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. 
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