Monday, October 10, 2011

Tests, tests and more tests

Even as N.C.  education officials are eliminating some state exams,  they decided last week to require all juniors to take the ACT in March to gauge college readiness.  The state will pay $5.5 million to provide that test and a lead-up test for sophomores,  the Raleigh News & Observer reports.  State officials hope to get federal permission to scrap the 10th-grade writing test and apply that money toward the ACT.

Meanwhile,  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has completed another 125 tests to gauge the basic skills of kids from pre-K to grade 12.  Unlike the dozens of year-end exams that drew flak last year,  partly because of plans to use them for rating teachers,  these  "formative assessments"  are designed to be given during  the year to size up student needs.

Here's what Chief Information Officer Scott Muri reported to the school board:  "The assessments address the four major content areas of math,  language arts,  science and social studies for middle and high school.  Elementary schools chose to stagger the formative process by beginning the year with math and language arts.  Science and social studies will follow later in the year.  For young students  (pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade),  we developed five performance tasks that will be administered throughout the school year.  Schools will set the administration times to best meet student needs and school schedules."

I know this blog has been politics-heavy lately, but I hope some educators are reading and can weigh in on  how this is working.  Teacher comments have provided a reality check for all of us  --  reporters,  school board members,  parents and others  --  who are trying to make sense of this from a distance.


Anonymous said...

The writing test is a test designed to objectively evaluate a subjective skill (i.e., fit a round peg in a square hole). In the end, a student's score is up to whim of a reader rather than how well a student can write or how well that student has been prepared by his or her teacher. The best part, by the way, is that--unlike EOCs--a student's grade in sophomore English is NOT required to be impacted by his or her writing test score. In essence, the only people who are punished for a poor writing test score are the teachers who are held responsible for their students' scores on a test that is meaningless to the students.

I could not be more in favor of scrapping the 10th grade writing test in favor of paying for the ACT. My home state has a long-running tradition of providing funding for either the SAT or the ACT (we had to apply for the money, however, so that every student wasn't "forced" to take it). I received a full scholarship based on my SAT score, and I know that many students in North Carolina will likewise benefit. The only problem here is that the writing section of the ACT (and the SAT) are nothing but money-making initiatives by the testing companies. Colleges and universities ignore the writing portion scores of these tests; the institutions that want to gauge a student's writing skills requires students to provide a writing sample on their applications. In the end, while the students will see a benefit from being required to take the ACT, this will not alleviate the pressure on English teachers who are objectively evaluated on a subjective skill (although, to be fair, ACT readers are probably more skilled than those who read the current NC writing test).

Wiley Coyote said...


Kind of hard to separate politics from education when including the black hole known as Bright Beginnings as part of a testing scheme.

Bright Beginnings needs to be scrapped and funding withdrawn because it wastes money and is not mandated by the state.

Now we'll waste even more money testing 3,200 students from a program that came within a hair of being rightfully gutted a few months ago....

The status quo continues...

BolynMcClung said...


CMS has operated too long under the assumption that the more is spent the better will be the results. The failure in this policy has been the way the money is targeted.

CMS has been using Free and Reduced Lunch application numbers to target large groups students who it believes need help in the classroom. Believing that financial poverty equals academic poverty has never been good math.

Now, CMS has the tool to change that. I welcome the formative test. Bring them on! Let’s really target the students who need help.

And, for those among you who believe this might mean criticism of the USDA’s excellent nutrition program; NOT! It is successful beyond comprehension….it just ain’t got nothing to do with helping CMS figure out who does and doesn’t need specific help with their studies.

There you have it. Replace FRL numbers with Formative test and CMS will begin to see successful readers earlier and lower dropout rates.

Bolyn McClung

Ken Nelson said...

This is flat out insanity.

Plain and simple - insanity.

We don't need new tests, we need a new school board.

Wiley Coyote said...


So let me get this straight.

You're in favor of wasting $1.5 billion per year on the school lunch program just because you don't want to deal with it?

The only thing I agree with you on is that poverty does not equate to whether a child can learn or not.

Testing and the school lunch program are two totally different issues.

If you think the USDA school lunch program is successful, you need to do some research.

BolynMcClung said...


I not going to be any help to you on continuing a FRL discussion.

My only problem with FRL is CMS' honest but misguided use of the data.

The formative tests will be a blessing for teachers and parents. It will provide the continuity from one grade to the next that has been missing. It will provide middle and upper class families with the kind of classroom support poverty families have been getting---and at an overall lower cost to CMS.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...


No argument on the testing per se if the testing is directed towards assessing where students are academically and not used for for a teacher pay scheme....

And CMS's "honest" use of FRL numbers is lame.

They and the BOE know there is massive fraud and won't try to do anything about it. They can always try to get a handle on it at any time and several years ago had that chance and voted NOT to pursue it.

Anonymous said...

I made a 31 on my ACT.

I can't really say it had much to do with my teachers, since the school valedictorian only made a 25.

Ann Doss Helms said...

4:12, it looks like introducing the ACT is going to force me to learn new numbers. If I hear an SAT score I have an idea whether it's high or low. Thirty-one and 25 mean nothing to me. But I just googled and learned that 21 is average and 36 is perfect, so congrats!

Anonymous said...

The tenth grade EOC needs to go. Some relevant facts: The graders of this test are required to read a minimum of 22 essays per hour. They then give each essay two scores: one for grammar, one for "conventions" which then are combined for an overall score of I-IV. The graders are too rushed to grade the essays carefully, and the scores are so vague as to be useless to teachers who want to adjust their lesson plans according to their students' strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, I get the strong sense that the makers of the test themselves don't really have a clear idea of what constitutes a well-written essay. The reality is that many students with abysmal writing skills pass the test while kids with exceptional writing skills often score worse than mediocre writers who "follow the formula." This assessment should have been scrapped a long time ago. I think it's possible to create a useful and objective standardized essay test, but it would require far more effort, manpower and careful thinking than those who created this test are able to muster.

therestofthestory said...

To Wiley and Bolyn, I stand to be corrected here but my understanding is that this grading of formatives is a subjective exercise. That said and as we all know, a tough grader is the best medicine for the student to improve. However, I fear this will go the way of social promotion and then be as meaningless as a CMS high school diploma, social promotion and senior exit projects.

Anonymous said...

It's all meaningless as the Catch 22 in the building is principal discretion in promotion. There should be reams of work samples to guide this process but if the student is not desired, "head 'em up and move 'em on(and out)" is the unwritten administrative tool.

Anonymous said...

TROTS, You are correct. Each teacher can grade the formatives however they choose (at least in K-2 this is the case). We were told from the Office of Accountability we can change the grading rubrics to best fit our class' needs. Also, the math formative is way too difficult for my 1st graders at the beginning of the year. Much of the material has not been covered yet. I don't see how a test like that will help guide my planning. If most of my students are getting the questions wrong it is a waste of time, in my opinion.
Also, it takes an incredible amount of time to administer these tests one-on-one. For all four subject areas, it is taking about 1 hr per child. That means my assistant is testing for 46 hours to do my class and another first grade class. Therefore, she cannot pull small groups, hold her tutoring group, or work with any kids one-on-one to give them the support they need for about 2 weeks! And we're supposed to give these tests multiple times a year. This is just ridiculous. I can make my own assessments and get the same feedback in a lot less time.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that Tim Morgan is now trying to tell people that he has a problem with the testing in our district. Yet he consistently voted FOR testing as a member of the school board.

If he really were against this testing he would have voted with Kaye, McElrath, Waddell and Tate to pause/end testing.

If he REALLY has a problem with testing he will introduce a motion to end or pause testing for this year at a school board meeting. He will certainly have enough votes to put it on the agenda and get the motion passed.

He would never do this because he really is FOR testing. I find his current attempt to garner votes appalling and utterly disingenuous. His lack of personal accountability is sickening.

Anonymous said...

So how long does it take to get results from the formatives? If the turnaround time isn't fairly quick, the results are meaningless.

accredited online colleges said...
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Anonymous said...

To me, the choice of using the ACT (or SAT for that matter) to judge anything about a school is a bit odd.

The high school I attended was wholly inadequate in science, math, foreign languages and several other areas.

Yet I was able to score that 31 I mentioned before.

This was primarily due to reading comprehension, logic, and basic problem solving skills and not any particular "content" I had learned.

The test was more a measure of my ability to APPLY the basics under time pressure rather than an actual measure of what I knew or had learned in school.

There is little, if any, science, foreign language, history, advanced math, or other material tested by the ACT.

I just don't see how that score will be useful in evaluating schools.

clay said...
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clay said...

I am a 7th grade student in CMS,and I think these 125 new tests are really unneeded. Last year we were given tests that had never been given before and they did not test information that we were taught during the school year. Last year we learned about Europe, Asia, and South America (the things in the textbook), but the social studies test we took tested us about Canada and the United States. If teachers are graded on the outcome of these tests, why does CMS test us on things we did not learn?

I think CMS sometimes overlooks things. If they are giving us new tests at the very least have them be about what we learned during the school year. Teachers are in the classroom to help us learn, and all of the teachers I have had do their best to help us succeed. I believe that Teachers are taught in college and learn from experience to teach us and that the tests do not help them to do their jobs better. If CMS is having a budget crisis, why are they spending money on making new tests?

Thank you,
Clay Tydings

Lori Reed said...

Please explain to me why children in lower elementary grades need to be tested with these standardized tests? I'm the mom of a second grade CMS student. He is a bright kid. Yet he's telling me he hates school. Why? Because they spend so much time testing. Two weeks ago his entire class spent all day doing busy work while his teacher administered a one on one science test to every student. There was no one to help the teacher. She was forced to do the tests alone, one on one. Why...because these kids can't even read yet! Now we have three more of these tests to look forward to. Not to mention the week we just spent testing to find gifted children. Then the weekly tests that are part of the curriculum.

We need to focus on fostering a love of learning in our children. I have watched the joy and excitement disappear from my son's eyes as he has to endure test after test. If we're pushing the love of learning out of children at such a young age, how can we expect them to be engaged learners in the classroom when they are older?

I seriously hope CMS will reconsider the quantity of mandated testing.

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of the "Delphi Technique"? It's a technique used by "trained facilitators" to do things like guide public input and community input activities down a path that delivers the pre-determined and pre-desired results that the chosen few desire. At the same time, those who oppose the desired direction are intentionally marginalized. But those in control are always able to say "But we engaged the community to come to this consensus".

To find out more about the Delphi Technique, which you can be sure will be used in the "community involvement phase" of the superintendent search check out the following link:

Anonymous said...

I encourage any parent of a student in CMS to find out more information about the formative tests CMS rolled out. Ask your child's teacher how these are being implemented and how they are affecting the classroom, especially in the younger grades.

To give an inside look (FIRST GRADE), we were handed a folder with an enourmous test packet to administer to each child individually. For science alone, there are five seperate sections where each child must be tested individually and graded on a rubric.Their answers must be documented and analyzed. The test will take approxamtely 15 to 20 minutes per child, they say. There are no accomadations for English Language Learners or student's with learning disabilities in grades K-2. In a classroom with 20 students, that is 6 hours of testing just for science. They want us to give the science test three times throughout the year to show growth.

I love to teach and care deeply about my students future. Since school has started I have done Language Arts Formative Tests, Math Formative Tests, DIBELS Testing, A-Z Reading Running Records, Running Records on leveled books, and am now preparing to give the Science Formative Test and Social Studies Formative Test. This is all on top of spelling tests and curriculum based assessements in all areas. I have to ask, where does the madness stop. I need to teach my First Graders how to read and I need your help. I believe in assessing children and am totally up for anything that will help my children succeed, but these Formative Test at six hours a pop are not helping my instruction or my studentsRead

Ann Doss Helms said...

Thanks so much to the teachers, parents and especially to the seventh-grade student who took time to share such great insights.

Anonymous said...

Ann. I hope you realize that teachers in CMS are afraid to speak out on some things. There is fear of retribution from administrators in my experience. Today was the first meeting for the new PfP process. They scheduled it at 5:00pm. Many of us start our days at 5:15am. They offered no pay or mileage reimbursement. They must think we have no families or lives. It is only going to get more interesting as this plays out.

Thanks for those brave teachers who did post their thoughts.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Are the new PfP meetings voluntary or mandatory? It kind of sounded like there would be some very strong encouragement to get "volunteers."