Many Española School District students have been dreading spending the first weeks of spring hunched over their desks filling in bubbles on the state standards-based tests.
“It sucks,” Española Middle School eighth-grader Mauricio Sanchez said. “I hate it because you’re not relaxed, and you get nervous because it’s testing for the state. You have to do good.”
Several of Sanchez’s classmates aired similar grievances.
“It takes too long,” eighth-grader Danielle Padilla said. “It’s all we end up doing all day long.”
Eighth-grader Robert Trujillo said stress and distractions make the tests unpleasant.
“It’s really stressful,” Trujillo said. “Then you’ve got people annoying you, throwing papers at you, and it makes you want to sock ‘em. I think they should send the tests home with us and we could take it there.”
Neither the state Education Department nor the District has plans to allow students to take home the tests. Students in public schools across the state will spend about 16 hours of class time between Tuesday and April 23 completing the tests, which are mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (see box for explanation).
One student said something that would warm any school administrator’s heart — she actually tries to do her best on the tests. While schools can face state sanctions, their students receive no prize or no punishment for how they do on the tests.
“You just get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast and it’s not so bad,” eighth-grader Adriana Martinez said. “On some of the questions you do get caught up, but you read it again and take your time and think it through. I just want to do my best and get it over with and go to college.”
State Education Department spokeswoman Danielle Montoya said students shouldn’t stress out over the tests.
“It’s not really a high-stakes test for kids,” Montoya said. “One of the first things kids ask is, ‘Does this count for my grade?’ The state test doesn’t count toward students’ grades.”
But schools and administrators press the importance of the state standards-based tests all year long.
“We remind them of the importance of the tests because it’s a reflection on the school if they don’t do well,” Española Valley High School Principal Bruce Hopmeier said.
Hopmeier’s school has failed to meet state standards for two consecutive years. Students aren’t the only ones who find the tests taxing.
“It’s stressful for everyone,” high school junior counselor Ben Medina said.
A planned change in state testing will mean that next school year, 11th-graders will need to test proficiently on this test in order to graduate the following year.
Changes to this year’s test format include one that will weight open-ended questions more heavily than last school year, Distrct Regional Quality Center Director Christiana Sisneros said. Seventy percent of the test will be multiple-choice questions and 30 percent will be open-ended responses, compared with 60 percent multiple choice and 40 percent open-ended questions last year, Sisneros said. Yet, both types of questions will account for 50 percent of a student’s overall score, which is the same as last year, she said.
Also, students responding to essay questions in previous years were allowed to write a draft response, sleep on it and write a final version the next day, Assistant Superintendent Dorothy Sanchez said. This year, students will be required to write the final version the same day, Sanchez said.
The District will only administer the tests in the morning, and never on Mondays or Fridays, Sanchez said.
“Research has shown students don’t test as well on Fridays or Mondays,” Sanchez said. “And we like to give the tests only in the morning when students are bright-eyed and ready to start the day.”
Medina and Hopmeier both said because the high school tests only juniors, figuring out what to do with the rest of the classes during the tests becomes a logistical problem.
“We don’t have any pure 11th-grade classes,” Hopmeier said. “So we get a lot of students displaced during the testing that get assigned to a different teacher and a completely different class that’s not even the same subject matter. We end up doing a lot of babysitting during that time.”
And as soon as the state tests are over, students District-wide will begin another round of tests that are conducted three times a school year to determine how they will do on the state-mandated tests, Sisneros said.
“We are over-testing,” Hopmeier said. “These kids get tested so many times, by the time they get here, it’s just like, ‘All right, let’s just get through this.’”
Sophomore counselor Gloria Champion said that kind of repeated pressure can wear down students.
“The kids don’t care about the tests,” Champion said. “It’s the schools who care. But it’s hard to convince the kids they’re important when you’re testing all the time.”