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Writing Test Club

February 7, 2014

In the movie, Fight Club, the main characters operate under a strict set of rules.

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club: Someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: no shirts, no shoes. Seventh rule: Fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.

Similarly, with the Oklahoma School Testing Program, the first rule of writing test is that you don’t talk about the writing test. Traditionally, the entire state has taken the writing test on the same day, with a few students having to make up the tests later. This year, many Oklahoma educators have been calling for the Feb. 26 date to be pushed back because of the unusually high number of snow days we’ve had across the state. Yesterday, the SDE sent out this notice in response:

OSDE: Modification to grades 5 an [sic] 8 Statewide Writing Day

OK State Dept of Ed sent this bulletin at 02/06/2014 12:26 PM CST

Dear Superintendents, Principals, and District Test Coordinators,

Due to the inclement weather our state has been experiencing, the State Department of Education is making a modification to the grades 5 and 8 Statewide Writing Day which was previously scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 2014.  Districts will be allowed flexibility to establish their own testing day for all students in attendance within the same testing window of February 26 – March 7. All makeup tests will need to be completed within this window as well. Districts should then package all Writing tests and ship them back to CTB for scoring. If you have questions, please contact the Office of Accountability and Assessments at (405) 521-3341.

They sort of gave us what we want, albeit quite clumsily. Immediately, two responses began popping up on social media. The first is gratitude. The second is disbelief.

This is a good question from someone who knows more than a little about testing validity and reliability. We give the writing test on the same day across the state to sequester the writing prompt. While I doubt any teachers will be seeking out information about the test from schools that have chosen to give it early, this still could potentially impact the entire process.

Since I am a self-styled helper, I have taken it upon myself to develop some guidelines that will help with test security during the newly created writing window.

  1. You do not talk about the writing prompt – whether you’re a student or adult. The last thing we need is people losing their certificates because they found out what the writing prompt was and made a single remark about it publicly.
  2. You do not talk about the writing prompt – Seriously! If someone goes ahead and gives the test on Feb. 26 and a student discusses the prompt, and then teachers begin discussing the prompt, the SDE will be all up in your business.
  3. When a student is tired or frustrated with writing, the test is over. This happened quite a bit last year when the testing company changed the format of the test and teachers were caught off guard. I have a feeling teachers will have students more prepared for surprises this year.
  4. There will be only two texts to a writing prompt.  Students will read two excerpts of texts and then respond to a prompt. The key is that they need to clearly cite the example texts as evidence of their points, but do so in a way that is not plagiarism. It’s a degree of nuance that ALL fifth graders have down, right?
  5. Write one sentence at a time, students. Oklahoma teachers who have students write frequently and evaluate their writing in a way similar to how these tests are scored probably have a leg up on the field. The SDE has a page with the writing standards, sample prompts, and rubrics for scoring student work. We only have a few weeks left, but if you’re teaching these grades, and you’re not familiar with these documents, you should probably take a look.
  6. Dress comfortably; we might be here a while. Whether we’re dealing with computer tests or not, expect the unexpected. Dress in layers. Maybe keep some extra Skittles in the pouch of your hoodie. This might not go as planned.
  7. Take your time. Students are scored on the quality of the response, not how quickly they finish. Remind them that writing is about expressing their ideas and that no matter what they write, they should be proud of it. As someone who finds writing cathartic, I never tire of telling students this.
  8. Everybody must test. This is Oklahoma. There are no opt outs. Except when there are.
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