KITE complications are unacceptable

State testing program still problematic after years of administration, puts unnecessary burden on teachers

By Zia Kelly

Most people could agree that third quarter is terrible. The weather is bad, May seems like centuries away as teachers struggle to maintain the attention of students who are losing motivation by the minute.

On top of that, state assessments add more stress to the packed schedules and pressed curriculum of students and teachers.

This year, sophomore and junior math and social studies classes were put on hiatus while students took part in the Kansas Assessment Program KITE testing. Although state testing is no one’s favorite time of year, this year was especially bad. Juniors who took the social studies essay test were confronted with multiple issues, including poorly-worded and confusing questions and technical errors with the test itself.

“It was time-consuming, it was frustrating to the kids, it was frustrating to me,” said social studies teacher Fran Bartlett, who administered the KITE test to her Survey of United States History classes. “There were lots of problems.”

Some of the questions were worded in a way that made no sense. When students hit “enter” to begin a new paragraph of their essays, their test would freeze or their were kicked out of the test entirely and lost all of their work.

When assistant principal Mike Norris called the state to report the issues, the people who are in charge of the test said they knew about the issues and were not surprised that students were having those problems.

Here is where I draw my first complaint. If the state knew about the issues with the program — issues so significant that students could lose an entire completed test — why are they administering it? Or, at the least, why did they not tell they schools how to navigate the issue?

Bartlett said that the teachers who administered the essay test figured out ways to make it work, like having students write their essay in a different section of the program and copy and paste it into the submission field, but why should they have to do that? If teachers have to take days out of their curriculum — days that, for AP classes, can be important for getting through content before the exam, they should not have to take on the burden to make the assessments work.

Having teachers and students burdened with faulty tests is yet more frustrating when few of them know what is happening with the results and why they’re significant. Then again, it doesn’t seem like the state knows what’s happening with the results, either.

The principle of the tests are simple: to assess whether or not students have learned what they needed to in their classes.

“Each grade and subject has a set of content standards they are supposed to learn,” said Marianne Perie, the director of the Kansas Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. “Every test is based on those. The primary purpose is to see how well the students across the state of Kansas have learned the material in those content standards.”

That makes sense, but it’s also very vague.

Bartlett said she knows that this year’s round of testing is supposed to serve as a baseline for subsequent years, but teachers do not know when or how they will be getting the results of the test back. She also said they usually aren’t able to see individual scores, so teachers can’t really see how their students performed on the test.

Last year’s test results came out in October, and Perie said she expects this year’s to be available by the beginning of July. However, what the test results are used for still seems unclear to most students and teachers.

“In what ways they will use this year’s test to improve next year’s test, I don’t know,” Bartlett said. “That’s never been very clear. We were just told we have to do it.”

Although many teachers seem to think that their job could be jeopardized by the results of the test, Perie said differently.

“There are no consequences for students are teachers — they are informational only,” Perie said. “Hopefully they will be used to help teachers better tailor their instruction to the standards.”

Perhaps the biggest problem is students not understanding what the tests are for. Although most students in high school now are used to state testing, many regard it as most of a chore than a test. Students like junior Ethan Seratte, who took the essay KITE assessment in his AP US History class, were not inclined to take the test seriously.

“I think state testing is dumb, so what I did was I made up an essay that had nothing to do with the prompt,” he said. “I ended up writing about Star Trek.”

After having to go through state testing several years during your school career and having seen no results from it, I see no reason that students would feel obligated to take the test seriously.

Seratte said that while his classmates understood what they were being tested over, few of them thought it was important and said that most thought being assessed over note-taking was pointless.

“It was how we were supposed to take notes or something,” Seratte said. “I thought that was ridiculous since everyone takes notes differently. It’s not graded usually, and so I figured it’s not really that important.”

The people who create the test seem to be aware of at least some of the issues in administering it. Perie said they will be looking to improve the way results are released and used to better fit teachers needs.

“Teachers prefer the tests to measure the same things for several years so that they can adapt their teaching and see the growth in their students,” she said. “That is our plan.”

OK, but here’s the deal: we have been doing this standardized testing thing for the entirety of our public school careers. Improvements are fine, but it seems that teachers and students have no idea about what it being tested, how their scores are being used and what they will determine.

Perhaps these problems would have been normal had they been happening when state testing first became an annual event. But No Child Left Behind, the national initiative that increased state testing, was enacted in 2001.

Granted, state tests changed significantly last year meet the new Common Core education standards. But how is it that in 15 years of state testing and in the second year of the current test, teachers and students can’t know what to expect.

Sure, the state is working on a program that could eventually show some comparative data. But eventually isn’t good enough. When results come without comparison, they mean nothing, so students and teachers are taking days out of class time for results that mean little to nothing each year.

Perhaps, the testing system could be changed so students and teachers can more clearly see comparative results easily.

Bartlett said state testing could be beneficial for students if the results weren’t compared from class-to-class, but compared individuals over time. For example: a student could take a social studies test their freshman year and their junior year and see the improvement of their score over time.

“If we’re using them in that way to sort of show students how much they’re improving…educationally, they’d be much more beneficial,” she said. “But that’s not the way the state has ever seemed to use them. The ramifications on the schools has seemed as if there’s high stakes…That creates an environment with a great deal of stress.”