Standardized Testing: HBHA Style

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Sophomore Haidee Clauer takes a an

Elana Goldenberg

Sophomore Haidee Clauer takes a an
Sophomore Haidee Clauer prepares for the PSAT with a practice test. Photo by Elana Goldenberg.

Pencils are tapping. Knuckles are cracking. Brains are preparing. “Today you will be taking a test called…” a teacher begins. The room falls silent as Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA) students wait to start their standardized tests.

HBHA students in grades two through 12 take standardized tests almost every year. Lower school students take the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests in Reading and Mathematics in both the fall and spring semesters. Middle school students also take the MAP tests, but they take Reading in the fall and Mathematics in the spring instead of taking both tests each semester. The goal of MAP testing, according to HBHA Director of Testing and Teacher Development Laura Hewitt, is to “give the teachers a lot of data to use to help drive their instruction.”

High school standardized testing is geared toward preparing students for college. At HBHA, sophomores and juniors take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) every fall. Beginning this year, HBHA sophomores will sit for the ACT Aspire, a computerized form of the ACT PLAN Assessment taken by past students. A typical HBHA student will then go on to take either the SAT, the ACT, or both college-bound standardized tests during their junior and senior years of high school. HBHA proudly offers Sunday testing on-site for both the SAT and ACT tests as an alternative to the regular Saturday test dates that fall on Shabbat. HBHA is also a testing site for Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Students, mainly upperclassmen, taking any of the six optional AP classes at HBHA are required to take the corresponding national exam(s) in May.

Everything associated with each of these exams is standardized. Proctors must read from a script and students must not be sitting too close to one another. Talking during the exams is forbidden. Sharing answers afterwards is prohibited. Answer bubbles must be filled in completely. If each standardized test must be given the same way at every school, how can the HBHA testing environment be unique without giving students unfair advantages?

Upper School Principal and College Guidance Director Todd Clauer says that “the number one thing is that it’s smaller.” He adds, “It’s usually one room or two rooms of testing. That makes a difference in the sense of the comfort level of the students. Once [students] are in the room with the proctor taking the test, I don’t know that the experience is really any different [than at another test center].”

HBHA senior Adena Goldberg can attest to the comfort of taking college-bound tests on a Sunday at school. Goldberg recently took the SAT and “felt calmer because [she] was familiar with the environment.” She adds, “The fact that I’ve known the proctor since kindergarten helped me relax during the test. The small number of students taking each test is nice, too. I happened to be the only one taking this SAT and that definitely made me less nervous.”

The small testing environment does more than relieve stress for test takers; if an incident occurs during an exam, the process is a lot less complicated when there are fewer students involved. In May 2015, the fire alarm went off during the AP English: Language and Composition exam. What could have been a major issue was a minor problem “because the group was small,” says Hewitt. “I called [AP] from outside to report the incident [during the fire drill]. We were all standing together, so I knew [the students] weren’t talking about the test. AP was okay with that.”
At the end of the day, there is no true difference in the way that standardized tests are given at HBHA and at other schools–and there cannot be. The nurturing atmosphere, however, is what does set HBHA apart and allows every student to put forward his or her best effort on test day.