Walking the Testing Tightrope

For the past eight years I’ve taught first graders and kindergartners. This year I’m spending my days with third graders. I love third graders. They’re genuine, excited about everything, capable of tying their own shoes, and full of drama. Spending my days with them is pretty awesome.

Until now. Now we’re in testing season. High stakes testing season. Right now it’s too easy for me to lose sight of the trees that are my kids in the forest of testing business.

The greatest challenge, in my mind, is that my students have to take this test. So I want them to be prepared without being stressed. They’re taking these tests for the first time so there’s a lot of unknown involved, which is frequently stressful. I want to give them experiences that help them feel prepared, as they hear a lot about the tests from peers, other adults, family members, and such. But I don’t want the experiences I offer them to add any stress. Quite a tightrope we’re all walking together.

I try to frame our talk about testing through the lens of my own daughters. We talked about the kinds of problems we might face with the test and how to cope with those challenges. I explained that the first challenge here is one my oldest faces often. The middle challenge is one both my girls face sometimes. And the final one is a challenge my youngest has to face. Putting my girls’ faces on this makes it easier to take, I hope. It makes it feel normal.

(The bright spot in our week, for me at least, has been watching 19 third graders roll their shoulders in various ways after we talked about how we can roll forward or backward and both shoulders together or separate. Super cute and fun.)

We’ve looked at questions and explored the testing software. The kids are finding lots of it tricky. I don’t want them to see the test takers as out to get them. For those that are anxious I think that will increase the anxiety.

So I decided to try an analogy. Most of my kiddos are soccer folks. Even if they don’t play it often, they know it and love it. Tomorrow we’ll talk about what it takes to prepare for a soccer game. We’ll look at pictures of soccer fields with a soccer ball and a goal and nothing else and discuss how easy that goal would be to make. We’ll talk about the drills and practices soccer players do all the time to prepare for games because it’s never just the soccer ball and the goal on the field. We’ll talk about how soccer players are working to be successful in soccer games. That’s the end goal. Our goal is to be successful as readers and mathematicians. The test is like soccer drills. It has tricky parts but those are there to help us be ready to do this for real. Ready to be lifelong readers and mathematicians.

I’m not thrilled by this. I don’t like where I feel we’ve all been placed. Nothing I do will keep my students from taking this test. I’m doing all I can to keep myself balanced on that tightrope without accidentally knocking any of my kiddos off.

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