BY CLAUDIA SWISHER
A letter to Oklahoma’s legislative leaders:
The answer is “22 days.”
“How long will Norman North High School be administering End of Instruction Exams [EOI] this year?”
Our EOI testing will run into and through Advanced Placement [AP] testing, and will conclude less than one week before final exams for the year.
For each of those 22 days someone must administer a test in the morning and someone must administer one in the afternoon. Someone must monitor each administrator. Someone must substitute in the classes of the administrator and/or the monitor. Someone must double up and take another teacher’s class as he or she administers or monitors. Someone will lose planning periods to substitute for the teachers administering or monitoring.
This year at North we feel fortunate because we hope our new multipurpose room – paid for by a bond election – will handle online testing of larger groups of students. Before this, in addition to all the scheduling of teachers and substitutes and doubling up classes, we had to use every computer lab in the building, displacing all our computer classes. For a month, keyboarding classes could not work with keyboards.
We all approach testing with anxiety: will something go wrong? Will the computers behave? Will the monitors show up? Will we be able to follow the protocol perfectly? Have we prepared the students properly? Are they going into their testing with a positive attitude?
Before all testing was online, our counselors personally handled, unpacked and packed over 2,000 tests, just at North. Now, with the online mandate, we add technology to our anxiety … will we have space? Will all the computers work? Will students be comfortable with the online format? What will we do if things blow up? Or there’s a power outage or a power surge?
Another reality of testing for teachers is that on any one of those 22 days some or most or all of our students will have taken or will be taking an EOI. Even in classes that are not testing, it can’t be school-as-usual. Some students will be missing classes to take exams, some will be mentally exhausted after taking them, and others will be anxiously preparing to take them. Education comes to a halt as we test. Twenty-two days of upheaval in every class.
And in the middle of all the EOIs comes AP testing. Students will be missing important AP testing preparation as they’re taking EOIs. Then they’ll miss another half-day of instruction for each AP test. Counselors must double and triple check schedules to make certain AP students don’t miss an EOI for an AP, or an AP for an EOI. Our counselors are heroes every bit as much as our students are.
After our EOIs and AP tests are all administered and sent away, we’ll have a few days of regular class, just enough time to review for our comprehensive semester exams. But, remember, we haven’t had a full class all day in 22 days. In our minds, these are the assessments that will truly show what our students have learned, how effectively we’ve taught them. But, I fear their minds will be mush by then.
From April 19 until May 27, our focus is not on teaching and learning, on instruction, but on testing: preparing for the tests, managing the tests, administering the tests, managing the retakes and problems. Students will be preparing for the tests, taking the tests, recovering from the tests, preparing for the next, and on and on.
I would invite you to come to Norman North, or to a school closer to your home. Help us. Volunteer to monitor a test. Be there in the room with these earnest, courageous students who want to do their best, for themselves, for each other, and for their teachers.
We are using every teacher in some capacity, most more than once. We’re using all our counselors. Our PTA mothers have put out urgent pleas for volunteers. We need your help. It would be instructive for you to see students and teachers working together toward a common goal: doing our best on state-mandated exams.
I wish you were with me last year as I was administering an online Algebra 1 test. The kids were ready. There was positive energy in the room. They worked diligently. But their computers failed them. One by one, the computers, for some reason, froze up and went blank. I could hear the groans of students who watched as work disappeared in front of their eyes. These students had to take the whole test over … nothing was saved; everything was obliterated. But, you know what? They did it – again, with that same positive attitude.
When I give my students voters’ registration forms as they turn 18, I suggest they ask candidates for state office if they ever took EOIs … if they took an ACE-focused curriculum in school … if they had to maintain a 3.25 GPA in order to participate in extra-curriculars … if they’ve volunteered at a school during testing. I tell them to ask: do candidates know what the testing mandates truly look like in a real school? No one is closer to the mandates than our students. In many ways, no one is more removed than the legislators who pass the laws. Help us. Show these young people you care about them and their efforts.
Please, come to North, or to a school nearer your home. Help us administer and monitor our EOIs. Talk to students and teachers. Look at the master schedule for testing. Be a part of the process you’ve mandated. Our phone number is 405.366.5954. We need you to help with our marathon month of testing.
– Claudia Swisher teaches at Norman North High School and is a National Board Certified Teacher. See her “open letter” to State Superintendent Janet Barresi in the 4.25.11 edition of The Oklahoma Observer [page 5].