This post comes from a legal and practical perspective. This week, many school districts across the state are holding their back-to-school open house events for parents. Entering your child’s secondary or primary school is an opportunity (hopefully) to meet teachers, learn about the curriculum and regrettably, feel a bit older.
On my journey to high school this week, I was struck by something I heard more than once from one of my son’s teachers. They explained that APPR is upon us and this week the students will be taking examinations. They went on to explain the purpose of these “APPR exams” was to test the students now on what is planned to be taught during the year. They called this a “pre-test” to set a base line for the test that will be administered at the end of the course as a post-test to show how much the students have learned during the course.
Because these assessments contain material that is yet to be learned, there is no expectation the students will do well. Further, these so-called “APPR exams” would not count toward the students grades. It is hoped, I and other parents were told, the students would really excel and show dramatic improvement when they take their final exams at the end of the year. From the teacher’s perspective under the current APPR process, the intent here is to support a higher student growth measure for the respective educator.
Upon speaking with my high schooler after returning from the open house, he reaffirmed this troubling practice. He shared that the teachers told the students, upon administering the respective class examinations, that they should not worry about getting anything correct. My offspring further informed me of a number of his witty responses to questions on these exams. Moreover, my son is not unique. He shared some of the other various nonsensical responses to exam questions used by his fellow students as a form of high school humor.
While the teachers simplified the explanation of the “APPR tests,” their comments make one wonder. Under APPR, the “pre-test” process began last year. It is part of the need to establish a base line to demonstrate student growth for Student Learning Objectives (SLO) purposes in many subject areas. Tests are given again to students, the two compared and the change used to create an SLO score – one component of the composite score.
None of this is particular new information. However, if teachers are deliberately telling students not to even try on the pre-tests they are wasting instructional time. Further, the tests and scores they produce become a farce. Not only do students receive the wrong message (e.g. “we are wasting your time on this exam”) but the SLO and composite scores created from the tests become disingenuous measurements at best.
So far, it is unclear whether the message about the pre-tests is sporadic, rampant or somewhere in the middle. And while this author joins others with a concern about testing, it is discouraging to think students are receiving a message that makes them as cynical about the process as many adults. Shouldn’t students take all tests as vital and important and do their best no matter the circumstances? They will be assessed in college, in their careers and each such testing experience will be administered seriously and should be taken as an opportunity to express his or her full abilities and potential.
My point is not to question the integrity or good faith of any of my son’s teacher as I have great respect for the dedicated educators at our high school and throughout the state. My open house experience, however, makes me question a system that places teachers and students in this precarious position of questioning the importance and serious nature of assessments. Were these ancillary effects of the APPR process thoroughly contemplated and considered as factors in determining the pros and cons of the new teacher evaluation system?
This is not a good learning lesson as these students move forward from school on to college and the workforce. The process certainly is contrary to the Regents Reform Agenda of ensuring that all students are college and career ready.