It's finals week at our school and this brings up one of the most shameful aspects of my classroom.
My students consistently do poorly on standardized tests.
The two sections of precalculus that I teach have, in local lingo, Common Course Exams. The district writes the exams for all precalculus students in the county to take and this counts as the final exam for every precalculus course (no curve). It consists of 50 multiple choice questions and we teachers are not meant to look at it until we are handing it out to students to take.
This year, my averages were 41% (high of 74%; 21 students took the exam) and 45% (high of 70%; 19 students took the exam) for the two sections I teach.
The issue doesn't just start there, though. For other courses I've taught with these CCEs in the past, the same issue has arisen. And most ashamedly, in my students' AP scores. Last year, for example, not a single one of my 19 Calculus AB kids passed with a 3 or better on the AP exam.
What makes me feel worst about this is that I don't know why this is an issue for my classes.
I have a list of excuses below, but ultimately I feel like I am: 1. Misrepresented by the data (which has cost me the chance to teach calculus next year since the principal is not happy with the scores from my previous classes) and B. Letting down the students who do seem to be trying.
- I do not get to see the exam before it is given, so I cannot easily prepare students for what is expected
- I teach mostly seniors, so many of them are not focused at the end of the year
- At our school, seniors can be exempt from the final exam if they: A. Have an A in the class and B. Have not missed more than 6 days of school. This will bring down my class averages since the best students will not be taking the exam.
- Alternatively, students may be exempt from the final exam if they take the AP exam (regardless of how seriously or whether they are seniors or what their grade is in the class or attendance). This artificially lowers my AP scores since many students (who admit it before going in) will sign up to take the AP exam just so they can be exempt from the class exam.
- Many students who are already failing in my class have just "given up" on the class and do not even attempt the exam. Still others play the numbers game and calculate things like, "I can still pass the class (or maintain a B) if I get a 25% on the exam."
- The exam was 50 multiple choice (4 choices) questions to be finished in 2 hours. Every question missed lowers the grade by 2%, so to get an A, for example, you can only miss 4 questions.
- The same CCE is given to both honors and standard levels. What's more, the exam was written by 3 teachers who have exclusively honors level classes. I teach all of the standard level classes at our school. The honors teacher had an average of 66% (high of 86%)
Rebuttals to excuses above:
- This is an issue for every teacher and not all are having the same results as myself.
- This, too, is not specific to my classes. Also, if the students know the material well enough, this shouldn't be a very big issue
- In the class with the 45% average, I had at least 4 juniors with an A in the class who were not exempt.
- This is a big issue and a problem I have with our district's policy. It still does not account for all students and having none pass last year is abysmal.
- This does not account for all students, and I know many of them worked hard to review and of the 2 hour exam, most took at least 80 minutes, so they thought about it some.
- Most students took between 80 and 110 minutes to finish the exam. Nobody was still working at the bell, so time did not seem like a true issue (although they may have been watching the clock and gave up a few minutes early).
- We are still in the middle of exams, so I don't know what other numbers from the county may be like. The honors teacher's numbers seem more reasonably explained by these excuses than my own.
So, I don't know what to do about this. Whenever I get results like these back (which is too often), I get depressed and want to give it up. Not teaching, because I couldn't give that up, but maybe these "new fangled methods." If I'm going to be judged on standardized tests, maybe I should go with the tried-and-true methods of drilling homework for grades and a standard quiz/test system that gives students one high-stakes chance to get it right.
I don't know. I'll have all summer to get over it (until AP scores come in, I guess) and should come back around. I know my students know the material. They have it mastered from what I can tell in class, but they can not show it when the data counts. I took it as flukes the first couple years of this happening, but now it has become a pattern.
Altruistically, I know my students are learning and enjoying learning. They master all of the skills on the curriculum and then some. They are challenged and enjoy me as a teacher. An interview with ANY of my students (even those who gave up on the class and failed) would let you know what kind of teacher I am. Ultimately, they learn and that's what counts. I just hate that I may end up a martyr for it.