Wahoo! We made it through the state proficiency writing exam. Of course, the results will not be back for a few months, but the TEST is over.
It's been a rough path because the test changed. In the past, our 8th grade students spent two days writing a one narrative or descriptive essay. Now the students are tested on two different expository topics in one sitting, much like students do for the high school exam. Apparently, the federal government thought our 8th grade test needed to look more like the high school exam, thus the change.
As you can imagine, in a time of test mania, we have always focused more on narrative writing than expository writing. Yes, yes, we did teach expository writing, but for the sake of the test, there was so much more focus on narrative. (Those high school teachers are going to so thankful with this test change for sure because their jobs should be easier now!)
I agree with having students write expository essays over narrative at this age, but I don't know if I agree with making them write two essays in one sitting. The time suggested is two hours, but as long as students are working productively, they may take as long as they need. For most students, it was between three and four hours. Rough!
So, with the change in test, it's been a panic to get the kids ready. It's been a rough road, starting from scratch with some of the students, and I still have students who can't write a decent thesis--by my standards at least. And I almost started crying when I saw one of my students, who was one of the last to finish, turn in an essay with three sentences in each paragraph. Bless his heart for trying so hard...but seriously, I wanted to quit on the spot. I wanted to shred the tests I glanced at that had a boring restate-the-question-in-the- answer-lead. I can't even tell you how many times I told them that they needed to make a good first impression and not do the functional, "If I were to compare and contrast blah, blah, blah..." And you know I didn't just "tell" them, right?
From the beginning when we heard about the change, I was worried sick about two general things: (1. distrust that the state's test, which was scant on information and materials at first, would actually assess what they said it was going to assess, and (2. our gains in writing the past few years (indicated on the old state assessment) would all be lost and nobody would acknowledge that our scores were lower because of the test bait-and-switch, not because of my instruction or our students' abilities.
The test is over now. I'm putting my fears on the back burner for now. We're moving on to the next obstacle: the state reading test.
(And the rest of the year: PROJECTS!)