Most of what you’ve heard (or will hear tonight) about testing, or “Quality Core” assessments and the amount of time being consumed by it is completely and demonstrably wrong. In fact, testing has replaced nearly all instruction at the elementary levels, including even one of Dr. Wardynski’s favorite activities: Physical Education.
At the beginning of April, Dr. McNeal offered the following report on the amount of time that would be spent at the end of the year on testing. Her claim that evening was that all the assessments that the district would be engaged in over the coming month and a half would amount to absolutely no more than 8% of a student’s time.
If you’d like to watch her presentation, you may view it below:
If you’d prefer the transcription, you may read their discussion below:
Dr. McNeal: Evening. Uh, we’ve talked about this last board meeting about the assessment cycle because we’re beginning to enter it. And many questions have been asked about how, of all these tests, these tests we’re giving, how, how much time does it take each student at a different level of the instructional time that we have during the spring.
So, if you look, we’re already testing right now. We’re doing the ACCESS, and the alternative assessment will start April the 15th. Then we move on to ACT Quality Core. We’re giving 12 of those. Uh, we’re participating in the ACT Aspire in grades 3-10. That is a pilot. It is going to be, it’s going to be recommended to the state board our new ARMT test. We are part of the pilot, so all of our students in grades 3 through 10 will be participating. In, by the way, ACT end of course and Aspire are online. So they will be taking it with their individual computer.
We have AP exams going on. And then we have our STAR test. And then finally, at the very end, in grades 3 through 8, we have the Alabama Reading Math test, which is the plus version now. And this will be its very last year.
Dr. Wardynski: Cathy if I could just chime in here for a minute? So the ACT Quality Core Course Assessments are new this year. Um, the state is bringing those on over a few years. We’ve brought them all on at once. The reason we’re doing that is for a variety of reasons, most important is we will now have formative information throughout the year of how our students are doing in key subject matter areas in secondary education. The STAR assessments have been very helpful to us in primary education with regard to reading and math. Um, but when you get into Biology, Chemistry, History, there really is nothing there that is aligned with what the country’s doing, what our kids need to be prepared to do. And it gives us insight well ahead of that final test. With the quality core, we have formative assessments we can give to know if we’re on track for the children to be successful so we can make course corrections. Uh, the quality core assessments are aligned with where our country’s headed, which is college and career ready [AKA: Common Core].
Um, we have a waiver from our state that allows our students, if they pass these assessments, they will get a high school diploma, even if uh, and they don’t have to take the high school graduation exam other than for the simple purpose of No Child Left Behind, um, meeting those requirements.
So our kids now have two ways to get a high school diploma. They can take the high school graduation exam and pass, or they can take the ACT Quality Core exam and pass. [Ed. Note: His use of the word “or” implies that students can choose. They cannot. The district is requiring that students take both exams this year.] And, um, with the Quality Core exam we get a lot more insight on how prepared they are for college, and how well we’re doing as educators to get them ready. [Again, note the dual justification. The second one is actually the main one.] And so that’s a new battery of assessments. Um, our teachers have been going through the training all year long for this. Um, a lot of work going on there.
Dr. McNeal: Um, the Aspire test is a pilot, but we will be getting individual student responses back similar to the end of course that we can use for next year. So, we’re not paying one penny for that pilot, yet we will be getting data on each end of the, sort of like each end of course for grades 3 through 10. That will provide us additional data per student. It’s quite valuable data for us as instructional leaders. [Ed. Note: She doesn’t explain or offer evidence supporting this claim.]
Dr. Wardynski: If I could just add one comment there: If you’ll notice three letters sort of dominate: A. C. T. And ACT is sort of the benchmark for getting into a college. College’s use that to understand if a child is going to be prepared to be successful in their first year of college education. Our goal is for our students to leave here ready to go to college, if that’s their choice, and not need remediation the first year. It’s a state goal as well. And so, lining things up with ACT is that sort of alignment we’re after. So, ACT test to get into college. ACT Quality Core Curriculum in secondary education will line up with that to prepare our kids. ACT Aspire program to replace Alabama Reading Math Test to prepare our kids in those early years for the quality core, and for the ACT assessment. So, things are really starting to line up. And this is critical because there are still discussions in some quarters of our state about the common core, about things that originate outside Alabama. Uh, and if we make any move away from this, we’re going to be making a move away from preparing our kids to enter college and succeed that first year. Everything is now lining up. Uh, education across our country is lining up with a target, and we don’t want to deviate from that.
Dr. McNeal: Well, in looking at how much time we’re taking for these assessments, I looked at grades 3 through 8. We have 24 days between April 22 and May 23 so that’s actually 168 learning opportunities or classes. So if I take a typical 3rd grader through 7th grader, they take the ARMT test, which is really a four-day test, so that’s taking 8 periods. They take the ASPIRE which is a one day test lasts two and a half hours, which is three periods. Then they’ll take the STAR reading and math formative assessment at the end. And they, at the most, take 45 minutes, from the average for us it takes 20. So we’ll say 2 periods. So, basically of those 168 learning opportunities, assessment only has taken 7.7% of that time. So all the other times we’re still having learning opportunities toward May 23rd. Because actually this year is the first time where the ARMT assessment will be right up to the very end.
Dr. Wardynski: Of worth noting is, of that 7.7% of that time available for student education, the majority of it is taken up by something that’s going away called ARMT.
Dr. McNeal: Yes.
Dr. Wardynski: The new assessments take much less time.
Dr. McNeal: Um, an 8th grader is a little bit different because some of our 8th grade students this year will be taking ARMT. If they’re taking algebra or geometry, we have quite a few taking algebra I, they will also be taking the end of course for the ACT this year. So we will have end of course testing for 8th grade. So that takes about another 1% of their time, so if you’re an 8th grader and taking algebra I, basically about 8.8% of your time will be spent in assessment between those 168 learning opportunities.
And when we look at high school, high school, the last week of school is their exams this year. And uh, so we high school really leaves the learning opportunities May 17th and they go to exam periods. So when I look at a 9th to 10th grader who is taking the ACT, taking two end of course tests, they’re going to take the pilot, the Aspire pilot, if you’re in 9th or 10th grade because our 9th to 10th graders will also be taking the pilot. They’ll take the STAR test, and basically that’s 7% of the 9th and 10th graders’ time. And most likely, about two, an English and a math course test is what they would take in 9th or 10th grade.
Now when you move on to the 11th or 12th graders, they might have for example, they’ll take the ACT end of course, in this case I showed an example of someone taking the end of course for history and English, but taking an AP math test. Just one math. So that’s a math, history and an English, so that’s about still 7%. But if they’re taking two APs and two end of courses, that’s only 8% of their time. So you can see when we’re looking at the end of course, it takes roughly one day, two 45 minute periods and it will be online, and they’ll take 45 minutes, 10 minute break, take the next 45 minutes. It’s over with, so it takes roughly 3 periods only to take the end of course. And if you’re taking, 3 times 2 would only take up to, uh, 6 of the hours for a 2 day period.
So you can see that we’re not, the most we’re taking is 8.8 times for a . . . The one that is taking the, the 8th graders who is taking algebra I will probably be the one student taking the, spending the most time in assessment. And there are, so in high school, if you’re taking in 3 AP courses you’re not going to be taking an end of course test. This year, you’re not taking both. This year if you’re taking AP English, you won’t be taking the end of course test because you’ll be taking the AP English.
So you see, the idea that our students are spending a solid month to even six weeks testing is just wrong, according to the district.
Only 8% of the instructional time is dedicated to testing.
Except that it’s actually far, far more than that.
This Ain’t a Perfect Testing World
All of those estimates are based on the best possible scenario. When, even once this year, has the best possible scenario taken place when computers were involved?
This 8% doesn’t take into account students not being able to get online because the network just can’t handle the load.
This 8% doesn’t take into account students who aren’t even testing being ordered to turn off their computers to free up bandwidth for those who are testing.
This 8% doesn’t come close to a real world experience.
Ask your kids: What, other than test, have you done for the past three or four weeks?
There’s your actual estimate. Other than perhaps lunch, no one in this district has done anything other than test (or specifically cram for the test) for the past four weeks.
Six and a Half Months of School
Instead of 8%, of the remained of the school year, that number is far closer to 100%. If you want to look at the entire school year, then you come to the number that excluding the STAR test (which some of our students are taking weekly), the vast majority of our students are spending close to 12% of the year taking standardized tests.
Combine this number with the at three weeks of instructional time lost to computer issues, and the STAR taking up to 30 minutes a day (or again nearly three weeks) for some students test and suddenly a 9 month school year is far closer to 6 and a half months.
And that, again, is the best possible scenario.
Remember when Wardynski was singing the praises of A.C.T.? He said:
If you’ll notice three letters sort of dominate: A. C. T. And ACT is sort of the benchmark for getting into a college.
Well it seems that ACT has been having a horrible month all over the nation. In Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma, “computer glitches” have caused a derailment of testing.
Guess what? Those same issues caused problems here in Alabama as well.
The Alabama State Board of Education voted on April 11th to adopt the ACT Aspire test as a replacement for the ARMT+ testing claiming that ACT Aspire was “fully aligned” with the common core. (It seems that they’ve forgotten the plus sign at the end of ARMT+. That plus sign was supposed to indicate that ARMT was also now “fully aligned” with the common core as well. If there’s one thing you should take away from this is that common core has certainly introduced a proclivity to change our assessments at the drop of a pencil.)
Despite Wardynski’s and McNeal’s claims that the ACT Aspire would dramatically reduce testing time, the exact opposite has taken place.
Over the past few weeks, schools all over the district were scheduled to take the ACT Aspire as a trial run for when it will become the standard next year. McNeal claimed that this test was a “one day test lasting two and a half hours.”
I do not know of a single classroom that was able to complete the Aspire test in this amount of time. When students first began taking this test two weeks ago in fact, entire classes would sit in either computer labs (because the 3rd grade netbooks are garbage), or in their classrooms taking turns attempting to log-on and take the assessment.
At the end of the day, on average, about half of a class might have been successful in taking the exam.
Wardynski talked about this a bit during the May 2nd board meeting:
And I heard some, I think we got some twitter stuff. Some stuff on Facebook about, we heard, you know testing is taking longer than expected.
So, the way Dr. Wardynski hears about testing abnormalities is via Twitter and Facebook? I guess his plan to keep all negative news from reaching his ears has worked fairly well, huh. Not one director, principal or teacher picked up a phone to let him know that it was taking twice and three times as long? Not one director, principal or teacher called him to let him know that entire grades were not able to actually take the test at all?
It’s a good thing the board decided to leave the communication goal out of his evaluation last year, isn’t it?
But since he’s at least hearing it on the internets, let’s see what his response to it taking longer than expected was.
So what does the testing look like?
Wait, what? I don’t think that was the actual question, Dr. Wardynski.
Well the students do it one their laptop. Uh, there’s a piece of software that’s deployed to the laptop by ACT corporation called VanGuard.
That’s right, ACT has access to your child’s school laptop.
VanGuard is designed to lock down the environment so we’re not doing scree shots. And we’re not emailing them to our buddies. We’re not texting answers around, any of that. The dom, the environment’s locked down for testing. And um, VanGuard is controlled by ACT. Well we have very bright students. And some students figured out how to penetrate through VanGuard.
He said this with a big, proud grin on his face.
And we alerted ACT, and that led to some delays and some people gathering on airplanes to come down here and stuff like that. Uh, and uh, that’s all part of the teething pains. ACT’s teething pains. Uh, on our end our students take about 45 minutes to take the first component. They get a ten minute break. Take another 45 minutes. If they have a computer glitch, they get a re, they get an adjustment, and um if they have a total problem, they get a chance to make up. Now this year, we’re doing this ahead of the state. Um, so that gave us the option of doing it the way we wanted to do it. So for students taking these exams, if they have a complete disaster for some reason, they have a bad day, whatever, um, there’s no negative consequence.
Remember, Dr. Wardynski thought that there were “no negative consequences” from
- Students wasting educational time due to ACT’s failure to create a secure testing environment.
- Students hacking into the a secure testing environment.
- Students as young as 3rd grade sitting in a computer lab all day while teachers run around, under threat of their certification being revoked, attempting to fix computer issues while making sure that the students are primed to take a test.
This is what he means by “gave us the option of doing it the way we wanted to do it,” I suppose.
This is what he had to say about ACT Aspire testing on Thursday, May 2, 2013.
My daughter, after a long week of ARMT+ testing from Monday, May 6th through Thursday, May 9th, was for some insane reason, scheduled to re-take the ACT Aspire test on Friday, May 10th.
Hopefully all of the testing issues with our world class student hackers had been resolved a week after Dr. Wardynski claimed that they were fixed on Thursday, May 2nd.
Except that test that’s supposed to just take, according to Dr. McNeal, “two and a half hours” actually took six.
That’s right, a week after Wardynski had fixed everything the half a day test still took an entire day.
We really should just start doubling and tripling every cost estimate that Wardynski offers us.
Negative Consequences for Student Learning
What are the negative consequences for students? For starters, there’s significantly less time for a teacher, in a class of 27 third graders, to actually teach. As a result, subjects like science, social studies, history, art, music, and even physical education are shoved aside so that the subjects being tested most often are stressed most often in class.
During the week of testing from May 6th to the 10th, no third grader in my daughter’s school even had time for PE.
Yep, even in Alabama, where sports are God, we cancel PE in service to the test.
It’s time to bring this insanity to an end.
It’s time to opt out and return teaching to our schools.