News

Why Oregon teachers despise the Smarter Balanced tests

By Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
November 25th, 2015

A new survey reveals discontent with length, logistics

smarter-balancedOregon teachers wish they didn’t have to give their students Smarter Balanced English and math tests because the tests take too much time, have confusing directions and are unfair for students who don’t have computers at home or who have inadequate technology at school.

Those are among the finding of a survey conducted by the state teachers union last spring. Nearly 1,300 teachers, representing less than 5 percent the state’s teaching corps, responded to the online survey.

Survey respondents were overwhelmingly extremely negative in their response to every question, according to a summary of the survey results the  released Monday, ahead of  Tuesday. They particularly objected to how much time the tests required, first to prepare students for them, then to have students take them.

The tests are designed to last less than nine hours, or 1 percent of the school year.

A study by the Council of the Great City Schools found that Portland and Oregon students are some of the least-tested in the country when it comes to mandated standardized exams.

Oregon students took the Smarter Balanced tests for the first time last spring. They replaced the familiar, and easier, Oregon state reading and math tests, the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS.

Both tests were given on computer to every student in grades three through eight plus high school juniors.

But OAKS was exclusively multiple-choice and students were asked only to click on their answer choice. Smarter Balanced, by contrast, required students to manipulate some shapes and objects with a computer mouse and to type in some of their own answers, including numbers, phrases, sentences and whole essays.

As a result, the Smarter Balanced tests lasted much longer than OAKS tests. Students can spend as much time on the tests as they wish, but testing officials say they take about seven hours for elementary students and 8 ½ for high school juniors. That includes six separate testing elements: Computerized tests in English and math, a half-hour class discussion in each of those subjects and a lengthy “performance” task related to each of those discussions.

In their responses to the survey, teachers heaped vitriol on nearly every aspect of testing.

They reported their students were frustrated and even overwhelmed by the test, either because of technology glitches, difficult directions or questions, the length of the test or simply not being prepared for what the test covered.

Nearly all teachers who took the survey said students with disabilities needed more and better accommodations. They also said the test provided them no useful information because the results did not come back before the school year ended.

The teachers took the survey at end of the school year, before they learned the results. Preliminary results came out in early August and final results were released in September.

Statewide, students performed far better than had been anticipated, with about 50 percent of students scoring fully proficient in reading and writing and about 40 percent hitting that standard in math.

End-of-the year reading and math tests have been required of all students in grades three through eight plus one grade of high school since the No Child Left Behind law took effect in 2001.

Congressional leaders last week reached a breakthrough on plans to rewrite that law, which is widely disliked by Republicans and Democrats alike. But the planned rewrite, agreed to by the top-ranking members of the education committees in both chambers, would continue the requirement that all students be tested in reading and math each year in all those same grades.

Along with the summary of survey results, the union released 168 pages of anonymous individual teacher comments, from “It’s terrible” to a special education teacher vowing to call all her students’ parents next year to convince them to exempt their children from the test because of it negative impact on them.

One third-grade teacher, in a fairly typical comment, wrote: “Weeks and weeks of testing has made it impossible to teach curriculum. The behaviors in my classroom have been awful. Asking third-graders to test and prepare for weeks on end is WRONG. It is an awful way to nurture a love for school. The worst part of the process is the (reading and writing) performance task. What a JOKE!… Most of my students took days and days and still did awful. Most of them don’t even read at the level necessary to figure out what the task is asking of them. Oh my gosh, this assessment alone makes me want to quit teaching… because the stress it causes to these wonderful little people is not necessary.”

©2015 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.). Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at www.oregonian.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.