students, testing

Just Put Them In A Small Room; Why State Test Accommodations Don’t Solve the Problem

It is fall here in beautiful state of Wisconsin and for teachers that means one thing; WKCE is here or the state’s accountability test. This lovely little test will take hours and days from some grades out of our learning to once and for all prove what students know or do not know.  So as I pondered this year’s test last night (that’s what happens when one is up at 3 AM), I also thought of the test accommodations that we are allowed to provide and just how ridiculous they are.  Read on to see what I mean:

Accommodation:  Small group setting.
Premise:  Big rooms and more students provide more anxiety and thus taking the student and placing them either in one-on-one setting or a small group will relieve that anxiety.
Debunked:  Most often the anxiety the student is experiencing does not come from the setting.  In fact, I would argue that most of the time the classroom is the preferred setting if it is for anxiety purposes,  after all, this is the room that should be a safe-haven for students in a community they know.  Not so in the case of a random conference room or even small closet.  Some then argue the small group setting is for the quiet so the student in question can think better, except that doesn’t hold up either since students are absolutely not allowed to make any noise during the test.  In a “perfect” test environment the only thing you should hear is the rustling of pencils writing, that’s it.

Accommodation:  Read the instructions aloud.
Premise:  Student who struggle with reading will know what to do.
Debunked:  Students who struggle with reading are not going to get much help from someone reading the instructions when they cannot proceed to fully read and comprehend the actual problems.  While math problems are also allowed to be read aloud in some cases, it still boils down to comprehension.  Chances are if that student has this accommodation they have had other accommodations in the classroom to be successful learners, none of which are allowed during the test.  But read it aloud, that we will do so you have more time to sit and ponder what you do not know or do not understand.

Accommodation:  Extended time.
Premise:  Students that process more slowly or have anxiety should be allowed unlimited time.
Debunked:  I love this one.  Nothing like giving a frustrated student as much time as they want to take the test that they are frustrated by.  I still think most of my students that have been given this accommodation end up taking the least amount of time.  Not all but most.  If you do not understand the test or the question unlimited time will most often do nothing for you.  That is like being presented with a test in French except you don’t speak the language, but hey, you have unlimited time to figure it out!

Accommodation:  Break the test up.
Premise:  For students who cannot focus for long periods of time you can spread the test out.
Debunked:  Again, why continue to torture a child by prolonging the frustration.  When a child is not successful on the test it seldom has anything to do with how long they can focus but rather the content itself.  When no other help is offered such as breaking the problems apart (that is not allowed) how are we really helping?

So in the end, we sit with accommodations that do nothing to solve the problem; the test itself.  We speak often of tests and how destructive they can be to students, and yet, we band-aid the harm of the test by trying to set up better accommodations.  In the end, they change very little; the test itself flies in the face of how we instruct and how children work through problems.  The test will therefore never be an accurate measure of how much a child actually knows within a learning community but only a measure of who can focus the longest and regurgitate facts.  And is that really worth testing?

8 thoughts on “Just Put Them In A Small Room; Why State Test Accommodations Don’t Solve the Problem”

  1. But at the same time, when you have older students (I teach high school sophomores) and they have had these accommodations for years, the accommodations are helpful because those students have been able to create their own comfort zones for testing. They have a routine and even if they don't wind up listening to all of the read aloud or taking full advantage of it all the time, the ones that I have dealt with (as someone who teaching inclusion English) seem to feel supported and often grateful for that support. The tests may not be perfect; the accommodations may not be perfect. But if you take away those accommodations, you're probably making the situation worse.

  2. Tom, as always I am grateful for your comment and the different perspective you bring. since I blog with an elementary lens, I often do not think of "those" kids and what happens once they reach high school, I only see how it effects them at the elementary level. An d there we see tears, sighs, eye rolls and plain old attitude whenever it comes to these tests.

  3. Oh, there are plenty of sighs, eye rolls and attitude when it comes to state tests in my class. I mean, they're usually from me, but they're there ;).Having worked alongside a special education teacher for the last six years, we do put a lot of effort into making sure that all of our students feel that they're getting as much support as possible. It's a true co-taught class.

  4. I found this post to be very interesting. Not being from Wisconsin, I have never experienced the WKCE but it sounds similar to the SAT or ACT test. It was interesting to read about the different accommodations they try to create in order to allow the children to do better on the test. I agree with all of the "debunks" you pointed out. I thought the one you best represented was allowing children unlimited time. I liked your example of giving a French test to someone who does not know French. Also, doesn't allowing unlimited time defeat the purpose of testing students? If they know the answer they don't need unlimited time. I am currently a student at the University of South Alabama, located in Mobile Alabama. I'd like to see a change in the way a state "tests" children. Children are all different and test differently. Maybe one day we will see students tested on something more than just how many facts they can regurgitate.

  5. In addition, when you are made to endure that kind of accommodation under the additional stress of the examination, how much more will additional anxiety do if the examinee have had an exploding-head-syndrome that he wasn't able to get the much needed sleep?

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