Tuesday, May 3, 2011

NCLB: What It Really Looks Like

Today was one of the most stressful days I've had in quite awhile.

Today I gave my state physical science test to our juniors and some of our sophomores.

Just let me say upfront: I detest our state science assessment, and not just because it IS a state science assessment. The whole thing is messed up for several reasons.

First off, Kansas standards are set up to provide "a series of benchmarks, which describe what students should know and be able to do at the end of a certain point in their education (i.e. grades 4, 7 and 12)."

If you are on the ball today, you will notice that the high school standards are set up to measure what kids have learned THROUGH THE 12TH GRADE and you will also notice that we are giving the test to our JUNIORS.

It is required by our state that we test our kids before we get them through school.

And I thought we weren't supposed to leave any of them behind.

The second thing I abhor about the test is that is simply memorization. Even a couple kids today mentioned that there was very little thinking involved. You either know it or you don't. Officially, I do not know the questions on the test. However, if a kid asks me if we have ever talked about how to calculate the strength of charges, I'm going to pay attention. I am also going to go to my standards document and notice whether or not there is a little triangle next to that standard.*

If we simply must continue giving tests, I would really like our assessment to measure whether or not kids can think through a problem, not just remember the formula for gravitational acceleration. Yes, I realize these questions are harder to write and harder to grade. I don't care. I think it would be worth it.

Lastly, our test is just set up poorly. We have two science assessment portions: life science and physical science. You would think these are pretty self-explanatory, but it's not.

The life science portion has questions about biology and environmental science.  The physical science portion has chemistry and physics questions. Pretty straight forward, but where does earth science fit in?

The problem arose when someone decided to add in earth science questions, but apparently didn't want to create an additional test. Their solution was to include some earth science questions on the life science test and some earth science questions on the physical science test.

That would be fine if it matched up with how we (and I'm pretty sure most everyone else) has their class schedule set up. I have yet to find a chemistry class that directly addresses any earth science standards. I have yet to find a physics class that directly addresses any earth science standards. And, you guessed it, I have yet to find a biology class that directly addresses any earth science standards.

My kids need three credits to graduate. Most kids don't take more than that (before their junior year, anyway). So that leaves something out.

Biology is required. Got it.

If students take Chemistry then Physics, they have missed Earth. If they take Chemistry and Earth, they miss Physics. Some kids take Anatomy and have missed TWO sections!

The only solution we have really come up with is to add in a separate earth science unit in the middle of biology and chemistry. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Oh, and here's one more thing. Our state science test doesn't mean squat. The state requires that we give it to all juniors and we get to see the results. Beyond that, nothing is done with this data. Apparently, lawmakers didn't really foresee the problems and costs associated with districts that were not making AYP in English and Math and ran out of money somewhere along the line. As a result Science and Social Science got pushed back indefinitely. (Notices I am NOT complaining about this.)

Now that I think about it, I can't figure out why it was so stressful for me. I feel bad for my kids because you could see them struggling through the test. The really "good students" especially probably developed ulcers in that hour. I just told them to do the best they could and not panic over it.

I don't really know what the answer is. We are doing it wrong and can't seem to figure out how to fix it.

What does your state do? Is your assessment more efficient? Good lord, is it worse?

*Our document consists of a huge list of standards. If the standard has a little triangle next to it, it is considered a "tested indicator" and fair game on the state assessment.


Jane Jackson said...

Thank you for saying that! Your comments are reinforced nationwide in the A.I.P. Report:
REACHING THE CRITICAL MASS. Findings from the 2005 Nationwide Survey of High School Physics Teachers.
http://www.aip.org/ Go to Statistics Division.

[See page 23]
In 2005, the American Institute of Physics (A.I.P.) asked questions on the impact of the No Child Left Behind legislation on physics teaching. As can be seen in Table 8, few teachers report much impact, but most of those who do feel that it has been a negative influence.

Table 8. Teacher Assessment of No Child Left Behind (Public Schools Only).
Have the student testing provisions in NCLB affected your physics classes or curriculum?
82% no.
4% yes - positively.
14% yes - negatively.

Tracie Schroeder said...

Thanks Jane - it's funny because the day I posted this, the guy in charge of our State Science Stuff found me (Hi Matt!). It has added to the conversation and hopefully we can set up new standards in a way that will help make all students successful.

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