It is Day 3 of the 2009 California Standards Test and it is quiet across the campus. Still. Ghost-like. Except for the traffic up on I-5 whistling like a turbine and leaning ceaselessly into the North wind. The South.
Our kids have prepared— not PREPPED– but prepared, all year. They studied the right stuff and learned the right skills and held the same data up to the magic moonlight like the rest of us did. So they are ready.
It is a precise science now– the advancement of a school toward the testing regime. There are balloons signaling “840”– our school-wide goal. As if anyone could forget that that is our school-wide goal. It is, after all, painted in fresh colors on our psyches. We set the goal ourselves and based it on some somewhat arbitrary variables like (1.) we have grown 40 points in one year before and (2.) the school down the street is at 840 and (3.) we are just 40 points better at teaching than we were at this time last year so (4.) what the hell! 840.
Now we are in it. And that heads-down, pencil-gnawing silence of testing is mixed in with a healthy dose of celebration. Every day. Today the staff will play the 7th and 8th graders in flag football. Yesterday there was a school-wide movie, a huge game of “Capture the Flag” and a chess tournament. The day before we cranked the music up and danced on the black top. Testing time is also a celebration of learning. We equate it with the team that practices all week long for a big game on Saturday. The practice is fun… but it doesn’t compare to the rush of competing in bright uniforms against another team.
Test days are game days!
Still, the nature of the whole testing thing worries me. There are at least these 10 things I hate about the test in California:
• It is a test of basic skills in language arts and math but we don’t test in the primary language of our students. So now it is not only a test of basic skills, it is a test of language acquisition. Our English Language Learners (ELL’s), on top of the other mountains they have to climb, are not really given a chance to show what they know.
• While the mobility rates of students is controlled for (students who transfer in after October don’t count toward the “840”)… they still count. Including the 4 that transferred in from other schools last week.
• We will have to wait for 3 months for the results. If we are leveraging the future of the nation on these results… why can’t we find the technology to score these things and get them back next week? We need the data.
• I have read California’ “Released Test Items”. I know what is on the CST’s. It covers some standards. But it misses plenty. Our kids are gifted in many ways and not all of those intelligences are tested. Most aren’t. They will get no credit for their musical or athletic talents. Their ability to speak two languages, a gift so many adults covet, will neither be assessed nor mentioned.
• Our 8th graders will be gnawing on their #2 pencils for 90 minutes a day, for 8 straight days. They will test in language arts, social studies, science and algebra. It is too much testing.
• I hate the bubbles. But I guess it is fun for kids.
• I hate that grade level Proficiency is harder to demonstrate in California than the rest of the country. The test is just harder. Other states are sand-bagging their kids so they have less “Program Improvement” schools. And they know it.
• I hate that there is no room for creativity. Daniel told me that the test is too easy and that the “questions suck”. He will get the maximum scaled score of 600, again, and for him the questions will suck.
• I hate that the California Standards Test is standardized, even if teaching and learning and children are not.
• I hate that we get only one shot at this.
But enough whining. There are at least as many things I like about the California Standards Test:
• The data will allow us to continue to improve and leverage significant, revoultionary change as a charter school.
• We will know that our students are learning and that they are learning what they are supposed to be learning.
• The content standards, the “rules of the game”, are now crystal clear. They are out there.
• Parents an students know what those rules are. They know what they have to master in order to be considered “Proficient”.
• Being “Proficient” matters to our students. To every one of them. It creates a clear, unambiguous goals for them to achieve and a pathway to work from.
• Our students are always going to fill in bubbles on standardized, multiple choice tests. They will fill in bubbles in AP geography mid-terms, on the PSAT and SAT and GRE, on the driver’s license exam and on the state Bar exam. Our students are learning great strategies (and developing healthy attitudes) about all of these. They are getting good at filling in bubbles.
• The CST is a school-wide culmination of learning. It is an EVENT. It is a celebration! We build towards it all year.
• The CST data is summative. It doesn’t help us make in-flight adjustments. So it inspired us to find our own assessment system; our own formative tests that help us monitor our students’ academic growth all year long. In real time.
• The CST gives every teacher, employee, student and parent a common mission; a target.
• The CST is data. You grow or you die. No excuses.
As I was writing these last few bullets… I noticed a few students going down to the rest rooms. They have been at it for nearly two hours and they are starting to emerge from the caves. Exhausted. But there is still a sparkle in their eyes.
“Morning guys. How did your testing go?”
“It was easy!” they answer in unison. Like they practiced it. Or expected it.
When they say it was “easy” it could be a good thing or a bad thing. We don’t know. We won’t know for three freakin’ months. In the meantime, we will celebrate teaching and learning and get ready for Day 4 of testing tomorrow. And we will try to preserve our undefeated record in flag football against a very test-weary but game group of 7th and 8th graders. And we’ll pump one more day’s worth of helium in the balloons.
Meanwhile, the sea breeze blows across the playground and the balloons bow. 840.