The past couple weeks have been really busy. One reason is because I am taking an agility class with Brinkley. I had taken one several years ago with Jake, so I thought now would be a good time to try it with Brink. He’s doing okay so far. He finds some things a bit scary, but I can tell he’s having fun!
This past Friday was the last day our library will be open, pretty much for the rest of the school year. AP testing starts today, and that is followed by our state mandated testing (Standards of Learning or SOL). We conduct all our SOL testing on-line instead of on paper, and we get these done in seven days, rather than stretch them out. There are many benefits to this method, but the downside is that all our computer labs and large rooms are filled with laptops in order to get the students in and out of their test. AP classes are highly encouraged in our school, so we have a lot of students who must take an AP test come May. While AP uses paper tests, the large numbers of students requires that the library be used. So we operate out of our office/workroom for the rest of the year.
SOL testing ends after Memorial Day, but senior exams start that week, followed by the other exams. Special Education and ESOL use the library during exams for testing accommodations, so we never really open back up.
The need for all this library use is completely understandable, but it is still frustrating to me. One recent month, we had over 3,000 students sign in to use the library before, during, and after school. Of course, these are not unique visitors as we only have 2,700 students, but this does not include scheduled classes because students do not need to sign in when they are with a class. So that 3,000 number is a lot of different individual needs that need to be met outside the classroom environment.
3,000 is a large number of students who lose access to a variety of resources for the remainder of the school year. Some of these students do not have computers at home and rely on school computer access to complete assignments. We have a solid number of “frequent fliers” who are voracious readers and come in more than once a day to check books out. We do continue to check books out via our workroom door and keep a few carts of new and popular books available back there, but the students miss the browsing experience. The fast readers have already plowed through a lot of the new stuff and whenever they hit the dry spell in between new orders, that is when they browse the shelves to find older books they have not read yet. If they know what they want, we can go pull it, but often the students rely on the serendipity of discovery, which is not an option during all this testing.
Our space is also popular before school and during lunches. Before school, we have anywhere from 100 – 200 students sitting at tables finishing last-minute homework and socializing with friends between 7:00 am, when the school opens, and 7:25, when the warning bell rings. We do not require these students to sign in as the line would never end before the bell rings; they only sign in if they need to use a computer. Once we close, these students must relocate into the halls and find space that is not already staked out by other groups. A lot of students come in during their lunch (they do sign in so they fall under that 3,000). Some come to use our resources, but some come seeking the solitude of 20 library minutes. Students sit in our reading area with the comfy chairs to decompress with a book or a magazine. Students find quiet corners where they can sit on the floor, away from eyes. Others come in to study, work on a library puzzle, or play a game while they eat their bagged lunch. We have many students who are sensitive to noise and crowds and need that time in the library to get through their day without feeling overstimulated.
Starting today, these students lose this constant in their school day. They are forced back into the loud cafeteria, where other students have had the full year to claim their tables. I sympathize for the stress students find themselves under when the end of the school year arrives; class grades and all this high stakes testing brings pressure. Loss of the library, whether it is just the space or all the resources in the space, cannot make that pressure any easier.
Right now, I do not know what the answer is to all of this. I have asked about us staffing a classroom to give students the quiet space, but because our school is so full, there is not a classroom that stands empty during a whole lunch period, so I would have to move to different rooms depending on the lunch shift. I would then have to take responsibility for the teacher and student belongings left in the classroom while they go to lunch. We borrow laptop carts from elementary schools for SOL testing, so we do not have the option of opening a lab for students to use during their lunch shift.
I know that all this testing is not going away for the foreseeable future, and now is not the time for me to climb on another soapbox to talk about the questionableness of these state-mandated, multiple choice tests. But when I look at the students and all their various needs, is it really benefitting our school population to take away library access the last month and 1/2 of the school year? It is a question we ask every year, but it falls on the deaf ears of those who must coordinate testing that is so important to the future of the school.