Our school has been doing SBA testing for over a week now. Here are just some of the things I’ve learned about how elementary students are affected by the SBA.
ONE: SBA affects how much work I can assign in my classroom.
As soon as my students returned from spring break, I asked them to pull out their assignment calendar. I asked them to record the due dates for the rest of the school year. There were the standard reading assignments for the trimester. But there were no major projects. No CBA, no science fair, no research project, no big writing project.
The kids didn’t complain, but they were curious. Why?
Because testing is the big project from now to the end of the year.
These tests exhaust the kids. I can’t load on some other major project and expect them to do well—either on the testing or on the project.
It wasn’t always this way. Not many years ago I did big projects right until the last week of school. (I drove the district tech director crazy insisting he keep the online grading system open right up until the last day of school!)
Not any more.
TWO: SBA affects my team.
Four of us teach math at the same time, but we don’t test on the same days. We have to cancel math on all the days that one of us have an SBA scheduled. We are losing about three weeks of math.
THREE: SBA affects the whole school.
For the entire testing period, all the computer labs in the school are reserved for testing use only. No classroom use of labs. For weeks.
FOUR: Elementary students are not proficient typists.
One third grade girl worked diligently all day on her first test. She finally stopped—paused—at the end of the first day. She had finished questions 1-8. There were 43 questions on the test.
FIVE: Elementary students have limited attention spans.
One fourth grade boy, after an hour and a half of hard work, simply gave up. He tipped back in his chair, looked straight up at the ceiling, and started randomly pressing keys. From what his teacher said, it’s not a matter of him not caring about school or grades or doing well. He just wanted the endless nightmare experience to be over.
SIX: Elementary students are impulsive.
You can give them directions at the beginning of the test. You can say, “This is a two-day test so DON’T hit end when you stop your work at the end of the day today. Hit pause.” You can emphasize and explain the directions. But at the end of the day, there will still be kids who hit end. They aren’t going to stop to think. They aren’t going to stop to ask. In their little kid minds, that’s what makes sense.
Of course, as far as the SBA goes, they are now locked out of any review of what they did the first day. They can’t even go back and look at the article they were reading in order to get information they need to help answer questions or to do the required writing on day two.
They cannot get unlocked.
And there is nothing anyone can do. Their teacher can’t unlock it. The administrator can’t unlock it.
One quick, thoughtless motion by a child hobbles their second day of testing. Because, oh yes, they still have to take the second day of the test.
SEVEN: Has anyone noticed that elementary students don’t process the written word as well on the computer screen as they do on paper?
And haven’t you found that to be true in your own life? I have. I can proofread a paper on the computer multiple times and think I’ve found every mistake. Then I hit print. The moment the paper comes out of the machine, I see errors I missed on the monitor.
This weekend my husband and I hosted a young couple in our home from China. Yuhao has an MA in computer engineering, and Victor is at UW doing research for a PhD in business administration.
We asked them what testing was like in China. Victor said they were tested on paper. Less important tests were given on cheap paper. Important tests were administered on very fine paper. He said he always did better work on the better paper.
I know I used to buy very high quality writing paper for my class for final draft written work (back before we did almost all final drafts on computers). My students put much more effort into making their work the best quality they could produce when the paper itself was beautiful.
Make the elementary SBA tests shorter. No day’s test should run more than one hour for an elementary student.
Go back to paper and pencil tests for elementary students.