Tag Archives: ISTEP

Teaching Tuesday: ISTEP is the bane of my existance

I hate ISTEP. I mean, I really, really, really hate ISTEP.

I don’t understand how the powers that be believe a student’s ability to graduate high school should depend upon a single standardized test. I won’t even get into how asinine it is to boil every single kid down to one test and stake their entire educational future on that test. I won’t even talk about how absurd it is to focus this fate deciding test on only two academic subjects in school, completely ignoring all of the other knowledge they have accrued and the skills they possess. Nor will I discuss the fact that the people making the decision about the test have next to no educational background.

No, these are not the reasons I currently hate ISTEP.

I don’t understand why my effectiveness as a teacher depends upon a student’s ability to pass this test. I won’t bring up the fact that all teachers in the entire school, regardless¬† of what they teach, are judged by how students score in math and English. I won’t even dig into the ridiculousness of judging art or music or PE or history teachers on scores students get on math and English tests. Nor will I point out that at the high school level, only 10th graders are tested, so really, every single teacher is evaluated based on how one grade level does on tests in two academic subjects…even teachers who have never taught those students for a single day. Sure, I do teach one of the two tested subjects, English, but why is part of my evaluation (and therefore my salary) dependent on how students do on this test? See, I may teach English, but I only teach juniors and seniors. I don’t teach a single 9th or 10th grader. I don’t have any chance to help those students gain the skills they need to pass that test, but the state says that those kids’ scores help decide whether or not I am an effective teacher.

No, these are not the reasons I currently hate ISTEP.

Currently, I hate ISTEP because since we have no choice in when we give the test, the state has scheduled the test one week before our finals. I teach at a school that is not only on the balanced calendar, but also on a block 4 schedule. This means that students take 4 classes for an entire grading period for 85 minutes a day, basically finishing what would be a semester long class on a traditional or block 8 schedule in one 9 weeks OR a year-long class in one semester. So, right when I should be wrapping up my semester, getting kids started on reviewing materials and prepping for finals, BOOM! Here comes ISTEP.

Now, I know I just mentioned that I don’t actually teach any sophomores. I don’t. However, since only half of our sophomores are in an English or math class this semester (the other half took the classes first semester) and even those who are have their math and English classes spread throughout 4 different periods, we have adjusted our schedule to accommodate the 10th grade class.

That’s right, every single student and teacher in our school has had to completely change our schedule for four days to make room for ISTEP. That may not seem like a big deal, but our administrators decided the easiest way to make room for testing was to have all kids report at the start of the day to their SRTs (student resource time–sort of like a short study hall where kids can actually get help from their classroom teachers if needed). Instead of being the usual 26 minutes, these SRT periods are anywhere from 1:15 to 1:45. When testing finishes, kids resume a shortened version of our regular 4 block day.

This still may not seem like an issue, but one of my senior English classes which normally meets from 10:05-11:30 is now not even starting until 11:30 or 12:00. This time change means that my students who leave half day to either to go to vocational school or to go to the job program (ICE), still have to leave at 11:30.

What this means is that over half of my students will miss my class for four days the week before finals begin. We are currently half way through a novel, and my students are going to miss the bulk of instruction over the second part of the novel. They are missing classroom instruction that is critical to their final. Today in my class of 21, I only had 9 students. Until Friday, this looks to be reflective of the rest of my week. So, in order to accommodate testing for one grade level of students, we put other students at risk.

Have I mentioned that I hate ISTEP?

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Teaching Tuesday: ISTEP is the bane of my existance

I know, I know, I have complained and complained and complained about standardized testing lately. It probably seems like I’m exaggerating or making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill, but I swear I am not. Standardized testing is a horrible blight on our educational system. Once again, it is actually keeping me from effectively educating my students.

I’m not even going to go into the many ways in which the ISTEP graduation exam is a shambles of a test. I realize that it is our current reality (until lawmakers who have never been educators tire of it in a year or two and throw something else at us) and therefore am doing my utmost to just cope with the nightmare of it. However, currently the ISTEP is a test sophomore take in March and then again in April. Why they take two different sections of it, I have no idea. I don’t teach any sophomores, so my life shouldn’t be impacted by this test, right?


I teach a small number of juniors and since we had a crazy number number of juniors fail the test (about 50%), there are a lot of kids who have to retake the test. Now, I know, that 50% sounds horrible, right? Actually, about 65% of our students passed the English portion of the test and about 50% passed the math. Still sounds bad, right? Well, considering that only 31% of students in the entire state passed both sections of the test, we’re doing pretty well at my little school.

But I digress.

Of the 40 juniors I teach, only 4 of them failed the math section of the ISTEP (none failed the English portion). However, because they did not pass the math section, they had to do remediation for the test, which meant they missed two days of my class back in October. In addition, since retesting started this week, they also missed my class yesterday morning. And they would have missed my class today as well, if we hadn’t changed our entire schedule to accommodate the juniors who have to retake the test.

That’s right, we changed our entire schedule for half the junior class. Because the test scores are so important to our school letter grade and our “success” as a school, we changed the schedule for almost 1400 kids to help fewer than 200.

Our schedule is completely topsy-turvy. Today instead of coming to 1st block, my kids started the day in 2nd block. And, instead of it being an 84 minute block, it was 120 minutes. However, 1st block, which was the second class of the day was only be 60 minutes. Tomorrow, we are starting the day in 3rd block and finishing it in block 2. My second block class happens to be filled with kids who are in our work study program, so they only go to school until 11:30 and then they leave to go to work. So half of my class will be missing on Wednesday, but I still have to go on with my lessons. On Thursday those kids will only be in my class for 45 minutes instead of the scheduled 75, because on Thursday we go to block 4 first…for two hours.

Not only do I think kids will not be able to keep it straight, but they are going to be missing vital instructional time two weeks before finals begin. And none of those students have to take the ISTEP. They are all seniors who had a completely different graduation qualifying exam when they were sophomores.

I wish politicians and lawmakers could see the actual daily struggles teachers go through in order to make room for all of these tests in our curriculum. Most days it feels like the test matters far more than actual learning.

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Teaching Tuesday: More testing woes

Today was yet another preview of the ghost of testing future. Every junior who failed either a portion of the ISTEP+, which they have to pass in order to graduate, had to take the Accuplacer test today. Since about half of our students failed at least one portion of this test (and we did well above the state average), that meant that instead of being in class today, students had to miss first and second periods to take the test. Since Accuplacer isn’t directly related to the ISTEP+, I’m not sure why they had to take it, but they did.

Instead of being in class to read through The Crucible, they were answering math questions, which means they will have to read Act 3 on their own, without the benefit of our discussions as we read it together.

I was actually lucky as only a handful of my students had to miss class. Since it is Advanced Placement, most of my students passed. Some of my fellow teachers were not as lucky. They had over half of their students missing and had to completely cancel their lessons.

The sad bit is that this is just a preview of what is to come. This is only the second of what will be a crazy season of tests before we get to winter break. I hope we all survive.

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Teaching Tuesday: PSAT blues

I hate standardized testing. I mean, I really, really, really hate it. Not that I actually know a single teacher who is in favor of standardized testing. At least not in the quantities we have to do it.

I understand the standardized diagnostic test we give to all students in the English department during the first week of school. Each grade level has a test that has been compiled by members of my department using a standardized test questioning website in order to gauge where are students are at the start of the year. We use a similar, skills based diagnostic at the end of the year to help us measure their progress. We use this data to guide our lesson planning, create additional practice activities for students who need them and so that we can address overall weaknesses we see in students both at the high school and middle school level. It’s a great way for us to make sure we are aligning our curriculum 6-12.

However, with in the first month of school we also use NWEA to test all of the 9th and 10th graders in the entire school. Students take these tests so we can get a broader picture of where all of our students are in English, math and biology in order to better prepare them for the state mandated standardized testing they will have to do later in the year.

Today, during the third day of our second quarter, we gave all sophomores and juniors the PSAT. In order not to leave 9th and 12th graders out, they also got to spend part of the day testing. 9th graders took a pre-PSAT test (yes, you read that right) and 12th graders took the ASVAB test.

Since today was a late start day (due to PLCs), we started testing students at 9:20. Even with the speed bubbling of the required student biographical information The College Board requires, students tested for 3 solid hours. And when I say 3 solid hours, I mean most classrooms started testing at about 9:45 and finished up at 1:00.

We then had 2.5 hours to get in 4 classes. If this time could have been divided evenly, instead of our normal 85 minute blocks, we would have had 37 minutes in each class. While this is an abysmal amount of time, even it would have been better than what we got. Since we had to figure in a 25 minute lunch period for everyone and our student body is large enough that it requires 3 lunches AND we had to have passing periods to get from one class to the next, 3rd block (which is our lunch period) met for 60 minutes and the other three classes each met for 15 minutes.

Wanna guess what can be effectively taught in 15 minutes after students have spent over four hours in testing rooms and not gotten lunch until 1-1.5 hours after their usual lunch time?

Yep, you guessed it: absolutely nothing! The best I could do was explain the homework they needed to do in order to prepare for the next class. Although we’d known about the testing for weeks, we were originally told testing would be finished by 12:30, which would have allowed for over double the class time we got. So we all planned for mini-lessons. As short as those lessons would have been, they would have meant some real instructional time. Alas, it was not to be and we had to scramble at the last minute.

Now, I should be clear that I do find value in the PSAT. However, considering that we have another week of NWEA testing coming up in December, and ECA make up testing for seniors who have not yet passed the test (they need it to graduate) and the actual finals we are required to give in each of our classes, this entire loss of a day is frustrating. Especially when coupled with the additional two weeks of NWEA testing we’ll have to do in the spring; the nearly four weeks of ISTEP testing that will go on in March and¬† April; and AP testing, final course diagnostic testing and spring finals in May. And in addition to all of this testing is the fact that in order to prepare students for the ISTEP test, every single teacher in every single block has to do 11 constructed writing activities between November and February–even if we don’t teach students who have to take the test. Plus, all of our sophomores have to spend 15 of their 25 minute Student Resource Time every day completing math practice questions on Study Island. At times it feels like all we are doing is testing and teaching kids how to take those tests.

It’s no wonder so many kids dislike school.

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