Saturday, March 23, 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

You may be slightly confused by the title of this post- because by the most wonderful, I mean the LEAST wonderful time of year- we are in the midst of testing season, folks. To say I am excited is the absolute opposite of how I feel.

This is the time of year that we teachers dread- the time when that one little test looms and puts a damper on our mood, as much as we try to have it not affect us. Testing-related material is popping up all over TpT and Pinterest. Whether it comes in small batches or large ones, and as much as we try to pretend that testing is not the true focus, or try to cover it up or smooth it over with cute themes and clip art- it is still the focus. It has to be. That's reality. Our schools depend on our success on The Test.

Not all of our students come to school happy and healthy with all of their needs met. Some of them are lucky to have their parents home with them at night consistently and even if they are, parents who work three jobs to feed the other eleven mouths in the house can hardly be expected to sit down and read with each child. The situation I just described is a best-case scenario compared to what some of our kids deal with at home. Our kids who need the most help and parental support are the ones who are least likely to get it. Our students have bigger concerns on a daily basis that are greater than any one test. Now, I am not saying that these are the circumstances for every single child in our classrooms, they are not. Many of our  students have wonderful home lives.  But for some, these are the realities.

Some of you may think I'm lamenting- I'm not. Our students' current circumstances do not determine who they are or what they are capable of and in no way does it make any type of behavior acceptable. It doesn't mean that the expectations should be any lower for them. I believe in holding all students to a high level of achievement. What it does mean, though, is that while we teach students about inferences and character development, some are also learning to handle difficult situations- and that eventually affects their learning.

I say of all that to say this: This year, we are choosing to avoid any of the pre-test rituals we have observed in the past. We are approaching test prep with a grain of perspective. No big cutesy-themed "blitz" the week before the test, no bribe-based systems to get students to use their strategies and remember testing strategy chants, none of that. We will prepare them in a way that will help them be successful, but that will not portray a message that "they have been working all year for this one test." That is not what they have been working for. They have been working all year to become better readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists. They have been working to make sure they have opportunities to escape the lives they are currently living and ensure that they have a brighter future ahead of them. They are working to better themselves.

Most of you have already seen this cartoon, but it so perfectly summarizes the challenges we face as educators. Although this cartoon is a reference to standardized tests and how ridiculous it seems to expect a fish to climb a tree, we can instead view reaching the top of the tree as the ultimate goal- success for all students.


We are accountable for The Test.  I accept that. However, when a student walks in my classroom three months into the school year with dirty clothes, not a single school supply, and can barely read Hop on Pop, that child's true success will never be measured by any standardized test. That child is the fish that I must teach to climb a tree. Teaching all of our students – our fish, our elephants, and our seals, to reach the top is the ultimate goal – and hey, if they pass a few tests along the way, all the better!




4 comments:

  1. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for stopping at my blog and leaving a comment. I'm your newest follower and I can't wait to read more from you. In your past two posts, I think you offer great insights on KEEPIN IT REAL--I mean, keeping the focus on the real reason we do our job. It's not to meet the end of the year testing sessions, it's because of the students that we love and lead throughout the year. They are so lucky to have teachers like us to help them through testing season with a calm, realistic approach. I especially agree that we need to teach students that "this test does not DEFINE you." Although, that is easier said than done when a kid works SOOOOO hard all year trusting us to lead the way and then finds out that they didn't pass. Blow to the system and the part I hate the most. Why should an 8 year old find out they are a "failure" and be forced to test again? Can't that just be conversation between the parents and teacher with no re-testing repercussions? How does that student then go into the next school year with confidence? (I had this experience last year with one of my students that grew the most).

    Whooo--I went off again :) Again, I can't wait to read more! And, I hope we really can keep our stress levels low for our students.

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    1. Tamara,

      LOL! Your post made me smile- there is no way we can talk about these issues without getting angry and going off! We have to let off some steam!

      I am so sorry to hear about your experience with your student last year. It is those students who these tests hurt the most.

      I'm so glad I found you and I can't wait to read more from you as well!!

      Kelly

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  2. Kelly, I couldn't agree more with your post! While planning STAAR reviews Friday, I told KL that I didn't want to do anything "blitzy." I think it tends to put even more pressure on the students on the day of the test... knowing we've built up to this moment. My hope that if more of us can adopt this attitude, the students will understand that it is important to work hard all year, not just for a few weeks in the spring. I'm interested to compare my kiddos stress levels doing it this way instead of the way we've done it in years prior. I hope we can compare notes!

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    1. Tara,

      I agree. In the past we have gone all out for blitzes... themes, decorations, the whole shebang. And I realized- I was the one putting the pressure on the kids. I was the one making the test a big deal. If I wouldn't have done those things, the kids may not have been as stressed. Of course I planned those activities thinking that it would make it fun, but do those activities really help them do better?? I tend to think not.

      This year, we are keeping things as normal as possible up until the day of the test. We have been preparing them for this test since day one (although they didn't realize it), so they will be ready. We will work in the weeks to come to practice those "testing" skills they need to practice, but in a non-threatening way.

      I'm anxious to see the difference this year as well. AND I'm excited NOT to have to plan all of those cutesy activities! It's amazing how our opinions can change year to year!

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Thank you for taking time to comment! I appreciate it!