Third graders at Smith Elementary School in Burlington took a break from class on a recent Friday afternoon to reflect on what school had been like lately.
The eighteen boys and girls had been sitting silently at their desks, which were separated from their usual clusters into neat rows. The students were hunched over bubble sheets and multiple choice questions.
“It’s kind of testing, testing, break. Testing, testing, break,” said nine-year-old Eleanor.
For most of May, their teacher, Mary Alys Foutz, had been ramping up the class for end-of-grade testing, or the EOGs. That meant reviewing all of the math and reading students had learned during the year, and taking lots practice tests.
“Every day I’m like, [panting],” said Dylan, who’s also nine. “But at least today I get popcorn for...after school snack.”
As the school year comes to an end, more than 1 million kids across North Carolina have had to prepare for and take end-of-grade and end-of-course testing. Many are now waiting on the results.
For the more than 100,000 third graders in the state, it was the first time taking the exams. That meant, the eight- and nine-year-olds in Ms. Foutz’s class had to sit at a desk for three or four hours, without talking or looking around -- all the while focusing on a stack of reading passages or word problems and more than fifty multiple choice questions.
“The EOG -- I feel like kind of scared, because...it’s like such a long test,” nine-year-old Lucero said the Friday before testing. “We can’t even make one sound. If we make a sound or if we put our head up, like try to look to the next person Ms. Foutz, she’s gonna think that we’re cheating. So then we have to take the test all over again.”
The EOGs measure how much reading and math third graders have learned over the year. Students who haven’t yet demonstrated reading proficiency have to pass to progress to the fourth grade. Taken as a whole, the scores influence a school’s grade on the state’s A through F rating system.
Third grade teacher Ms. Foutz doesn’t like for her students to know all this.
“Because it’ll probably stress them out even more,” Foutz said. “They will be very nervous the day they come in...it’s sad.”
It’s not unheard of for teachers to tell students the stakes involved in the exams. But as a whole, the staff at Smith Elementary focuses on students doing their best.
“I just try to reiterate to them...you don’t show up to your game without practicing,” Foutz said. “You come prepared to the game. So that’s why we’re doing all this now. That way when we you walk in, you will feel confident and you won’t have to worry about things.”
Support Needed For Students Asked To Take ‘Really Long Tests’
The week before the EOGs, Smith Elementary held a pep rally to get kids amped and replace some of their nervousness for the exams. The teachers played each other in softball, and the second graders sang an EOG-themed version of the Nae Nae.
“Use your knowledge, and pass the test,” they sang to choreographed dance moves. “Oo, watch me, watch me. Oo, watch me, watch me.”
“I’ve heard mixed things, especially recently, about giving pep rallies and stuff for the EOGs, and how it’s discouraging for students who don’t end up passing,” Foutz said. “However, the state is asking students to take these really long tests, and I think you need to help support them in that, and encourage them in that.”
Despite these efforts, third grader Eleanor found herself pretty anxious the first morning of exams.
“I felt full...of emotions. Because I was nervous, I was excited,” she said. “And I was very full because I ate Biscuitville breakfast, so I didn’t feel that good either.”
Why was she excited?
“Because I wanted to get the test over with,” she said, “the only reason to be excited for it.”
From ‘Math, Reading, Math, Reading’ to Social Studies and Relief
The day after the exams, Ms. Foutz’s class watched a news segment about an American rubber tree plantation in Liberia, and discussed the concept of interdependence. The social studies lesson was a welcome break for Eleanor.
“Ever since two months ago, we’ve been doing math, reading, math, reading, math, reading,” she said. “So yeah, it’s been mostly math and reading.”
Lucero, who’s usually reserved, could not stop smiling. She spoke in long sentences.
“The lesson we were doing this morning is really, really exciting because...we’re learning about rubber trees, which is a tree that has rubber and it’s from Liberia,” she said.
With the EOGs behind her, Lucero looked and sounded almost like a new kid.