Common Core Testing: Embarking on a Brave New Endeavor
By Jill Jenkins
Last year teachers across most of the United States embarked upon a brave new venture, implementing the Common Core Curriculum. Armed only with the learning goals, they set out to prepare students for the new examination. If you were a teacher in a state like the one that I taught in, you had no idea what that new examination looked like because that state had just fired the company they had worked with for two years to create these tests and hired a new one. Meaning for two years teachers developed lesson plans and activates to prepare students for the new tests, only to learn that the test that the state had presented in workshops was not the test we would be giving at the end of the year. That fact shouldn’t frustrate teachers or worry parents. This should prevent teachers from teaching to the test because the test had not been invented. Several times during the year, the district called me (as a department chair) to a meeting to reassure me and present some ideas about the format of the new test, but they couldn’t give me too much information on how to best prepare the students because the test was still in the process to being created. Being the bearer of this bad news made me very popular with the other Language Arts and Reading teachers.
A month or so before our assigned date to take the test, they showed me practice tests I could use with my classes, but by then other departments are scheduled all of the computer labs for their state tests, so I couldn’t actually use the practice tests and neither could my anxious staff. However, I assured them, they could use their I-Pads and their I-TVs to show the webpage to their students so at least they had some idea what was going to happen on the day of the test. This did not alleviate their fears, because after all teachers' performance and maybe someday soon their salary might be based on their students’ performance on this test.
Finally, the day arrived for my classes to take their examination, the writing portion of the test which the district assured me the students could easily complete in just three class periods. This was not my first rodeo, so knowing how things usually work I had asked the counselor to reserve the computer labs for each of my teachers for five days in the event things didn’t go as planned and to make up any absent students’ tests. I was right. The state computer servers froze several times making it impossible for the students to work. The schools’ band-width was too small for the number of students using it so the systems not only worked really slowly but dropped students like hot potatoes. The writing selections requires M.L.A. documentation, but the reading selections that the students were given did not provide all of the information to do this correctly. By law, I am not allowed to help them, so all I could do was smile and tell them to do the best they could.
The good news is I retired, so I will never know how my students did on the test, but all of my students assured me they did an outstanding job so I could go out with a bang. If you are unhappy with your schools performance on the Common Core Curriculum Tests, remember that teachers prepared your child without any substantial knowledge about the test. In the past, tests have been tested on a select group of students to determine the validity of each test question. This test was given “cold-turkey.” Teachers were asked to throw their students in the deep end of the pool and hope they taught them how to swim well in the kiddie pool. Teachers were asked to in the words Star Trek, “ to boldly go where no man has ever gone” and “embark on a brave new adventure” (if you will excused the split-infinitive.)