Today was the day of the Maryland English High School Assessment, which, for the first time, is a requirement for graduation. The test is high stakes not just for students, but for teachers as well; the administration wants nothing more than to do great when the newspaper prints our scores in October, and we have had meetings containing the phrase "HSA skills" all year. Today was the anticlimactic close to that, a two hour, 50 minute test that, despite its many problems, will determine whether a student graduates or not.
I don't mind high stakes testing in certain settings, but the Maryland HSA has a number of serious issues that I wish would have been addressed before it became a graduation requirement. Time is the biggest factor. STudents are required to write an ECR (Extended Constructed Response), a BCR (a Brief Constructed Response), and answer 25 multiple-choice questions (plus read the stories that go along with them) in just an hour. That translates to about 20 minutes to write the 4-6 paragraph ECR, 15 minutes to write the analytic 2-3 paragraph BCR, and one minute each to answer the 25 questions and read all the selections.
I have no idea why the emphasis is so much on rushing, particularly with writing. All year, we emphasize being careful with writing, and then students are asked to write a long essay, a short essay, and answer a bunch of questions in just an hour? It sucks, and just breeds mediocrity.
On a day like this, it's worth remembering that whether a school makes Annual Yearly Progress and gets federal funding is based largely upon the whims of the students. I know several students today who just didn't feel like taking it, and spent a bunch of time doodling or putting their head down. Hopefully they'll still pass - word on the street from the kids is that the test was "easy" - but it sucks to know that students have so little at stake here. They can take it again and take it again, but it's the schools and the teachers who are criticized for not getting scores up.
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