Monday, March 10, 2014

Slice of Life - State Testing Begins

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in!

Today our state testing begins. As I wrote about last year, I’ve stressed about these tests less and less every year I have taught. I know I am blessed; I am in a district that doesn’t stress about them. My administration doesn’t ask us to teach to the test. They assume we will teach, as we know we should teach, and the rest will take care of itself. As a result, I do very little “test prep.” Instead of peppering it through the year, we look at it as a genre and I teach it for one week. We put up passages under our document camera, read them together, and discuss the questions. I share a lot of think alouds – explaining how I would narrow the options down and come to my answer. We look at the extended response for reading and talk about strategies for answering it. And the kids always do well – exceptionally well – in discussion. Where the true test lies is how they do on their own.

Each year I circle the room as they take the exam and come to the same conclusion – the reading tests (at least in the past) are not that difficult. I ask them to do more on a regular basis. So why doesn’t ever one of them get an “exceeds?” I think there are a variety of reasons. Some struggle with test anxiety. Some are very relaxed, but when faced with a question they don’t know, they just guess instead of using test-taking strategies. Some, in the past, have done poorly because they simply don’t care about the results. When I see a 0 for their writing portion on any test, I know that is because they did not even attempt to answer it. I have a handful that received a zero last year. When I asked them why, they shrugged and said they didn’t think it was a big deal.

And truly, is it a big deal? I give three standardized tests over three days of a one hundred and eighty day school year. That is about 2% of our year together. So what does this test really measure? I’m not sure, but I know what it doesn’t measure.

Test results don’t show readers-
Growing each day.
Staying up late to finish the last page.
Texting friends,
Checking if they had reached “that page.”
Readers who profess to hate reading,
Laughing out loud over Calamity Jack,
Reading passages to anyone who will listen.

The results also fail to find writers –
Pouring out their souls,
Through pens, markers, keys clicking.
Hearts mending as the words and pictures slip out.
Writers growing closer in a class community.
Whispers of, “I didn’t know that about you,”
As they move around the room reading slices.
Writers trying new styles, being brave, being celebrated
In a class of their peers.

And I know that I won’t see the true growth of my students.
The character that has changed.
Kindness growing in hearts.
Comments held back,
Breathing before talking,
Learning to watch what they say.
It won’t show the tears when they’ve messed up,
Because now they know better.
The apologies that come immediately,
Because when you mess up, you own up.
The results won’t show the leaders that have stepped forward,
How they’ve learned to Be Brave.
How they’ve grown,
Soaring to the heavens.

And nowhere on those results will you see the growth of the teacher.
What I’ve learned from another year with students.
How my heart is full to bursting,
The pride I have for them flowing over,
Permeating my entire being.

No, the ISAT won’t measure that.
What is measured will be reported back.
I will look over the data.
Thinking of what I could have taught differently.
Lamenting the kids who struggled when I felt they would do well.
And realizing that this is just a snapshot,
Just a moment,
Of our year together.

So I won’t stress out about these tests.
I’ll celebrate with my students the extra reading,
And writing,
Time we will gain this week.
Squeeze a few conferences in.
And be ready to start anew when they’re done.