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2011 State Exams Post-Mortem

Another round of state testing is behind us, and after years of supervising the tests, I still can’t believe how mentally exhausting it can be just to walk around and watch my students take them. I proctor third-graders designated as English language learners, so I’m watching over some of our grade’s most struggling students. This makes the experience of administering the test exceptionally harrowing.

Going into this year’s English Language Arts and mathematics exams there was a lot of buzz about the increased rigor. It wasn’t the first time we’ve heard these rumors, and in the past they haven’t exactly panned out. So I was a little skeptical that this year’s test would prove any different.

This year’s ELA test didn’t seem especially difficult compared to past years’. The format was different, extending over three days instead of two, and including more open responses in place of an editing passage. The open responses, while simpler, were still a major improvement over the basic editing passage third-graders were responsible for in the past. Still, having seen the fourth-grade tests, and essentially preparing my kids for something similar, I thought this year’s third-grade ELA exam wasn’t a huge step up in terms of difficulty.

But on this year’s math exams, I did notice an increase in the number of questions that required more critical thinking and maneuvering through a problem-solving process. There were multiple two-part problems and there were a few questions that tested students’ understanding of how to use certain math process, rather than just their mastery of rudimentary skills.

I was happy to see this shift, even if it might mean my students score lower, because it lessens the benefit of teaching to the test. In math in general, I feel teaching to the test is less of a problem, but still, the repetitious nature of the exams over the years has led to score inflation and a dumbing down of mathematical thinking.

By implementing new styles of questions, including several that required students to work through multiple steps, I feel like the state is making it harder to teach through repetition and also requiring more from our students. It’s a trend I hope continues, because it means we’re moving towards better and more meaningful tests. In doing so, I hope we’re also making “test prep” obsolete.

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