Kids geared up for latest round of testing
Karen Parra likes the free snacks on test days. Other than that, though, the Edwards fourth-grader says she can take or leave the state’s testing program.
Students throughout the Eagle County School District are gearing up for the latest round of tests in the state-mandated Colorado Student Assessment Program. Results from the tests rate individual schools. Those that fail to meet state-set targets over the course of three years can, ultimately, be taken over by state officials and run as charter schools.
No schools in Eagle County face that prospect. In fact, last year’s “report cards” from the state had mostly good news for local schools. Of the district’s 16 schools, 11 received grades of “high” or “excellent.” Edwards Elementary is still in the “average” category, but its last report card noted the school’s “significant improvement” from the year before.
While the school gets the grade, it’s the students who take the test. Tuesday, a group of students in third, fourth and fifth grade talked about how they’re preparing for the tests.
For this year’s third-graders, the upcoming writing test is the second set of state exams they’ll take. Last fall, the group took a reading test. “It was really, really, really complicated,” said Yoanna Gonzalez. While Gonzalez and her classmates have been practicing to take the test for some time now, she’s still not entirely sure what to expect. Still, she thinks she’ll be OK.
“Our teachers tell us to take your time, and use the strategies you’ve been learning, use your background knowledge,” she says.
Classmate Shawn Barela said he’s trying to relax. “Our teachers tell us to get good rest, don’t be afraid and go in and do your best,” he said.
‘It’s not so bad’
The teachers also let the kids know the tests are important. Fourth-grade teacher Eva Skvarca said she tries to make sure her students shine when they have to.
“I tell them the test is like one drop in a big bucket,” said Skvarca. “This is their chance to show the big people in Denver what they do. They need to put their best foot forward, because this is their only chance to show these people what I see every day.”
What Skvarca and other teachers see every day is a lot of rehearsal. To help prepare kids for the tests, they’ll take several practice exams in the next subject coming up. With writing up next, all the students have been working on practice tests in which they work on the techniques state examiners are looking for.
“There’s too much practice,” said Parra. Prodded by third-grade teacher Theresa Carullo, Parra added she’d be a lot happier if she could write poetry, rather than essays, in her exams.
Carullo gets to prepare kids for their first state exams. “I think we have more nervous students because it’s their first time,” she said. “After they’re done, though, some say it’s not so bad. We try to prepare them as well as we can. That’s one reason we give them snacks.”
After the snacks are done, though, kids are pretty much on their own. Third-grader Remy Lovett said that was one of the most nerve-wracking parts of her first CSAP test last fall. “You have to believe in yourself,” she said. “If you’re stuck on a question and you can’t find the answer in the test, it’s really hard, because the teachers won’t help.”
Carullo quickly said, “We can’t help. We want to help.”
After the first few times through, though, students get to be old hands at testing. Fifth-grader Juan Carlos Hernandez is in his third year of tests, which he has taken both in English and his native Spanish. He said he now thinks of the tests as no big deal.
Deb Harrison, teacher in the Eagle program for advanced students in third, fourth and fifth grade, said Hernandez’s attitude is fairly common. Some kids have, and always will have, test anxiety, but for the most part, Harrison said, “The kids in fifth grade approach the tests with confidence. They’re prepared for it.”
Barela has that attitude as a third-grader. “The test is easy for me,” he said. “Ms. Carullo has helped me a lot.” Still, he said, he’ll be relieved when it’s over.
So will Parra. “The tests are like a piece of cake,” she said. “The test is good, and cake is good, but they both give me a stomach ache.”