I am finally done testing, hooray, hooray. After we got all done, I asked my fifth grade High Cap students to critique the tests for me. I’ve noticed a lot of discussion on Stories from School about what adults think about the SBA. I thought that by this point people might be interested in the kid perspective.
First, a number of kids commented that several questions on the SBA were “super unclear.” On the other hand, they said the MSP was much easier to understand.
Solution? I bet the test questions seemed clear to the test writers. But the questions need to be equally clear to the intended audience—the test takers. The SBA group needs to scrub the tests again for clarity. It wouldn’t hurt to get some children in to do proofreading. (I know kids who would be happy to volunteer! My students gleefully pointed out every spelling and grammatical error they found on the practice tests!)
Second, my students were pretty unanimous that the math tools on the SBA were horrible. For example, they complained it was terribly difficult to put the correct answer onto the number line because the space allotted for the answer was so small. They felt it was far too easy to make a mistake due to the tools rather than due to an error in the math. In addition, they said the math tools for drawing lines were clunky. And trying to fix mistakes was a complex multistep process.
In the same way they were very frustrated with the tools in the ELA test, especially the spellcheck. None of the ELA tools worked nearly as well as normal Word tools worked. The kids could not understand why the test would make them use tools that were less efficient and less functional.
Solution? Supposedly the SBA is designed to test content, process, and critical thinking skill knowledge, right? But the test also introduces the added stress of, “Now also try to figure out how to use unfamiliar, less intuitive, less user-friendly, awkward, badly-designed tools.” Most computers in most schools in the state use Microsoft Office, don’t they? Why don’t we get Microsoft tools on the SBA? By next year!
Third, the students didn’t actually say anything to me about how long the testing took. They just looked more and more dragged out and exhausted as the testing sessions went on. Someone posted on one of the blogs that the testing is “just ten hours.” Not for my class! I had students who spent 20 hours on the SBA with another two or more hours on the MSP. When they finally finished the SBA and the MSP and then had to do STAR reading and math, they moaned. They never complain about STAR testing. But they were whipped after this year’s testing experience.
I’ve never had a class go through a testing marathon anything like this. My National Board testing didn’t take that long. The bar exam doesn’t take that long. But here we are subjecting 10-year-olds to that level of testing.
Honestly, I wouldn’t want to subject my child to anything like this. I wouldn’t want to subject myself to testing sessions of this length!
Solution? We had five days of SBA testing. No single day of SBA testing should take more than half a day, max. Really, if you can’t tell what you want from two and a half days of a student’s work, you need to redesign the test.
Finally, I had one other thing about the SBA bother me this year that had never bothered me in previous years, on previous tests. We’ve had writing tasks on tests before. But the ELA performance task was different. It gave kids the extra time to craft a well-developed story.
At the end of the third day of the ELA performance task, after nine hours of testing, I stopped by one child’s computer to ask how she was doing and to see if she was almost done. I happened to see two words on her screen. “CHAPTER FIVE.”
She wasn’t. She went back for a fourth day of ELA PT testing to finish her story. Finally she came back to class, after twelve hours of work, all excited about her story. “It’s really good! It had seven chapters by the end! It ended with—”
I told her she couldn’t tell me what her story was about. That made her sad. And she was deeply unhappy to learn she was never going to see her story again. “But that’s the best thing I’ve written all year!”
Then I went home and thought, “Wait a minute. This story is her intellectual property. It is being taken from her without compensation. Now it’s just going to disappear into the black hole of assessment. She may be only ten or eleven, but she should have the rights to her story!” Even if it’s never published, she should be able to share it with her family and friends.
Solution? As a published author (and not just for this blog), I feel very strongly about this issue. I think she and her parents should demand the return of her story.