Friday we had no school. Teachers still had to work, but a day without students is like a day off. Most of the teachers at my school spent the day at the first in a series of workshops about Extended Response. For you civilians, Extended Response (ER) is a section of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in which students from 3-8 grades have to read a 3-4 page passage and then respond to a prompt about it. ER is the bane of every teacher's existence. We spend so much friggin' time talking about, learning about, complaining about, and teaching ER that I could explode. (I'm not sure why I could explode...that's just what came out).
Anyway, for all the time spent on it, we have very little understanding of it. Our kids don't do well on it. And as I learned yesterday, hardly any kids do well on it! The highest score you can get is a 4. Only 4-7% of all kids in the ENTIRE state of Illinois got a 4.
The ER is graded by an independent third party who uses a rubric that is supposed to eliminate as much subjectivity as possible. Everyone has access to the rubric so that we all know how the kids will be assessed. But, I'm sorry, there's NO WAY you can take subjectivity out of grading, unless you are grading something that's either right or wrong (like true/false or multiple choice). Yesterday we were given a passage to read and four samples of student ER from last year's test. Our task was to work with the people at our table and score each sample. It was a disaster. Responses that some of us scored a 1 (using the rubric, mind you) were actually scored a 4 and vice-versa. Granted we aren't trained graders, but we are the people teaching the students how to write these stupid things! And like I said, we've spent dozens and dozens of hours analyzing student ERs, talking about how to improve, etc., and we still don't know what we're doing. In fact, after the 3-hour seminar yesterday, I felt more confused than ever.
OH, and then we found out that the ER accounts for only 10% of the total reading score! Grrrrrr! For years They've been making it out like it was worth a hell of a lot more than that! Talk about time wasted in the classroom.
I'm so glad I'm not a kid today. These tests that they have to take are so stressful and LOOOONG. I understand that they're necessary as assessment tools, but the stakes resulting from their scores are so high. They determine the promotion or retention. They determine if your school meets federal standards (No Child Left Behind Act). And I found out yesterday, ISAT scores are factored into the Area Instructional Officers pay!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Area Instructional Officers are the people directly above the principals of a group of schools). Uh, talk about a conflict of interest! That totally left a bad taste in my mouth.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I will spend much less time teaching my kids how to organize their thoughts into an bullshit extended response format this year and spend more time providing them with actual literacy experiences that I know will improve their reading (instead of extinguishing their passion for learning).