It’s Benchmark season at my school! On October 4th a memorandum came down from on high telling us that Benchmarks are status quo this year. That is, we are to give the same ones we did last year. We had been wondering about that, as we’d heard not a word about it until that day. So we made plans to give them, and some teachers got right on it.
Then on October 11th a second memo came, from the same lofty source. This one said that we are to give the Study Sync Unit I Assessment to all students. Two teachers at our school have been piloting Study Sync, but the rest of us and our students have not even laid eyes on it. And we are to assess our students on the first unit of that curriculum. And to have it done by the 21st. Tomorrow. As you might guess, some teachers had already given the previously ordered benchmark, so they will be giving two standardized tests within two weeks.
I tried to give it today. I couldn’t lay my hands on a Chromebook cart because another teacher was still using it for the second day of her benchmark, and I couldn’t get the keyboards for my iPads because they too were in use. So I got the students going on the iPads (Once they got logged in, which was something of a feat since I am not familiar with the Illuminate site, having always used Smarter Balance for the i8th grade benchmarks and for the year end exam). I figured they could do the Multiple Choice test today and the Performance Task, which requires an essay, Monday. (Yes, after the 21st.)
Remember I teach ELD? Okay. The first story in the test is a Jack London story. In the first paragraph alone I found eight words that my students would have never seen before. (“Reiterate?” “Mittened hand?” It’s not cold enough for mittens here.) The students are to choose a main idea of the story and then base other answers on their first answer. Once they have slogged through this long and complex story. And these were my advanced students! I haven’t even started with the second year English learners.
All I can think is there must be some really advanced eighth graders out there somewhere. They definitely aren’t in my classroom! The stated reason for giving this particular test is that in order to use the scores of it for redesignating English Learners it must be a test that all students have taken so the comparison is fair. This is one of those circular crazy things. Like in order to be redesignated, the student must score proficient or above on the SBAC or the benchmark. But very few of our native English learners score proficient on those tests, so how is making the English Learners score above the native speakers fair?
I’m stymied by it all. About ten years ago I spent two years at the district office, and while I was there, I realized how quickly I lost touch with the kids and the classroom. I also realized how much harder the teachers were working than I was. I think maybe people who hold positions on high need to spend a week or a month in a classroom every year or two, just to keep in touch with our clientele. I think the decisions they made would probably be a little different, maybe a little more student-centered than those we currently live with.