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Brain Break: students report that the Prairie State Achievement Exams were taken less than seriously by juniors at Central this year

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Illinois high school juniors took the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) on April 24-25 and while most students took the ACT portion seriously, there seemed to be a general apathy about the second day of testing, more commonly known as the PSAE.

The Central Times has learned of several possible testing irregularities that went unreported on day two of the exam, as well as a lack of motivation among some juniors who did not understand the importance of PSAE testing.

Junior Nick Thomas thought that the second day was both much easier and less significant than the first day.

“I understand its purpose is to see where schools are at academically, but I thought, based off the ACT, it was a lot easier,” said Thomas. “I don’t think it has a purpose for the students and I think that’s the problem. It would be easier if schools were graded off their ACT scores because you would want to try harder on the ACT than the PSAE.”

Junior Lesoda Thompson-Eja goes so far as to call the test “pointless.”

“PSAE, honestly, I don’t think it matters,” said Thompson-Eja. “Our school doesn’t need to take that test. It’s more for the inner-city schools to be able to get funding.”

Junior Connor Tobin also sensed that many of his peers were less than enthusiastic about day two of the state testing.

“I don’t think many people take the PSAE seriously,” Tobin said.

Karen Lemanski, director of Student Services and Central’s testing coordinator for the state exam, said that in fact the exam does “matter more than students realize.”

“The scores from both days of testing are combined to create the PSAE score that is reported on every student’s final transcript,” Lemanski said.

Assistant Principal Jackie Thornton explained that each student gets a rating of “exceeds,” “meets,” “does not meet” or “academic warning” based on their combined ACT and PSAE scores. This rating is what goes on the transcript, Thornton said.

Both Lemanski and Thornton also believe that teachers and administrators need to do a better job of explaining to and motivating students who are confused about the importance of day two of the PSAE.

“We need to make sure that we’re maintaining that same level of expectation for day two even though it isn’t the ACT,” said Thornton. “It still is an important part of the state testing, especially for juniors.”

Culinary Arts teacher Terri Rorer proctored the second day of the juniors’ testing and said she also wasn’t sure if a lot of people were taking the test seriously.

“I felt like the kids were kind of done with the test before it started,” Rorer said.

Rorer worries that some students in her classroom did not put forth their full effort.

“You could definitely tell that some of the kids were checked out,” said Rorer. “I question whether some of them actually tried.”

Tobin, Thomas and Thompson-Eja were all in Rorer’s classroom on day two of the exam.

In that particular PSAE room, there were a couple of unnoticed and unreported situations of testing irregularity.

“I was on my phone,” said Thompson-Eja. “I was using a calculator on my phone during the PSAE.”

Thompson-Eja said that he thought the instructions about prohibited actions were very clear and right to the point.

However, “Even though they do say, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that,’ by just having someone say it, doesn’t mean that you’re not necessarily going to do it,” Thompson-Eja said.

Thompson-Eja does not believe what he did should classify as cheating.

Thomas also had cell phone trouble in the same room.

“I don’t think anyone pulled out their phone, but a phone was vibrating, and I was like, ‘whose is that?’ and I was like, ‘Is that my phone?’ because my phone was on a table in the back, and it was my phone so I just turned it off,” said Thomas. “I didn’t even use it.”

According to Thomas, Rorer heard the vibration, came over to his desk, asked him if the phone was his and took the phone away from him.

Thomas believed Rorer did the right thing in taking away his phone.

“I think what she did was fair,” said Thomas. “It wasn’t like I was going to cheat. It wasn’t like my phone was under the table, it was away from me. I didn’t even know it was my phone.”

Lemanski explained that when teacher proctors notice this kind of prohibited behavior, there is a set method for reporting irregularities.

“Teachers are expected to confront the situation with the student(s) involved, notify the test supervisor (for PSAE that would be me) and to write an irregularity report,” Lemanksi said.

Thornton explained that the teachers who proctor the exams are trained for the job during the April late arrival day, when they’re instructed on what to do if they suspect students of cheating.

“What they’re told is ‘that this is what should happen during testing and these are examples of things that shouldn’t happen during testing’,” Thornton said.

Lemanski said that due to confidentiality purposes, she could not disclose the number of testing irregularity reports filed by Central this year. However, she did confirm that cell phones issues are not uncommon during testing days.

“Each year that I have been in charge of the PSAE at Central we have had at least one cell phone violation,” said Lemanski. “When a cell phone violation is reported to me it is always reported to the ACT through an ‘irregularity report,’ and the student’s test is voided.”

Perhaps the fact that students place less importance on the PSAE plays a part in explaining why they think such prohibited behavior is okay on the second day.

“PSAE is probably easier to cheat on than the ACT because it’s a more pointless test so teachers probably don’t care about it as much either,” Thompson-Eja said.

Thomas agreed that because the ACT is a high-stakes exam, students are more serious about following the rules on that day.

“I think that this situation would be different with the ACT,” said Thomas. “I mean there isn’t much of a reason to cheat on the PSAE.”

Lemanski, nevertheless, thinks the vast majority of Central’s juniors and are sincere about this state testing because they have pride in themselves and in their school.

“I think that most students do attempt to perform their best on day two because they understand that the scores are calculated into Naperville Central’s annual yearly progress that is examined by the state and is a reflection of our school’s progress,” Lemanski said.

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Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.
Brain Break: students report that the Prairie State Achievement Exams were taken less than seriously by juniors at Central this year