Education
1:18 pm
Mon May 12, 2014

Behind The Test: Training Teachers To Give High-Stakes Tests

School is winding up for the year, and students have the state LEAP test behind them. That’s the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, the standardized test used to measure students’ skills — and, increasingly, to size up teachers and schools as a whole.

This week, as schools await their results, WWNO explores the world of LEAP beyond the test itself, in our "Behind The Test" series. We look behind-the-scenes at test security, emotions around testing, and the growing influence of tests.

Reporter Jessica Williams covers education for The Lens. She starts us off with this report — on the hoops teachers jump through to comply with the rules of the LEAP.

Read more of Jessica Williams' reporting at The Lens.

It’s test proctor training day at Success Preparatory Academy, and there’s a lot to remember. The teachers are playing a fill in the blank game, to help each other out. Leading the group is Melissa LaBarrere, who’s normally the school’s intervention coordinator. Today, though, she’s the test training guru.

On test day, per LaBarrere’s and the state’s rules, teachers will collect cell phones and other distractions, place "Do not disturb" signs on classroom doors, and keep a steady watch as the school’s 3rd through 7th graders try their best at the state’s LEAP and iLEAP tests. Teachers have to make sure that kids’ eyes aren’t wandering to each other’s papers, and that they aren’t erasing too much, or writing on the wrong part of the test.

"Don’t let them touch anything else, or do anything else. Only what you say to," LaBarrere instructs the group. "They love to go bubble in their name underneath in all the letters. Don’t let ‘em do that."

A teacher's preparation begins long before tests are passed out.

Third grade teacher Christy Ivie explains that a teacher’s preparation begins long before tests are passed out.

"We have to cover all of the words in our classroom," Ivie says. "Especially lower elementary teachers, a lot of our classrooms are quite busy and have a lot of posters and information. So, it takes a really long time to cover all of that up."

And that's not all. "We also have to put the desks in a certain formation, and clear out all of the desks," Ivie says. "On that Friday before the test, I’ll have my kids pack up all the materials from their desks, put them in a bag, label them with their name, and we also store that to the side and cover up with paper so that no words are showing. It’s pretty intense."

Intense — and very serious, Ivie says, for teachers too. When a teacher messes up while giving a test, it’s called an administrative error. Some administrative errors are for small rule-breaking — a teacher might forget to read aloud instructions during one part of the test, for example. Still, a kid could have to retake the test because of the mistake.

Others are more serious: if a teacher coaches a kid during a test, they could be fired. Last year, less than 1 percent of all tests taken around the state were voided for these kinds of problems, according to state records. Most errors are reported by schools themselves.

I asked Ivie if she’s ever messed up.

"I don’t think so," she says, laughing. "Um... no."

Her colleagues haven’t, either. Success Prep hasn’t had any tests voided for administrative error in the last four years — a trend staff wants to keep going.

John Fremer is a test security expert with Caveon Consulting Services. He's advised numerous schools, state agencies and testing companies on testing and cheating prevention, and he says Success Prep is on the right track.

"I like the sound of them having monitors. Very good idea," Fremer says. "Sitting at a distance, good idea."

Fremer says teachers will be less likely to game the system if they see their bosses are invested, too; which means sitting through the hours-long trainings.

"If you show up and you sit through that training, and its clear to everyone that the assistant superintendent, or the principal, or whoever it is, cares enough about this to be part of the process with us, I think that sends a very strong message," Fremer says.

At Success Prep’s training, the school’s principal and its business office staff are sitting in. It’s been a long day for everyone, some teachers tell me.

LaBarrere is asking teachers to mark little notes in each section of the manual, so that they remember what they are supposed to do.

"Yellow only! Yellow sticky notes only please!," she says.

They’ll mark the state’s oath of testing security with a yellow sticky note, only, to signify its importance. They’ll rip that oath out, sign it, and turn it in to LaBarrere once all students are done with their tests.

In the oath, they must swear:

I did not give anyone access to the test.

I did not coach students in any manner during the test.

And:

I was informed of state Board policy… regarding the denial, suspension and/or revocation of a Louisiana teaching certificate, due to cheating.

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Support for education reporting on WWNO comes from Baptist Community Ministries, Entergy, The Hechinger Report, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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