives or other devices. Those recordings are submitted to test authorities as part of the exam to be scored.
- Infrastructure test events because many of the tests are taken online. Every year, instructional time is wasted as a student is put on every computer in a school in every district across the state at the same, exact time so the state can breathe easy that the testing system can handle the load.
- Practice tests to familiarize students with the presentation of computer tests, the different types of questions they will encounter, and the helps available to them like reference sheets with formulas, calculators for math, and video tutorials about how to navigate the test.
- AP testing. If a student chooses one pathway and can get early college credit through passing one or two tests in the subject area (as a senior), that’s okay as long as colleges accept it as an equivalent. But when students are taking ten to twelve AP exams, beginning in the 9th grade, no some AP courses are now taught in middle school (!), are the students really doing college level work. But the beat goes on …
… and so does testing.