My kids had to take a Nation’s Report Card test today. It was a disaster.
First of all, no one met with us or gave us any information about what we should do to prepare things. They said they would take care of everything. But then they got here and it turns out we need to take down all our visuals, change our desk arrangements, put kids in different rooms. All of this could have been done easily, had you just LET US KNOW. Annoying, but not criminal. Then they show us the lists for accommodations groups. This means some kids get math tests read out loud to them, either because they are in Special Ed or because they are designated as English Language Learners. Basically the idea is that if you’re ELL, having someone read the test out loud to you makes it a little fairer because it alleviates some of that language burden. In practice, even though every kid at our school is ELL because none of them speak proficient academic English (because of our area and the history of language deprivation here…see other posts), only some of them “count” as ELL because their parents have said they sometimes speak Navajo at home. Those kids get tested, and by fourth grade most of the ones who haven’t passed out of ELL testing (by being the bare minimum of OK) are the ones who really have issues. For instance, all the kids who can’t read in fourth grade still count as ELL, because you have to be able to read at least some to graduate from ELL-hood. All the kids who don’t understand spoken language well and can’t follow directions still count as ELL. Basically, all your struggling students will be classified as ELL, plus some extras. In my class, this means 60% of kids.
Usually we put all the ELL kids in one or two rooms so we can read the test out loud to them for math. NAEP made groups based on a list given to them by our Test Site Coordinator, which is wrong. This was a problem on the last standardized test we took too, but we fixed it then. The problem is that the people administering the NAEP test have no authority to change any groups; they are paper-pushers. We cannot change anything. In my room right now, where we are giving no accommodations at all, one-fourth of the kids have serious reading learning disabilities. One-fourth more have language issues. Go ahead, kids, do your best! Here’s where it gets really bad. The lady giving the test has a really thick accent. I have a hard time understanding her, and the kids are lost. Think about how hard this is: first you have to hear the language, then you have to figure out what it means, then you have to figure out why that matters, then you have to figure out what you’re supposed to do about it. Most of us do this instinctively, but for some of my kids each step is a separate effort. Now we’re adding that the accent is so strong you only understood half the words in the first place?
However, I have just signed an agreement stating that I will not be able to talk during the administration of this test. That means I get to sit here and watch while she gives instructions and they don’t understand. Then she walks around, sees they aren’t with her, and chastises them. “Why weren’t you listening? You’re on the wrong page! Come on, you need to follow directions!” They were listening. They can’t understand her. Now they’re getting yelled at.
There are so many problems with this. It’s frustrating, annoying, and upsetting. But one of the biggest ones is that it completely disinvests my kids in testing at all. Why would you try if you can’t read the words? Why would you try if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do? Why would you try if, when you ask for help, you get yelled at? I am watching one girl, who has the worst learning disabilities you’ve ever seen, circle bubbles at random, and who can blame her? This is stupid, it’s set up for her to fail, and no one is even giving her a fair shot at it. Fair doesn’t mean you give everyone the same thing. Fair means you give everyone what they need to be successful. Fair means you give everyone a chance.
I spend so much time building my kids up and trying to get them to realize how important it is that they do their best. This test means nothing, but it is indistinguishable from the state test, which determines whether they get to be on the honors track in middle school, and have a much better chance of graduating and going to college. When they learn not to try today, they carry it over to the next time, when it really matters. These tests are already going to be hard for my kids. There’s no reason we need to make it belittling and upsetting too.