Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Standardized Testing Blues

Now that Christmas Break is almost over and the count down to the STAAR (or whatever test your state does) has begun... I'm beginning to feel the Standardized Testing Blues.

STAAR is new to our state this year (replacing TAKS) and so far it has been very disorganized from this Reading Teacher's point of view. There will be a STAAR reading test but throughout the year all focus has been on Science and Math. Both subjects have had a multitude of benchmarks so they can see what the test will look like and the kids can begin to become familiar to the new language and set up of the test but there has been nothing for reading.

Finally, the last week before Christmas Break they released a Reading test... awesome... the worst week possible for those kids to see a hard test for the very first time. Also, Math and Science were given all kinds of resources to teach from this year and Reading was given nothing. I have had to either use old TAKS materials which are no where near what STAAR will be now or make everything on my own. I'm a little miffed about it.

Now what I'm hating about STAAR....
Math and Science seem to be pretty straight forward in their questions and not completely confusing in their wording. Sounds right with straight forward subjects. Now reading is a gray area where you have to dissect and make connections and understand. So why are they making the actual understanding of the questions part of the test??? Students came to me with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade reading levels yet the questions sound like a junior high. They call it "upping the rigor" but all I see is where we are no longer even teaching a skill but they have to decipher the question before they can even begin. Now add the much much harder questions and then they put a 4 hour limit on the entire test?? Really? So my 3rd grade reading level students will have to read 4-5 passages with extremely difficult questions in 4 hours? What ever happened to having time to think about what you are reading and make connections? Not to mention those students who need to read it a few times to get it or read parts over again will not have the time. I was even told that someone at a STAAR training said not to teach the kids to write strategies throughout the test because they won't have the time. Are you kidding me? Maybe at high school I would expect them to be able to comprehend without writing a single note or taking time to think it through but we are talking about 10 year olds here. Shouldn't they have to learn how to make those mental connections and work through a passage before being expected to just fly through it in 4 hours no problems?

It's not that I don't want my students to be challenged, I challenge them every day in the classroom. But I think there is a difference between "Do you know this skill?" and "Can I write a way above you in language question and have you figure out all the confusing nonsense before your time runs out?" I get that we need "tests" to show the kids are learning but this test is not set up so that all students have a chance for success. It will work for those bright students who get everything quickly. I don't know what has happened in the recent years to make reading levels so much lower when they come to me each year but I don't see TAKS or STAAR improving this problem.

Here is an example of the difference:

How TAKS would test figurative language:
"Following her heart" in paragraph 15 means that Amanda will.....

How STAAR tests figuarative language:
The author's use of figurative language in paragraph 15 emphasizes that....

Now my low readers will have to look in paragraph 15 and decide if they need to look for a metaphor, a simile, an idiom, an adage, personification, or an onomatopoeia.

My question, we don't want to teach to the test but how can I get a student prepared for a question like that if I don't know they are going to throw in the word "emphasizes" or won't give an example anymore. I don't think it is right to keep students in the dark about how a question can be worded when that one word will mess everything up for those low readers.

We were told the key to STAAR is to try to think of how many different ways they could ask about one objective. I'm so busy trying to get my low readers to understand the concepts that it is becoming a major challenge to try to fathom what they might have come up with. Teachers have to become psychics now instead of teaching reading skills and helping students improve their reading abilities.

Sorry for the long rant... I'm just having a moment and wanted to vent :)

Good luck in your classroom in the months to come!


  1. Great rant! I completely understand your frustrations. Not only are students expected to know the skill, but they are also expected to know the vocabulary that the question uses, then to interpret what a question is asking, even before they get the chance to demonstrate mastery of the skill! It is especially frustrating when you know they know how to interpret a metaphor, for example, but they are so lost or frustrated by the question, they give up before they even answer. It is so difficult to anticipate that..nearly impossible for lower-level readers. I don't have any words of advice or wisdom, but you are not alone. If I have any breakthroughs or ideas, I will keep you in mind and share!

    -Kristen (aka Secondary Solutions)

  2. I totally understand your frustrations! I am also experiencing a great deal of frustration with the testing from a parent's standpoint. My oldest son is a very competent 6th grader. He makes the merit roll and I am very proud of him. Problem is he is totally awful at taking standardized tests. Since his first one a few years ago he has tested very, very low. We just received his scores from the Fall Terra Nova CAT test and it is so far off it's laughable! Now I know the test doesn't reflect his knowledge and skills and is totally invalid BUT I also know all these tests go in his file. I am also worried about how he will perform when he gets to the SAT and/or ACT level. We can't quite pinpoint why he does so poorly on the tests and it is so frustrating as a parent to get these reports!

  3. Thank you both for the great comments! Kristen if you figure out a way to beat the system let me know! lol I'm only a 6 year teacher and wondering just how much worse standardized testing will get in the years to come!

    Teaching Bank: My two babies are not yet in school age but I fear when they finally do! I can only imagine how frustrating it is to know your child is a smart kid but the stupid test shows otherwise. Perhaps work on anxiety strategies with your son as it is probably test anxiety that gets to him. Especially now that he knows he isn't the stronger tester even if he knows the information... he may go in expecting to fail. It will only get worse as he hits junior high. Continue to have him focus on how well he does on other areas in school that show how smart he really is and do some research on anxiety-releasing strategies. I have an interesting powerpoint you might be able to start with him. Let me know if you would like it and I can email it to you if I can find it in my email! :)

  4. I am lucky that at my school they don't test 6th grade. All the standardized tests are in grades 3,5, and 7 and then the 8th grade high school enrollment test. I remember when I had to spend all of January, February and most of March preparing for the stupid test instead of really teaching. I wish there was some way they could test without teachers having to teach to the test. (even though they tell us not to, but since everything rides on those scores, we have to!) Good Luck!

  5. I'm curious about what is the reasoning behind standardized testing in the States. Here in British Columbia, Canada we don't have standardized test in elementary schools. There is a "Foundations Skills" test in Grades 4 and 7(the final year of our elementary schools), but they don't count for anything and don't go into a student's file - the results are sent to each parent, but it's not part of a student's official file and parents can have their children opt out of the test. They are meant to be a snapshot of how schools in general are performing, They are not very popular, and in some school districts participation is less than 60%. They don't really take away from teaching though - I know very few teacher's who prepare their students for these tests, although many grumble about the instructional time taken away to administer them. So, since I think Canadian students are doing pretty well overall without the standardized test, why are they necessary?

  6. I really love your articles and I am nominating your blog for The Liebster Award. You can read about it here:

  7. Wow Thanks Amy!! You made my day! :)

    Chezdivision16: Unfortunately, the states have put a tremendous weight on teachers with standardized tests. Here in Texas, students will not be allowed to move on to 6th grade if they do not pass the test after so many tries. We have just moved to a new test so this year's students will not be held back but that will not be the case next year. We are held by how our kids score on these tests and they are given "benchmarks" throughout the year to test them on how they are doing so far. I have seen no improvement since these tests have become so "important" and actually it seems reading and common sense is becoming less and less prevalent as the years go by. I think it is hurting the states more than helping in any way.

  8. Hey there! I'm passing along the Liebster Blog Award to you!! Find out more on the blog post (scheduled to post at midnight central time) for info about it! Thanks so much!
    Ann Marie Smith
    Innovative Connections

  9. Wow Thanks Ann Marie!! I've got to get busy finding who I will pass it on to!! :))

  10. Again thank you for nominating me for the Liebster Blog Award. I just got the thank you posted on my blog with your blog's URL. I passed it on to five new bloggers that you might want to check out at:

    I wrote an article on the Pros and Cons of Testing that you might enjoy reading. It is the January 25th post on my blog.