May 1, 2014
Happy May Day! Ok, enough celebration; back to the rigors of, “How is my child progressing in school?” aka Standardized Testing. Funny thing is, parents used to simply talk to the teacher. Oh wait, I forgot, teachers are union-loving ne’er-do-wells who rest on their laurels because they can’t get fired, at least the tenured ones. What could they possibly tell a parent about how well little Susie or little Johnny is progressing in the classroom? Turns out, quite a bit actually.
A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a very dear friend of mine whom I have known for close to 40 years; she is also a teacher. Included in the message were suggestions on how to keep your mind and body alert and engaged during the testing sessions that we were about to partake. Let me explain. It falls on teachers to administer and proctor standardized tests. Now, this may sound like a walk in the park, I assure you, it is not.
Here was my role in this past session’s testing:
We had four days of testing. Testing ran from 7:30am until 11:30am with one 15 minute break from 9:15am until 9:30am. During the sessions, I am not allowed to sit, talk, read a book, listen to Pandora, go to the restroom, eat, drink, or answer student questions with anything other than, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” What I can do, what I must do, is continually walk up and down the rows of students, glancing at their tests to make sure they are progressing through the test and that all the little bubbles are completely darkened and there are no stray marks from any number 2 pencils anywhere on the answer sheets. Obviously, the difficulty lies in keeping both your brain and your body alert so that you do not (gasp!), sit down. Thus, possibly invalidating the testing session.
Here is what I did to stay alert:
I was in a testing session with approximately 135 8th grade students. Most of my 80 or so students were in the same session. As I walked up and down the looooong rows of students (we were in a hallway of one of school buildings), I wrote down a two or three word phrase to describe each of my students. I had two rules for this game. 1. It has to be a positive description. and 2. It must perfectly encapsulate the student. For example, Untamed Adventurer is the description I chose for one young man who cannot sit still, has to make noise, and who goes to great lengths to keep me off track in my lessons during class. We have had a few run-ins, nothing major, and it would be easy to describe him as Unruly Kid. But, that wouldn’t capture who he really is. Untamed Adventurer fits him perfectly.
PH has all the qualities of someone seeking adventure, you can see it in the sparkle in his eyes and the impish grin on his face. His energy is palpable, he is just itching to let loose. He is a wild mustang, yearning to run, stopping only long enough to catch his breath and then it’s off to the next adventure. He slows down for nothing and no one. Ahh, but this causes him to inadvertently run into fences. When he runs into a fence, he hits it, full force, never slowing down. He plows through the fence, never thinking of the consequences, only thinking of the adventure of the flight. Sometimes he hurts the fence, sometimes he hurts himself. It is of no consequence, he thinks, he will mend and tomorrow he will be off to the next adventure. See what I mean, untamed. He has yet to learn what every great adventurer must learn: being reckless will get you killed.
As I was walking up and down the rows of students, thoughts such as those would play in my head as I put each of my students, individually, in my mind and let who they are speak to me. I started this game out of sheer boredom, but it became important to me. It became important because I want to know my students, really know my students. I’m sure some of you dear Readers want to know how my little game has anything to do with my being able to measure my students’ abilities and progress insofar as language arts is concerned. Well, I put to you that my assessment is much more accurate and worthwhile than any standardized test.
If I were to give PH’s parents the results of my assessments, in addition to what I said above, I would tell them that the untamed part of PH is what gets in the way of his academic progress. He is by no means lazy and he can certainly understand the concepts of the English language better than the average 8th grade student. He is very good at reasoning out a problem, making inferences and accurately determining what motivates characters in a story to do what they do. In the not-so-distant future, these skills will allow Untamed Adventurer to assess both situations and people to determine if they are what is in his best interest. They will allow him to focus on crafting a response to a writing prompt, because this is where Untamed Adventure needs more practice. His writing skills are a little lower than average because he does not like to practice putting his thoughts down on paper. And although he is adept at verbal communication, Untamed Adventurer needs to be reminded that a carefully crafted, written argument is much better at swaying opinions. PH is currently reading above grade level and he is writing just at grade level.
This next year will be critical in PH’s So, what will Untamed Adventurer’s standardized test scores tell his parents? I am almost certain that his test results will indicate that he Exceeds the Standard in both reading and writing. And, if that is all that parents need to ensure their child is making adequate yearly progress and I am doing my job as his Language Arts teacher, that is ok with me. Me? As a parent? I’d rather have a report on the whole child. Read my blog tomorrow as I contrast Untamed Adventurer’s Exceeds the Standard with another student in my class, Compassionate Leader’s Exceeds the Standard. The State of Arizona will issue the same marks for these two students, but, are they both on equal footing as they make their way to the biggest “test” of their lives, high school? Hmmm, we shall see. Peace, ~v.