/Testing, testing — students, teachers speak out and weigh the toll of assessments

Testing, testing — students, teachers speak out and weigh the toll of assessments

Mississippi News Nonprofit A group of 30 students, parents, and educators met today to discuss the complex topic of state testing. All of them share the same questions: why is state testing so extensive and what happens to the results? The Mississippi Student State Testing Task Force was established earlier in the year. It met in Jackson Tuesday to examine the quality and quantity of the tests given to students in public schools in Mississippi. The group will be reviewing testing over the course of the year and making recommendations to improve it. The task force was reminded by Carey Wright, the state superintendent. Assessments are provided so students can show teachers what they know as well as what they struggle with. This allows educators to create an appropriate educational program. Wright stated that students don’t know what they don’t learn. Wright stated that students don’t know what you don’t teach. “So we need to be able find a way for them to evaluate their knowledge and abilities so we can determine if we have taught it well enough. In Mississippi, this has been done twice in recent years. The state started with the Mississippi Curriculum Test in 2012 and moved to the PARCC test in 2014-15. In 2015-16, the state changed to the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP). Tim Martin, Superintendent of Clinton Public Schools, said that he believes the state is still going through a paradigm shift compared to the many state exams students have had to take in recent years. He said that teachers could drill and kill students with the Mississippi Curriculum Test or require them to memorize facts in order to pass the tests. The drill and kill approach is not applicable to the current test. Martin stated, “You have to teach students how to think, analyze information from different sources and put it all together.” Kristina Pollard, principal of Earl Travillion Attendance Center in Forest County School District, said that districts have not yet caught up to this fact. She explained that students are regularly tested to help districts track their progress. This is a standard practice that’s well-recognized as being best for kids. Pollard asked, “Where did this come from?” “In a District like mine, you [MDE] have made me feel a bit alarmed about the type of pressures that we’re putting onto teachers and students in the effort to improve your school.” Jaylen Patrick from the Mississippi School for the Blind stated that he spends a lot time in class taking exams. He said that nine-week-long tests, finals and state assessments as well as district-level tests take up a lot time at school. He said, “It takes away from a lot our instructional time.” Sadie Smith, a Ocean Springs High School student, said that in 10th grade she spent a lot time in the computer laboratory completing practice tests in preparation for the state reading test. However, she is already a proficient reader and felt her time could have been spent improving her writing skills. Smith stated that she will need to be able to write well for college. Education advocacy group Mississippi First published a detailed report earlier this spring on testing patterns in four unnamed districts. The report made several recommendations to the state, including urging transparency and reducing dependence on test prep programs. District-level testing is more up to the school districts than state testing. There are no regulations on how many students must take these tests. This is why Mississippi First’s report found vastly different testing experiences. The four districts that were studied had district-mandated testing that “ranged from an average 10 to 27 tests per year” depending on which district they were located. After the meeting, Rep. Tom Miles (D-Forest), who has been vocal about state testing, filed several bills during last legislative session to abolish exit examinations and replace them with the ACT. He said that the Mississippi Department of Education should establish a “uniform policy for districts to follow.” Miles stated that they should create a policy for school districts and not pass the blame onto teachers or onto districts who aren’t doing their jobs. Joyce Helmick, President of the Mississippi Association of Educators, agreed with Miles’ suggestion. Her organization published a “Report From the Front Lines” on Tuesday. It included responses from teachers from all over Mississippi, giving their personal accounts of how testing has affected them and their classrooms. Helmick said that the responses were “essentially all the same.” The testing process can be stressful not only for the teachers, but also for the students. Whitney Drewery, the 2018 Mississippi Teacher-of-the Year, told reporters that the stress of all the testing can make it difficult for teachers. Students can see how this affects them. It doesn’t change the way I treat them, or anything like that. “The special education teacher from Lafayette County Schools stated that it does not affect how I treat them. You want to be able teach the whole child. It’s not something you want to make into a numbers game.