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Access Testing (Again)

Every year, the state and federal government requires that we assess the proficiency of all ELLs in our district. At the high school level, this can be a nightmare to schedule, especially with such a large, populated building. However, this year we decided to run an experiment: to test all students on a day already designated for other testing. 

Each year my school district provides a day for high school juniors to take the ACTs. The building is basically closed with the exception of 11th grade students who choose to participate. Staff are then designated to proctor or assist proctors in rooms. It’s an incredible opportunity for the students to be given the time for such an important exam. Best of all, for them it’s completely free. After last year’s nightmare of Access testing problems, we came up with the idea of also having our EL students arrive on that day and take as much of the Access test as they could complete. 

For the weeks and days leading up to “Testing Day” my colleagues and I were incredibly stressed out. We had no idea how this was going to work. On top of that, students were technically not required to be here and knew their friends were not going to be here. This made it a struggle to convince them that attending was in their best interests. The idea that all our hard work and coordination efforts could be washed away was something that we struggled to keep off our minds. 

Testing day arrived and surprisingly so did the students. Immediately upon entering the building I passed pockets of students here and there as I quickly made my way to the classroom to start preparing for the day. As the clock drew near to the 8:20 mark, the hallway was full. Our messaging system seemed to have worked. But I still didn’t have an official count, and I also was feeling the effects of an unprepared proctoring staff. We could have used a training day (I wrote this down for next year). 

Problem after problem poured in as computers weren’t working, headphones were missing, and access codes were incorrect. That was every room. Being secluded to my own room where half my students did not show up, I spent quite a bit of time trying to calm myself down and use self talk to remind myself that this was only our first try. Finally, at 20 minutes past the beginning mark, a shipment of headphones arrived and all my students began testing. 

My spirits were continuously elevating as the day wore on and different tests were administered. By the end of the day, the final attendance tally was brought to me. Almost 70% of the scheduled students arrived that day. It was an absolute success. Last year at the same time it took us almost 2 and a half weeks to get as far as we just accomplished in one day of testing. There are several reasons for this.

First, we didn’t have to chase students down before beginning the test. This took up entire blocks of time last year and the year prior. Even when students receive a pass in a timely manner, they typically ignore it being more worried about their current class than the exam. While I certainly don’t fault them for this as I also see the test as worthless, it doesn’t make my job any easier. 

Second, with a dedicated day to testing, we were able to get students through 3 / 4 exams. In contrast to years prior, the typical rate of progress has been one test per grade per day. In math terms, 52% of all our ELL students are now 75% complete. Why is it only 52%? It’s only 52% because we only had scheduled for 160 students for that day. This number excludes the 11th graders who took the ACT test as well as our students who take the alternate version by hand. Either way, this is incredible. Again, to get this far last year, we were getting uncomfortably close to our testing window end date. 

The third reason why I think this worked so well is the amount of proctors we had and resources dedicated to making the day work so well. In fact, I’m writing the thank you email at this moment. We could not have been as efficient as we were unless we had the team we had. Mistakes that could have sunk and individual exam were quickly resolved, e.g., lack of headphones. Headphones were found within minutes and brought in which made a massive problem turn into nothing more than an issue for next year. 

I could go on, but regardless, the day was a success. I am floating on cloud 9. Granted, there is still work to do. we are only half way there and more tests need to be scheduled. However, knowing that in one day we got as far as we did gives me hope. Hope that in two weeks we will be sending off the boxes back to MDE. Hope that in two Fridays from now, we can celebrate the end of our testing season by setting a record pace. 

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