Benchmark testing is this week. It is the dark, ominous cloud looming on the horizon from August until April. Students, teachers, and schools are scored, rated, and judged on these scores. Students who work and make huge improvements may be labeled Basic or Below Basic because of this one test. And in some End Of Course testing, these students may be required to repeat the entire class, no matter what the actual grade in that class might be. What if that student was sick during testing? What if a student marks answers in the wrong section?
School districts are held accountable for students scores. Schools not meeting AYP (annual yearly progress) can be placed on "school improvement" and can even lose funding. I don't know the actual formula for determining AYP (I'm not sure any ONE person does! I think it's like a secret recipe where each cook knows only one or two ingredients.), but I know that this year's AYP will be determined by comparing my current students' scores to my previous year's students' scores. Apples to apples? I think not! Students are different; classes are different. It's more like apples to elephants. As one of my facebook teacher friends put it, "Not a very good way to see how smart they really are."
A few years ago, I had a student who came in to 7th grade with a very big learning disability and a very small test score from the previous year. He worked extremely hard. I saw improvements each and every day. He had a better understanding of literature than a lot of students in his class. Reading and writing were difficult for him - thinking was not. His 7th grade Benchmark scores were much higher than his 6th grade scores had been, but he wasn't Proficient or Advanced. I taught him again in 8th grade. Again, I saw major improvements. He had gained such independence in class but still struggled with independent reading and writing. His 8th grade test scores rose even higher; he was just a few points short of Proficient. In just two years he had grown from very low Below Basic to almost Proficient - probably the largest jump in scores for the the entire class. But because he didn't hit Proficient, he wasn't rewarded for his scores at all. Because he didn't hit that magic number, his score was a liability for the school - a not a thing to recognize or celebrate. This is one of the most frustrating things for me as a teacher. Each year, I have a student like this one. A student who struggles to overcome so much. A student who makes tremendous gains in the classroom. And I hold my breath, hoping for that magic number when the scores come in.
I hate that I even worry about the test. I do not want to be someone who "teaches to the test." But when my students are judged by that test, my teaching ability is judged by that test, and my school is judged by that test - it is difficult to ignore that damn test.
I am looking forward to Monday. I don't stop teaching, and students don't stop learning after the test is over. We have several weeks of school to finish. But I am looking forward to Monday. Because on Monday, that dark, ominous cloud will be behind us. On Monday, there will be sunny days on the horizon. At least until next August.