Students, staff reflect on week of ISASP testing

Last week students around Cedar Falls School District took the ISASP tests. ISASP stands for the Iowa Assessment of Student Progress; these are standardized tests for students grades 3 through 11. All students take a math, reading, writing and language usage test and students in grades 5, 8 and 10 take a science test. The testing took place on Tuesday, March 29 and Wednesday, March 30 for Peet and Holmes, and at the high school testing was on Tuesday and Thursday, March 31. Scheduling was different for the junior high schools on Tuesday and Wednesday, as students took two of the tests in the morning as well as some of their classes in the afternoon. 

Since this is my first year doing ISASPS here in Cedar Falls, I am not sure how the testing will impact the schedule with students that go to the high school. If the schedules at both Peet and the high school are the same, then it should be similar to a normal schedule.” Peet ninth grader Melissa Stuber said. And 9th grade physical science teacher Jan Mord agreed. “The schedule we have at Peet for the ISASP testing does limit the time I can work with students in ninth grade science, but I feel the data we can collect from these tests is worth the time as it provides us with insight as to how well we are improving in certain subjects from year to year. The data also allows us to compare our school district to others across the state of Iowa.”

While the state does use the results and teachers can learn more about their teaching and how to improve it, some students and staff admit the tests can be problematic. Norby said, “I am not a fan of standardized tests. There are problems with them, and they reduce often everything about a student to multiple choice questions; also, the results are less than transparent and only offer a small amount of data that is useful for teachers.” 

The tests range anywhere from 45 minutes to 70 minutes, and not all students completed the tests in their scheduled time, so they had to transition to the Peet library and finish taking the tests. Some students find this amount of tests overwhelming, and staff spent the week before having students take practice tests. The practice test helps teachers see what students know for the general knowledge in each subject and if there is anything teachers need to reteach students. 

I think our ninth graders will do well on the concepts we have covered this year, but I do worry about whether they remember skills that were taught to them in seventh or eighth grade (like geometry content),”  Stuber said. “I believe most of the questions test students on content that they have learned (or will learn), and hopefully they will remember how to solve them.” 

After the math test, some students commented how they did not know some of the answers, but a lot said it was not too difficult besides that. Stuber did acknowledge that “Unfortunately, we will not have taught everything. We still have two-three more units this year, so there will be some problems that students may not know due to the fact that they have not been taught that content.”

All of the other ISASP tests for students (except for fifth, eighth and 10th graders) are English related. Nathaniel Norby is a ninth grade English teacher at Peet, and he said, “English comprises multiple skills—reading and writing are not the same and therefore students need to take both of them to show both their ability to comprehend what they read and their ability to write down their thoughts. Even if a student does not go to college, these are essential skills to be successful in life.” 

And the tests certainly cover these skills: there are two tests that have multiple choice questions and short answer questions, and one writing test students write a narrative essay in the span of 70 minutes. 

Peet freshman Kyle Beckner said, “I think that ISASPs are important for schools, but they are also very long.”

In English classes students were also taking practice tests throughout the previous week. Students were attempting to prepare themselves for success; however, by the time many were aware of ISASPs, they were a bit short on studying time. Some students do not have an opinion of ISASPs, but others want to be the most successful they could be. Norby said, “What would be considered successful for one student might not for another. Throughout their time in the CFCSD, students have been exposed to the same content that is tested. Our students test well because we consistently hold them to high standards. While I don’t think the test is that important (students know the information whether or not they are tested on it), it is nice to have that as an overall data point to reaffirm for our district that we are doing certain things well, and, if students don’t do as well on certain aspects, it gives us an idea of what we can work on.” 

Because the state has decided on only those specific tests for students, some other departments get slightly looked over. Some teachers get results on their teaching while other subjects don’t. For science teachers, it really depends what grade they are teaching, Mord said. “As a ninth grade science teacher, I do wish I could see some data on my current students so I could see how much they have improved within a smaller time frame. Currently we only look at eighth grade science data and 11th grade science data. If I could see more current data, I would be able to better pin-point my instructional strengths and weaknesses.  But again, I realize more testing requires more time and more sacrifice.”  

Freshman Greta Huhn said, “ISASPs should not be a measure of our intelligence in school because we have not been taught all of the content. Instead we should take finals like other freshmen in other districts.”  

Peet freshman Adalyn Terpstra Schwab agreed. “I think ISASPs are long, tiring assessments that drain most students and stress them out on top of all their other school work. I think that while the district and state may find them necessary, I believe that every student can agree we wish there was a different way to test our learning besides a state-wide assessment. I think one of the biggest reasons why most students dislike the tests is because most students at Peet already do well when it comes to academics. When you spend all year taking tests proving your learning and getting certain grades only to have to take a big state wide test in the spring to prove your learning again is redundant and repetitive.” 

After this long week of schools testing (and with more to come at the elementary schools), students and staff are ready for the weekend to come and teachers are anxiously waiting for the results of ISASPs. 

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