Education Reform

Katie Lapham: My First Grade Students Take Too Many Tests

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Have you ever wondered what the school day is like for a student in first grade? These are little children, maybe six-years-old.

Katie Lapham teaches first grade in New York City in a low-income school. Read what they do here:

“I administered the first grade benchmarks to my class of 25 students. Pearson’s ReadyGEN ELA assessment was comprised of five multiple choice comprehension questions and five multiple choice vocabulary questions. It also contained a writing question for which students stated an opinion and included a reason (a detail from the text) to support their opinion. While students were given a copy of the realistic fiction reading passage, I was instructed to read it aloud to them three times. From the groans and sighs emitted from my students as I commenced the second reading, I deduced that they didn’t find the passage to be particularly riveting.

“A number of questions and answer choices, which I also read aloud to them, were poorly constructed and confusing. A vocabulary question tricked students by offering large and huge as possible answer choices for What does enormous mean? For one of the comprehension questions – and for the writing piece – students were required to go back to the text to get the answer. I would have lost points on the test if I hadn’t re-read the part of the text that contained the information. Students had to know where to go in the text and they had to be able to both decode and comprehend the paragraph in order to answer the questions correctly.

“As this test was administered in a whole class setting, I found it exasperating trying to make sure the students were paying attention and answering the right question. I observed that some of my strongest readers randomly picked answers – the wrong ones – and theorized that they weren’t paying close attention to the read aloud and/or to the reading of the questions. Only the multiple choice answer choices appeared on the test, not the questions.

“The first grade GO Math! assessment was comprised of 40 multiple choice questions, which I administered over the course of two days. Of the 40 questions, 15 tested skills that students haven’t yet learned. As I alluded to above, giving a test to a group of 25 first graders is emotionally taxing for the teacher. The kids sit together at tables so dividers are needed to prevent cheating. Also, first graders aren’t yet test savvy; some don’t know to consider all four answer choices before choosing the correct one. Multiple choice is NOT a developmentally appropriate method to use in formally assessing six and seven-year-olds. Furthermore, because the test is read to students, teachers must be vigilant to ensure that students are on the right question. For these reasons, I decided to split up the class into three groups for the administration of the GO Math! assessment. While I was testing a small group, laptops occupied the other students. For group three, I had to translate the test into Spanish.”

She assumes that students in affluent districts have time for activities and the arts, not just test prep.

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