Illinois State Achievement Tests

Here’s my story:

The Good: Back in the late ’90’s my colleague and I were looking over the “new” standards and saw the word “abiotic”. We were educated, well-trained Science teachers and we were stumped. (It shows up as a misspelled word on Word) We looked up abiotic and like many teachers taught about rocks and sand. It seemed too shallow. Why was it so important? Finally as we were teaching Oceanography, we got it. We taught the abiotic influences of the ocean including temperature, salinity, pressure, pollution,etc. The non-alive features influencing environments. Our Oceanography unit became richer and the high assessments scores felt good.

The Bad: As time went on, the ISAT tests became increasingly important and put us in a pressure cooker. The ISAT test creates a situation in the 7th grade in which the teachers need to cover material as opposed to experience science. Our book used to be a reference, it now covers the vocabulary necessary for passing the tests. Soon we will be evaluated on the test results. If an evaluation for economic advancements is based upon test scores, why wouldn’t a professional spend every minute covering material? The focus on quantitative results is easy to understand. It works really great in charts and graphs because the tests are based upon reading skills, especially vocabulary. This puts Science teachers in a moral bind. We were trained as experiencial educators but the tests hold us back and we have had to become science-reading educators. When can be go back and do both again?

I have high hopes that the Common Core Standards (CCS) will help solve this dilemma. Many of us have already started using the Reading and Writing Science CCS. They seem EXACTLY what we know what to do; use problems as a focus for investigation and defend our results using our data. Only time will tell how the assessments will help us to improve instruction as opposed to threaten us into complying with easy-to-test questions.


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