Monday, February 20, 2012

Thoughts on Test Prep



Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers


Slice of Life – my mind was spinning. What to write about today? What small moments have happened that I can reflect upon? And then, I checked my Google Reader. Ruth had written a post on Test Prep on Two Writing Teachers. I clicked over, read it. I found myself nodding at my computer. A few times I said, “YES!” as I read. This is something I’m a little passionate about. So, if it is ok, my reflection today will focus on it.

Here in Illinois we are preparing for TESTING SEASON. Ok, made that up. But isn’t it a bit like hunting? Seriously, our state tests are called the ISATs and they begin the first full week of March. So how do I prepare? Should we drill and kill?
J Love that phrase. It says a lot, doesn’t it? Should we devote the entire month (or year) to preparing for the test? I know it is tempting. I know there is more pressure than ever for our kids to pass these flipping tests, but I still say no.

Now, while I say this it is with a caveat. I do think teaching “test taking” as a genre isn’t a bad idea. I think I first heard that idea from Nancie Atwell. Writing for these types of tests requires a different type of writing than what we normally do in workshop. The kids don’t get the chance to draft, revise, draft some more, conference, etc. I do show them how to read a prompt, think about what it says, write a response. We talk about how you can eliminate choices you know are incorrect when reading a question. How to look back at a text for an answer, etc. But, I don’t spend a lot of time on it. Honestly, I think if you are cramming that much in at the last minute, it won’t help anyway.

And, here’s the thing, my son Luke will be taking the test for the first time this year as a third grader. I’m pretty confident when he’s 18 I will have no idea how he did on his third grade ISATs. But I will remember when he began reading the book WONDER by R.J. Palacio. (Thursday, February 16th if you want the date) I will remember how he would curl up with me, listen to me read. How he’d question why kids can be that mean. How he’d ask if there are truly parents who don’t care about their kids like Miranda’s and Julian’s. How he got tears in his eyes when reading one certain part. How he said he wished he could be Auggie’s friend. These things I will remember, the year my son fell in love with a book. The year I knew he was a reader. That is a gift. His score on the ISAT will not show me that he can connect with a book. The tear stained, spilled upon, worn pages of WONDER does. And, contrary to many people’s opinion, this can be taught. And the workshop model is the perfect way to teach it.

So will my students be ready for the ISAT? I think so. I’ve tried to demystify the test. We’ve read, we’ve discussed, we’ve connected to stories, to words, to articles, to characters. They know I believe in them and I think many are finally believing in themselves. And while I see them bend over their test booklets on March 6th, I will say a prayer. For them not to get anxious, to do their best, and that our country will wake up soon and remember what is important. It isn’t the numbers, the scores, it is the kids. And those scores do not tell the whole story. 

17 comments:

  1. Sounds like you have a good attitude about the whole messy business.
    Bonnie

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  2. The important things--I love that you will remember the book your son fell in love with. You are right, no one will remember those scores when he's 18! They may matter to someone in government, but that's not the real learning kids do!

    Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Christy Rush-LevineFebruary 21, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    Exactly! If only student growth could be measured through personal stories, the world would be a better place! I love the testing season/hunting season comparison. We are beginning to gear up for ISAT testing and I just hate to see what it does to our kids. I am trying to soften the blow as much as possible. Your words and Ruth's remind me to try harder!

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  4. Here! Here! You have echoed my thoughts about all this test prep. Now you've piqued my curiosity about Wonder, I will be checking out the library and placing a hold.

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  5. Yay - please do read it. Wonder is one of those books that you will think about long after finishing.

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  6. Absolutely! Softening the blow is my main goal during the test. I'm sure you are doing a wonderful job.

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  7. Thanks, Deb. I try to remember what is important but sometimes that is hard when everyone gets swept up in test anxiety at school. :)

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  8. I'm trying. Thanks Bonnie!

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  9. What a powerful post. I couldn't agree more. If we teach child the skills to be passionate learners, then they will do amazing things in life. That test is just a blip on the radar of their life. I am so glad that your son discovered a book that touched him so deeply...that's my wish for every child that steps through my classroom door.

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  10. So glad we don't deal with that kind of challenge overseas. Ya'll have fun in 'test season' and remember if you ever want to teach without it there are great jobs with fabulous kids to be had.

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  11. Elizabeth - thanks. I agree, that is my wish for all of my students too. I'm glad I got to see my son connect this weekend to remind myself of what is important.

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  12. Mrs. L - where do you teach? There are times that I would love to move overseas, in so many countries education is in a much better place. We live near my parents, however, and I'd hate to leave right now.

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  13. We, too, are in the midst of "testing season" in Indiana. 2 more years of the ISTEP test and then we delve into the PARCC assessments. It still amazes me that the powers that be place so much emphasis on one test. I enjoyed reading your post.

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  14. Good morning! My name is Dorothy Milne and I am the publicity intern with Tundra Books. I was hoping you would be able to email me your mailing address as we would like to send you a copy of Marthe Jocelyn's, "Scribbling Women" with a study guide. My email is: domilne@mcclelland.com . Thank you!

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  15. I know. I feel like the testing is just going to get more intense. Hope I'm wrong. And thanks, Mindy!
    K

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  16. Sure thing, thanks Dorothy!
    Katherine

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