Behind The Common Core Curtain In NC – Part 4

GUEST POST ICONThis is part Four and is the final installment in a Guest Post series on Common Core.  Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
This is an important look behind the Curtain of Common Core in North Carolina.

 


The writer is a School Counselor in NC public schools.  Part 1 will detail the implementation of Common Core into the School Counselor’s school. Part 2 will detail Technology. Part 3 will be SIS and Part 4 will be testing.

Part 4 – Testing

Now, the tests. Here’s a list of what tests we gave:

Grade Level

Before Common Core

After Common Core

6th

Reading EOG

Math Calculator Active EOG Math Calculator Inactive EOG

Reading EOG

Math EOG – Calculator Active and Inactive in one test

Science state exam

Social Studies state exam

7th

Reading EOG

Math Calculator Active EOG

Math Calculator Inactive EOG

Reading EOG

Math EOG – Calculator Active and Inactive in one test,

Science state exam

Social Studies state exam

Common Core Math I for those that took it.

8th

Reading EOG

Math Calculator Active EOG

Math Calculator Inactive EOG

Science EOG

If you took Alg I or Geo you took those exams too.

If you took a 2 year foreign language you took that exam.

If you took English I you took that exam.

Reading EOG

EOG Math Calculator Active and Inactive in one test

Science EOG

Social Studies state exam.

ACT Workeys

Common Core Math I if you took that class.

Common Core Math II if you took that class

If you took a 2 year foreign language you took that exam.

If you took Common Core English I, you took that exam.

They said that they were going to reduce the number of tests we gave kids. What they meant was, they were going to reduce the math test by combining the calculator inactive and the calculator active into the same test on the same day. Ultimately there are more tests. It takes at least 2 hours to administer each test. All students receive extended time if they need it. So if they don’t finish the test in the time allowed they all go to the media center and test for as long as they need – up to 4 hours.

Let’s focus on some specific tests.

First there’s the ACT Workeys. This exam is given early in the year in very strict settings. The results come out mid year and school counselors are expected to meet with each 8th grader to discuss the results. The results provide you with a detailed interest inventory that lets you know what type of career would suit that student best. The goal is that you use this to help guide them into taking the appropriate courses in high school. In 10th grade they take the ACT follow up test and this lets us know if they are on the right track to the careers that were detailed in the test they took in 8th grade. When I was in 8th grade I was determined to be an actress. By 10th grade, I just wanted to get out of high school and go to a 4 year college. By college, I wanted graduate school and a job in the school system as a counselor.

As a school counselor, I don’t think it’s appropriate to pigeon hole students based on the results of test. I have not sat down with any student to discuss these results, nor do I plan to. If you are a parent you need to know that this is one test that definitely is not mandatory. Boycott it.

The NC Final Exams are another specific test that has been added since Common Core. The title of these tests changed multiple times in our county. At one point they were Measures of Standards in Learning or MSLs. That was too close of a reference to missiles.

This test was added for subjects that didn’t have an EOG. We’ll focus on Social Studies, but just know that this translates to all NC Final Exams. In 6th grade there will be 2 Social Studies teachers who will have approximately 100 students. This NC Final Exam is used as part of their evaluation and as part of your child’s grade. To prevent teaching to the test no one knows what is going to be on this test. To prevent teachers from “cheating” you can’t administer the test to your students. Teacher A cannot be in a room with the 100 kids that they taught during this test. So we jumble up all the kids so that the teachers don’t “cheat” and try to raise scores. Once everyone finishes the test, it’s collected and sent to a secure location – typically the media center. Both social studies teachers for that grade level then spend the rest of the day grading the test in a secure location while being observed by the test coordinator and other central office employees. But we have to make sure that Teacher A doesn’t grade their own students! That wouldn’t be fair, so an ID sticker that is associated with the child’s name is placed on each test covering the student name. (Not the same ID number that Pearson has in their system) The first year this took place there were teachers in the school media center grading tests until 7pm at night. If you start testing at 8:30am, the students won’t finish until 12:30pm or later depending on breaks. We can’t always afford substitute teachers nor do we have enough to cover all Social Studies classes across the county so the grading process wouldn’t begin until 3:30pm or 4:00pm. They weren’t allowed breaks for food because they might leak some confidential testing information. I was and still am horrified that this is how we are treating educators – and students.

We have started giving tests to your kids that we can’t get them prepared for because we don’t know what’s on it in order to determine if someone is doing their job or not. How your child performs on a test that occurs on ONE day after they have already had 2-3 full days of testing is the most accurate way we have come up with to accomplish quality teacher evaluations. The best way to accomplish this is to demoralize our teachers in the name of “test security”.

Testing goes on for weeks. Yes, weeks. We have to test 95% of the population or the school gets in “trouble”. I think that means lose funding, but no one has ever seen it happen so I’m not certain. So we’ll send home the testing calendar and parents and kids look over it and it looks like a week or maybe a week and a half of testing and a few make up days. Typically about a third of a school is shut down for those make up testing days. Which means we have kids in super intense quiet mode for weeks – whether they are testing or not – because they can’t disturb others who might be testing.

Once all this is done, schools have 2 days to contain 600 plus kids who have just endured a marathon of sitting still and being quiet and filling in bubbles. 600 plus kids who know the school year is over. During those 2 days we see kids at their worst. Dress code violations that are intentional so they will get sent home. Kids who have resisted fighting all year, go ahead and get in fights. Rarely is there disciplinary action formally documented. Suspensions show up on NCreportcard. A school with lots of suspensions obviously is a bad school. Often times parents are called to just pick up their kids and kindly asked to not bring them back in lieu of suspension. Teachers are burned out, worried about dropping test scores, demoralized by the high ups, worried about pay, and trying to maintain for 2 days. Kids are drained, over stressed, ready for break, and they are trying to maintain for 2 days. It’s the longest 2 days of my life.

Let’s talk about anxiety and kids. Kids are tiny humans and all humans get nervous. If I were to give you a 2 hour test right now – even if it was subject you knew well and practiced every day – you would get nervous. That’s normal. What’s not normal is being told that every day for almost 2 weeks you are going to have a test on a subject. It may or may not be your best subject. You may or may not have given it your all. But every day for 2 weeks you are going to take at least 2 hours to take a test and you had better do your best because despite all the hard work you may or may not have put in, THIS test will determine your future.

For me what makes that last line the absolute worst is that it’s not true. We are asking – telling – children that they endure all of this because this one test will determine if you go to the next grade level. In 4 years, I have seen 1 child retained and it wasn’t just the test scores. It was the test scores, the grades, and the parent requested it. One child in 4 years. I’ve seen many more fail the test, have passing report cards, and go on to the next grade. I’ve even seen some fail the test, have failing report cards, and still go on to the next grade. This test does not determine if you pass or not. There’s no one thing that determines if you pass a grade or not. The whole picture has to be taken into account. More importantly, if you don’t get a letter dated February 15th that says your child might be retained your child will not be retained. Period. We’ve been lying to children and parents.

Retention is something that terrifies educators. First it is reported to the public and if you have retained a bunch of kids the first thought is that your teachers must be awful. Second every time you retain a kid studies have shown that it increases their chances of dropping out. Educators would rather pass a kid who is failing to the next grade level and have those teachers struggle to get the child caught up that retain someone.

So what has this pressure done to our kids? It’s making them sick. The most extreme case I’ve seen was one child who would get so stressed during testing that they would begin to punch themselves in the head until we removed them from the testing setting. That’s a rare and extreme case. More often than not, I see perfectly fine intelligent kids spending hours checking and rechecking, checking and rechecking bubbles – for up to 4 hours. I see kids learning to second guess themselves. Some will get frustrated and cry. Some will miss lunch and then opt out on food breaks during testing because they just can’t eat. Some have given up and don’t even try. Some don’t try because they want to get back at a teacher they don’t like and getting a failing grade might alter that teacher’s pay. Some parents tell their children to intentionally fail with the hopes that a teacher might get fired. Others have learned that no matter what they won’t be retained so why bother? Apathy is now part of being college and career ready.

You know that feeling when you work really hard for something and you get it? That’s good stress and pressure. For example a race. If you really wanted to run a 5k, you’d practice running, eat right, get ready, sign up and run it. Once you cross the finish line – there’s a lot of satisfaction in completing the goal. My bet is that you’d go back and try it again to see if you could get a better time or you’d try another distance.

Are our students getting that feeling when they finish the marathon of standardized testing? In other words, is all of this worth it? I’ve seen some kids be impressed with their scores and proud of themselves. Others couldn’t even tell you what their score meant. The test standards change every year or so, making the comparison for growth impossible to truly determine. The worst is when all the scores go down, because no matter what you tell a kid, in their head, they tried and failed.

Are our teachers feeling success in their careers when they finish the marathon of standardized testing? No. There is nothing rewarding about working all year only to sit under the scrutinizing eyes of the powers that be while you work late only to hear the next day that scores have dropped and that drop in scores will soon be connected to your pay. You have to tell the kids and parents that the drop in scores is because everything is more rigorous. Your school system tells you that the drop in scores is because you don’t do a good enough job. Which is it?

This year the first set of scores we got back from our Common Core Math grades were astonishing low. You’ve got middle school kids taking a high school level math. These kids are usually gifted and usually much harder on themselves than other students. They are our perfectionists. The scores we got back were so low that math teachers were scolded by principals who were very disappointed in their work. The next day the scores for the same test across the state had to be re-normed on a curve. The only reason they do that, is because too many kids failed and that means too many parents and kids will be upset. So the scores you have in your hand right now, have been curved.

Parents know this doesn’t work. Educators know this doesn’t work. Kids know this doesn’t work. Yet there’s still this parents vs teachers vs principals vs kids attitude. We have to stop working against each other and make this better for everyone.

Educators, until we come up with a better way, you have to give these tests. Parents and students, just because we give them doesn’t mean you have to take them. There are several ways to accomplish this.

If you want your child to show up for the last days of school take them but let them know that they don’t have to answer a single question on the test. If a child is given a test and they don’t answer anything the teacher will prompt them a couple of times and then get the testing coordinator involved. The testing coordinator will ask them if they feel OK. If the child says no they are removed from the testing setting and they get to go home. We’ll try again tomorrow and the next day and the next. If you have a great report card and can’t take the test, you clearly know the material and just got too nervous to take the test. You go on to the next grade.

If you don’t want your child involved in the mayhem that is the last days of school, don’t send them. Word of caution – check your attendance. If you child has 10 or more unexcused absences and you try to pull this stunt they will send your name to the DA for truancy. Keep your absences low if this is you plan. Look for nearby academic camps that occur during that time for your child or take an unexpected early vacation. Monitor the testing window for your state and county and make sure you tell the school at the last possible minute that you won’t be there. They will attempt to give tests early or late if they can especially if it means making that 95% mark.

If testing makes your child sick, let people know. As a counselor this part breaks my heart. It is torture to me to have to be in a room for 4 plus hours with your child watching them fall apart, knowing that it’s not healthy, knowing that I have the skills to fix it but if I use those skills it will be a test misadministration and they will punish me and the school for it. If I could take pictures of it and put it all over the internet I would. If I could publish the letters from parents telling me that their kids aren’t sleeping and can’t eat because of the impending doom of testing I would.

Most importantly, know that the teachers didn’t sign up for this. They were told that they were going to do this. Your local educators are not the enemy. At best, they have become pawns. On the front line, trying to please principals, trying to please parents, trying to engage students, and trying to incorporate their own knowledge in a sea of forced programs. The best thing you can do for them is to become engaged in the change.

Know your school board members. Meet them for coffee. Get to know them as humans, not as some name that you checked in the election because you like the way it sounded. Once you get to know them, let them know what your child has experienced in school – good bad and ugly. If you had a teacher that was awesome, let the school board know that teacher was awesome and why. If there was an assignment that confused you, ask your school board about it. Teach your children to be active in this too. They are going to be voters one day. By all means, ask questions when you have them. When we become a society too afraid to ask questions, we fall apart.

Educators – hold on to what you’ve got and do what you know is right for children. Always. This tide will change. It always does. That’s the nature of the beast of having a job in education – it changes constantly. When something concerns you, ask questions. Know that parents can be your greatest resource. Education is a world of politics and it can be especially risky for educators to speak out against things. If a parent speaks out against things, the results are drastically different. It’s time for educators to express their concerns to parents and for the parents to give those concerns a voice.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a freelance journalist and is currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_
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