The teacher explained that she has been teaching for four years. At 62, she says she is “probably the oldest living starting teacher.” She earned her certification at age 58. I admire her willingness to take the time to draft this position paper on the state CRCTs. Please take a look.
(And to General Assembly education leaders Fran Millar and Brooks Coleman, these are the teachers you ought to put on your committees. We need some radical thinkers rather than the same old corporate representatives on every single blue-ribbon commission put together by the state. New voices and fresh faces, please.)
This teacher wrote her comments in response to a GAE request for teacher questions for its 2 p.m. Town Hall meeting today that I hope to attend and post a summary. The meeting is also supposed to be available on a live webcast. See details on the link.
“I love the teaching. I plan to teach until I die or they kill me. I hope that neither happens anytime soon. In any case, I have some (okay, I have a lot) of concerns. There are a few basic changes that I think could be made in the way Georgia measures achievement. As a teacher I understand the pressure to raise test scores. Many people complain about teaching to the “test.” The fact is that you have to test to something, and life itself is a test. However, I disagree with the way the CRCTs are administered. My issues concern the timing of the tests and the transparency of the actual tests.
I received an e-mail about a statewide Town Hall Meeting today. The GAE requested questions for the meeting. I have seen many ideas drop into the black hole of bureaucracies (government and corporate). In other words, I didn’t want to waste my time (again). At 62, my lifespan is not that long. Then I thought of you. So I am attaching the question that I started with, which turned into more than I planned.
Here are her ideas, which I think have merit. Many teachers and parents agree that little learning occurs in their schools after the CRCT. These ideas will take a major calendar change for all systems, but the concept deserves consideration. Here are the teacher’s thoughts:
It has been my experience that when tests such as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests are given at the end of the year, more learning takes place. When the CRCTs are given in April, valuable time is wasted. If CRCTs are given the very last week of school, all students effectively gain a month of quality instruction. Over the course of 13 years of schooling, that is essentially over one more year of instruction. Even when a final course test is given, the CRCTs could still be given at the very end of the school year. I realize that “theoretically” we are supposed to be pre-teaching our subjects for the curriculum of the following year. This is not really practical. It also requires expertise of the curriculum at another level. I also question how often this is actually done.
I have heard the argument that the CRCTs must be given in April so that the tests can be sent to the state for grading. This did not stop the current cheating scandal and will not stop the next cheating scandal. Perhaps the tests could be administered, graded on site under strict observation (local police, cameras, exchange of administrators from other districts, people who man the booths on Election Day, whatever). The scores could be sent to the state and registered immediately. There would be no wait time and any child that needed remediation (summer school) would be informed in a timely manner.
I think that the argument will be made that different school systems have different calendars and giving the CRCTs at the very end of the calendar year would be construed as undue interference by the state. If there is to be a functioning “race to the top” use simple steps such as the ones that I have proposed to bring all students to that point. Local school systems could adjust their calendars for the sake of the common good. If the vast majority of school systems end in May, give the CRCTs the last week in May (or better yet the first week in June). If a school system does not align its calendar to accommodate the state testing schedule, then they will pay the price when the scores are announced. I also think that the practice of ending school so early in the year is counterproductive. It seems that most areas of the country have later start and end times for their calendars. I have seen many students start attending school later than others because of family vacations that the parents coordinate with family in the other areas of the country. We are no longer an agrarian society that needs to work the family farm. We may start in late July or early August, but not all students are in the seats from the beginning. Again, this is indicative of lost instructional time. From a financial perspective, it is more costly to cool a classroom in June, than it is in August.
I would also like to see the questions and answers of tests published after the test is administered. This could serve as a guide to ready students for future tests. If Georgia truly wants to win the “race to the top,” everyone must be on the same page. This includes being transparent about what is exactly on the test. Other states do this. In New York, there is a testing system that leads to a Regents Diploma. The tests are given after the last day of school. The tests are half multiple choice and half essay. They are graded in house. There still seems to be sufficient time to inform students about the need for remediation.
After the tests are taken, the questions, answers and reasons are published. Barron publishes a series with complete tests including the answers and reasons. So does the Princeton Review and others. They don’t just have sample tests, they have actual tests. If you go to the Barnes and Noble website you can see many of these books available at a very nominal cost for students and teachers alike. Here is a short reference list:
“Barron’s Regents Exams & Answers Chemistry,” Tarendash & Walsh Kaplan, Michael Walsh editor.
“Regents : Let’s Review – Biology, the Living Environment,” by G. Scott Hunter.
“Barron’s Regents Exams & Answers Earth Science,” by Denecke, David Berey.
When I was a student in New York (when the world was flat) we used these sources along with other resources. Although there are CRCT study guides available, we never see the actual questions (unless of course I suppose, you are in the habit of changing student answers). I believe that the state needs to be more transparent with the questions that are on the test (after the fact, of course). It will improve the level of teaching in the future (especially if the reasons are also included with the answers). It is imperative that students not only know the answer, they also need to know reasons that one answer is better than another. This will also make sure that the state Department of Education keeps on its toes. It will be a review of the validity of the test. I am amazed that we get scores on students, but we never actually know if the questions and answers are actually valid. I have seen mistakes on Georgia’s Online Assessment System. For instance, one question asked about single celled animals. The bolded area is my explanation of the answer.
A paramecium is a one-celled animal. Which of the following MUST be true about the paramecium?
Its one cell does everything it needs to live.
It can only live inside the cells of other living things.
It is the smallest living thing.
It causes dangerous diseases.
A one celled organism (aka unicellular organism) can carry on all of the functions that it needs to live. It does not depend upon other cells to perform any functions. Some other examples of unicellular organisms are an amoeba and a bacterium. HOWEVER, a paramecium is not an animal. It is actually a protist (from the Protista Kingdom). There is no such thing as a one-celled animal.
I don’t know if this was ever an actual test question, but it may have been.
It is my understanding that Georgia uses the same test (with a few slight variations) for a period of time (possibly five years). This is not really an adequate system. It also invites possible cheating. If someone knows the exact questions that were on the last test and are most likely repeated on the next test, it is very easy to teach to the question (as opposed to the test) and that is an issue that should be addressed.
It might be worth investigating if it is feasible to contract with another state to use their testing system. It could be much cheaper than the current system in Georgia. I believe we should also consider a test that uses a variety of assessments, such as multiple choice, true or false and essay (or at least short answer). Essay questions are harder to answer and harder to grade but ultimately they are a better measure of knowledge and understanding.
Below are some of the advantages of giving the tests at the very end of the year, making prior tests available to the public, and updating the tests annually:
-It is actually a “free” way to make sure that students get over one year of additional instructional time over the life of their school career.
-The quality of the tests will improve and the validity will be constantly reviewed
-Teachers will better understand what is expected and it will facilitate a higher level of teaching in the future.
-By reviewing former questions, answers and reasons, students will be better able to understand how to apply their knowledge in various types of test situations.
-It will cut down on cheating by teachers and school systems.
-It will be a perpetual review process by all concerned.
-It is very cost effective.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog.