by Joy Peters
Test, test, test. All I ever do is test. When do I have time to teach? Why are these students taking all these tests when the results never change?
What are the results, you ask? The results always say that ESOL students in the beginning levels are at the bottom of the range of scores. When I do a breakdown of the reasons why they don’t score well, it always comes back to the fact that they don’t know enough English to comprehend what they’re being asked. And guess what? I already knew that.
Personally, I like standardized tests. They usually give accurate results for those students who understand English or do not have special needs. If the test is geared toward ESOL or Special Ed, the results are accurate enough as well. My problem is the number of tests that we give. I don’t mean the weekly or biweekly tests that a classroom teacher gives to check for learning. I mean the tests that require students to sit for hours and answer questions in a bubble sheet or online. These are the tests that effect how schools and teachers are evaluated at the end of the year, the tests that make students hate testing.
We have been in school since August. It is now December, and we’ve given 1 to 3 of these tests each month. In January, my district will give 4 major tests that will require our class schedules to be changed for 2 weeks. If you’re an ESOL student, you get to take the longest test of all, WIDA ACCESS for ELLs, and it takes 2 half-days and part of a third day to complete.
By the way, this is the only test that determines where the student will be placed in future classes. It is the only test that shows growth and progress 100% from year to year. The other tests show growth and progress, but not to the degree that ACCESS does. By the end of January, my students will be burnt out on testing, and they’re not even done yet. March, April, and May will bring more tests each month.
Where does that leave us? Changing the Story: Transformation Toward Accountability and Responsibility in Public Education makes several recommendations for testing. One recommendation is to limit the number of tests given to ESOL and SPED students. Too much testing takes away from instructional time that is desperately needed by these students to learn enough to succeed at the tests that will honestly help their teachers drive instruction.
Joy Peters works as the only middle school ESOL teacher in Prince George’s County public schools in Maryland. She participated in the NEA 360 Idea Exchange.