For the 2021-2022 school year, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was put in charge of all testing at his high school with the exception of International Baccalaureate exams. This includes traditional state testing known as the Florida Standards Assessments and End of Course exams, Advanced Placement exams, PSAT and SAT in-school testing, ACT in-school testing for the purpose of helping seniors get a diploma, district baseline, end-of-course, and progress monitoring, and whatever else the district thinks up, including figuring out how to get students through a quickee CPR training (watch a 30-minute film and do some chest compressions on a dummy) and exercises like the one you are about to discover.

Mastery Prep is the moniker masquerading as a boot camp for high school students about to take the ACT, one of the two mainstay standardized college entrance exams that students have taken for decades.

As we get underway, GOT first has to indulge in his usual gripe about using military metaphors in educational settings. Boot camp is what new inductees into the Armed Forces undergo. It is formally known as Basic Training, in which young men and women learn how the military functions, how to use and maintain high-grade weapons, the cohesion of units, and discipline. It is said that boot camp breaks down the individual in order to build an in-sync group that acts as one; if that does not happen, they will be disoriented in battle and killed.

How the H-E-double hockey sticks does that have anything to do with the learning and assessment process in a school?! (All right, rant over.)

What took place was a 4-hour test prep session, two hours for the reading part and two hours for the math. Wait, wait! you say. Doesn’t the ACT also have science? Yes, it does, but students needing to meet the statutory graduation requirements don’t have to worry about that section. They need to score 18 on two ELA parts, English and reading to receive a concordant score, which means Florida says, “Okay, you couldn’t pass our [censored] test, but we’ll give you this one for 10th grade ELA.” A score of 16 for math does the same for the Algebra 1 requirement.

Participants were selected according to their status. All juniors and seniors who had not passed one or both of the graduation requirements were chosen.

Right away, we had problems. The district’s data system (Focus) has date fields for every student record that shows when the student passed each state exam. Sadly or ridiculously, updates to the date fields lag behind by several months the updates to the test history. There were two girls who had passed the tests, but since we pull them out from their classes based upon the date field, they were told to show up.

GOT offered them the chance to leave. One, the girl who scored a Level 5 on her FSA reading (a superior performance) six months ago, decided she would rather return to class as she had a test for a teacher and didn’t want to have to make it up. The other thought staying would help her.

GOT had already identified these two the day before when he received the participant list. In talking with the school counselors, they couldn’t believe it. How does this happen? The data management system lags. All GOT could say was welcome to my world. I spend hours looking up history individual by individual because the data system lags. GOT refuses to pull students from class for a retake test when the student has already passed the test, but the system is faulty. (Hoo boy, another rant over.)

Unlike other testing or get-ready-for-testing activities, this one came with no training. Everyone at the school level was scrambling as they tried to figure out what they were supposed to do. All GOT knew was that he was told to proctor, which means he was the adult in the room to monitor behavior, and a spreadsheet that listed the participants and the website address they needed to log into the online activity.

Yes, you read that right. No one came to the school, no one conducted anything in-person, what we had was a glorified Zoom session (sorry, district, we are a Microsoft thrall, GOT should have said Teams.)

Once we moved beyond the problem of getting all the students into the online platform, a problem well known to every teacher who has to conduct online testing, we proceeded into the actual session. Since the students were to watch and listen to some dude ensconced in his office (never trust a Zoom/Teams background, he could have been in his bathroom and we wouldn’t have known,) they turned on their laptop’s speakers.

35 computers all playing sound, not totally in-sync because the network had trouble handling the load. GOT had to retrieve earbuds from his supply closet.

Could someone have told him in advance? Maybe, but that didn’t happen. The superintendent was at a conference, interacted with the vendor, and decided she had found the best thing since someone invented sliced bread. One pilot project later (and when it’s a pet project of a super, what staff is going to organize a pilot that will be anything but a resounding success?), and the endeavor was dropped on schools. Communication was lacking.

One of the school counselors who had come to see that everything got underway said to GOT, “You must be really frustrated.” GOT’s reply? “I’m not going to get frustrated. I was told to show up and I did. I’m here for the ride.”

That’s all anyone can do in these circumstances. Thrown off the dock into the deep water, swim as best one can, learn what needs to be done, and maybe the next time will be better.

Because there will be a next time. GOT learned we will do this every month, which creates another issue in that Spring always brings a crowded testing calendar.

Time for a tl;dr break. Part Two coming.

2 thoughts on “Mastery Prep or How to Nail the ACT

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