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To test or not to test - that is the ELA question

Students in New York recently took the ELA, or English Language Arts test. For many, they spent hours in the classroom preparing for the exam by taking practice ELA tests. This year, however, parents had the option of allowing their children not to take the test. Parents complained that the test is too stressful for their children. It is too long and difficult to finish. The test is also used as a measure to see how well the teachers are preparing their students. Whether or not teachers agree with this form of assessment is another topic of concern. Students who opted out of the test spent their time sitting in other classrooms, doing “busy” work.

Many students decided to opt out of taking the ELA exam this year.
© 2014 Suzanne Brodsky

The “opting out” of the test can be viewed in different lights. Is it fair for some students not to take the test, while their peers spend an entire morning testing? Will there be any feelings of resentment between the students who test and those who do not? Did the students who chose not to take the test actually learn anything while they were sitting in another classroom doing work on their own? Is it fair to put these students in another teacher’s classroom, while the teacher already has a full room of children to monitor and to teach? Do these students pose a distraction to the children already in the classroom? Is this a fair measure of assessment for teachers in the first place? Does it throw off their performance scores if not all of their students take the test? Do those teachers feel like they spent their time and energy on a fruitless situation, since the parents have the final say as to whether or not their children will participate?

Let us also look at the case of students in special education. These students prepare a great deal for the ELA. Their teachers go over the test questions with them. They go through many practice exams. They spend hours in the classroom simulating an actual exam. When you look at their answers (which vary greatly), it is disheartening to see what the students actually accomplish. Often you will see that they do not have the cognitive ability to take a test of this nature. Instead of answering the questions in paragraph form, they sometimes simply rewrite the question. Their answers are at times gibberish or illegible. Is this a true reflection on their teacher? Is this how teachers are to be assessed?

Different states have their own version of the ELA. Illinois, for example, has the ISAT, or Illinois Standards Achievement Test. This test measures a student’s abilities in reading, math and science. Here too, they use the Common Core to determine what students should know in English and math. Teachers in New York use the Common Core every day. By following the standards they hope to prepare their students for these major tests as well as the following school year.

Everyone’s views vary on whether or not these standardized tests are a good idea. No matter what side of the coin you look at, it is a struggle that everyone must get through together to (hopefully) achieve a higher level of success.

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