A Reader Writes… But I Want a Full Benchmark

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A teacher sent this to the curriculum department in a district that has worked to implement 3-week checkpoints this year.

To the Curriculum Department:

I understand not having a Checkpoint in November because of the upcoming benchmark.  But here is what I do not understand. Why only 30 questions for 2 hours. If we are going to take the time to lose two days of teaching, I would rather have data on a whole benchmark and know how I want to handle my tutorials.  I want the biggest bang for my buck. 

I know we have not covered some items but a whole benchmark would give us a better picture of how hard we need to hit items we have not covered. Plus, what needs tweaking.  I have really tried to understand just having 30 questions and how it is going to help me, but I just do not see it. 

I know on every Checkpoint how my students will score. I know where they are currently.  But more items on a full benchmark would help me with:

A. Do my students have stamina?

B. Do I need to increase student reading time?

C. Which TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) are my very low ones across the board?

D. Do I need to work more on expository writing, narratives, drama and poetry?   This is the data I can get from a whole benchmark versus a half of one.  When I asked if we could administer a full benchmark I was told that there would be a 30-question benchmark in December.  I received no indication we are ever going to have a full benchmark. 

I guess the bottom line is can we have a full benchmark… Please?

SC Response Educators, let’s take a deep breath.  We cannot lament the fact that we test too much on one day and then ask for an extra four hours of testing the next. It makes us look like rank amateurs.  Let’s leave the amateurs antics to the Legislature.

Now to address the specific points of the above letter.

1. The postponement of the Checkpoint was a one-time event.  To not have one robbed teachers of real-time diagnostic information on what was supposed to be taught.  The only valid reason to postpone the checkpoint, sadly, was the recognition that the entire system is behind the required curriculum pacing.  Meaning that it is known that students have not been exposed to the required content, so the checkpoint results are now completely predictable.  But recognize (as the curriculum department does) that this is system and adult failure that is detrimental to students. Thus, the one-time solution of skipping a checkpoint and extending teaching.

2. 30 questions over 2 hours is a reasonable for a cumulative final with embedded preview questions.  This equates to four minutes per question. District finals are scheduled for the final week of the semester, so the risk of losing “quality” instructional time is negligible.  I’m not trying to be mean with this observation, just being real.

3. As for the statement, “…how hard must I hit the items we have not covered,” is ludicrous.  We already know that our students do not know what we have not taught (hence the postponement of the checkpoint). SO TEACH YOUR TAIL OFF… EVERY DAY. Your students need and deserve nothing less.

4. 25 questions, 30 questions, 40 questions…  What’s the point?  The Final needs to have just enough questions to give teachers the information they need to inform their next instructional decisions.  More questions aren’t necessarily better. In fact, I can get better information with a 13-question test than any 30+ question test in use at any school in the state (but that is another discussion).

5. Stamina can and should be built and measured throughout the year. The timed checkpoints, when implemented correctly, do this.  One long test is not how this is done.  You don’t train for a marathon by running one or two a pre-marathons. Let go of superstitious practices and trust the process.

6. Yes, increase your students’ reading time.  You don’t need a benchmark to know that.

7. Yes, keep working on writing.  You don’t need a benchmark to know that.

8. The checkpoints are informing you which TEKS are at risk.  You are getting that information every three weeks.  My question is, “What have you been doing with that information?”

9. Finally there is no set number of questions for a full or half benchmark.  The issue seems to be time, 2 hours versus 4 hours. If the student can’t demonstrate mastery in 2 hours, belaboring the point for an additional 2 hours doesn’t give me better instructional information.  And honestly, I’ll take two additional hours of instruction over 2/3’s of the class waiting for hours for the testing period to end, every day of the week and twice on Sundays.   

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