SBAC Exam, California: “Testing Evolution”

No Pokesoul at all.

No Pokesoul at all.

Standardized testing has traditionally been important to me. I am mildly resentful of it, but it exists as a vital benchmark. A test, taken seriously, written by someone else, about my course content. If I do my job well, my students should be able to do well on a fair test, fairly administered, under rigorous testing conditions. This is the very ruler that lets me measure whether I am a good teacher, or a bad teacher.

It doesn’t matter if the test is good, or fair. In fact, I think it is better for my purposes if the test isn’t very good, or as fair as possible. If I have taught my students what they need to know, for the grade level, they should be equipped for tests that aren’t so great, or be able to deal with fairness problems. That is part of the business of school…teaching the ability to deal with adverse conditions by falling back on what you know, what you have actually mastered.

The testing window for this year was six weeks long. It was the first year that we as a District were “field testing” the Smarter Balanced, or SBAC field test. Designed to be entirely online, it utilizes a proprietary secure browser, and the students deal with the test as an entirely web driven item. The iPads were meant to be the access point for them…which had several challenges.

Other schools has a longer term testing schedule to deal with the challenges that might rise up, but our principal, in his infinite wisdom, chose to go with the final possible week. More importantly, he chose the final days of last week for grade six testing…when the server for SBAC would be down for two days that week. It’s not like it hadn’t been announced…in February, all principals were notified that for the 8th and 9th of May, the SBAC test would be unavailable. You just had to pay attention, and be aware of the schedule in your planning.

He actually put the responsibility of planning on a group of staff members that have been struggling to make it work. They were given little information or guidance. It has been fascinating watching them work hard, trying to make a system that no one really thought out that well, work at the last minute. Darth keeps calling it a “Testing Evolution,” which really means that he keeps changing the plan on people as the process goes forward, often right in the middle of the process. Often right in the middle of any given day, to be accurate.

For Darth…it is almost consequence free. There won’t be an API score generated, and any problems with testing he can fob off on tech issues, or on his hardworking support staff. SBAC has been criticized district wide, so unless someone gives voice to the serious irresponsibility in planning at the highest levels, it will be a wash. The one thing that was egregious in the extreme was the failure to authorize Monday as a shortened day schedule, despite repeated requests, followed by Wednesday not being notified to Transportation as a short day… stranding children on campus with no buses to get home.

The actual testing has gone…as smoothly as one could hope, under such poor circumstances. There have been problems, but mostly due to a failure to plan by both Pledge LA and Darth, not by a failure of teachers or testing coordinators. Every night, at about eleven PM or so, we get a new e-mail changing all of the rules. It seems unfair, but really…it is just the way the game is unfolding. In the end, a week of education has more or less been tossed to the wayside, with no useful benchmark scores produced.

At the center, this is the educational system at its worst. Students are being given a cumbersome, demanding test, for no clear purpose of placement in classes or assisting them in areas of need. Time that could be spent on task, roughly a week and a half out of forty, is being tossed aside to play with a technological tool, couched in buzzwords and fluff talk. It is depressing, and morale has hit an all time low.

The art speaks to this, and for itself.

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