Standardized testing; ah—the newest craze sweeping the nation in response to how the United States measures up to the rest of the world academically. But what really hit home for me with these global tests was the fact that out of all 50 states, only my home state of North Carolina had significantly higher 4th grade math skills than the national average.
Now I could easily go on for hours about my love of the educational system in Finland (trust me, I wrote a four page paper on the problems behind our cafeteria food and compared it globally—just food alone) or my general hatred of how the only thing standardized testing measures you ability to take a test. But rather than focusing on an opinion that has taken years to form, there’s something more recent that needs to be addressed on HCRT—North Carolina decided to change finals slightly by adapting a new measure of testing called MSLs.
“Measures of Student Learning (MSLs) are assessments that measure what students know and are able to do after completing a course or grade. The MSLs are designed for those grades and subjects that are
currently non-tested (i.e.., non-end-of-grade and non-end-of-course subjects)”
With the goals of:
- “To develop and increase the effectiveness of teachers.
- To have an effective teacher in every classroom and in every school.
- To see evidence of achievement and growth for all students.”
Despite sounding relatively useful, the way the state presented the material for the tests was extremely foreign at various levels ranging from the principal all the way down to the students—myself included.
In the past, NC has issued EOGs(End of Grade) for 3rd-8th grade reading and math(calculator active and a separate calculator inactive) as their determining factor on whether or not you’re ready to move onto the next grade that were graded on a scale from 1-4 with anything higher than a 2 passing. Those score reports also gave you where you rank among the state They (the state) also began giving an 8th grade science EOG—I happened to take this test the first year they began issuing it and managed to piss off my teacher while taking it by “wasting my potential” AKA acknowledging the fact that my score didn’t matter, rushed through it, napped away the majority of the testing time, and got a 4 but only placed in the 87 percentile. Granted, she happened to be my science teacher at the time and I had won an award for her class by being part of the handful who kept an A in her class all year so she had the right to be angry at my laziness driven by my desire to sleep.
For certain high school classes (typically graduation requirements), you were given an EOC (End of Course) which is basically the exact same thing as an EOG but was given on a wider range of subjects.
Now I took my first EOC in 8th grade for Algebra I and remember feeling extremely prepared for it since the state had ample resources(such as prior tests and a set curriculum it was based off of issued at the beginning of the year) for my teacher to tap into to help us prepare for the exam. I remember it was relatively easy and I managed to score a 97 on it which bumped my 83 test average up to a B. A few people in the school even managed to get a 100 on it and a similar trend continued to when I took the English I and Biology ones freshman year—a few people scored perfect and I did pretty well for the most part thanks to the ample study material I had. Teachers had the added motivation to prepare us because the scores actually meant something—they reflected how well they taught the class since the EOCs were so reliant upon the course curriculum and the test questions were actually made by teachers in the state. So basically they were the exact same thing as a teacher-made final minus the stricter testing guidelines ranging from allotted time and what you’re allowed to do after the test.
Now unlike the EOCs or EOGs, MSLs weren’t made by teachers, there was only one form of the test given state wide (no 21 YY blue, 6 XY green, 19 HH pink, etc), free response questions were graded by that department of the school, and teachers weren’t really given anything to prepare their classes for the test/what they should really cover. They were told of the length, what type of questions, and wait for it—how the test looked. So when I saw some terribly formatted free response section with rounded rectangles on it, I was really tripped up because I thought they would be perfectly aligned on the page; not looking as if the kid who slept through how to format shapes in Microsoft Word could do better with his eyes closed.
It gets better.
Since teachers didn’t know exactly what to cover, most of them retreated to past EOCs to pull review from which wasn’t a terrible idea, but courses such as US History or Biology have their curriculum changed about every 2-4 years making certain questions outdated.
As for classes such as English, there’s really no sense of direction beyond informing the class how the graders will be grading. Since the free response sections were graded by the department and various schools have a ranging level of acceptable, the grading spectrum is extremely broad to the point where full marks at one school may be half marks at another. As pointed out by my English Class, the way the state told the graders to grade the free response, enabled a response that would typically be incorrect for citing the wrong passage or misidentifying something could be credited with full points as long as you correctly addressed what the question was looking for such as stating the author used rhetoric term x or thought the mood felt y.
Since there’s only one form of the test state wide and various schools took at different times according to when they started finals, answers had various methods of being transported ranging from during the actual test to them being spread through various schools.
Scores aren’t out and I’m not allowed to talk about the material on the actual tests—just like the multiple choice sections on the AP exams I took….even though I know the exact source for one of the reading passages on the English one.