Last week I wrote about things being difficult. I’m realizing that one of the reasons for feeling down and challenged and frustrated is this time of year. We’re in the second round of our district mandated testing (reading and math tests for third through sixth with a few others sprinkled in at some grade levels) and not far from our state testing.
It is the time of year in which my students are judged based on their test scores.
It is the time of year in which I am judged based on their test scores.
I refuse to make our classroom a test prep space. I refuse to use all of our time to prepare for these tests. I refuse to add to my students’ test anxiety. I refuse to define my students by these snapshots.
This is not to say we don’t do work to prepare for these tests. First of all, my students are learning to be stronger readers, writers, mathematicians, historians, scientists, researchers, questioners, thinkers, and more. All of which prepare them for these tests.
Secondly, we spend some time exploring test questions and the format of the tests. I recognize that tests are their own genre that students need to be able to navigate. The more ‘rigorous’ the tests become, the more students have to understand in order to be successful. I don’t mean they need to be able to understand more multiplication or fractions or narrative nonfiction. They need to be able to navigate the software on the computer and understand the various sets of directions. They need to understand the language of the questions, which often doesn’t look anything like the more open-ended, inquiry-driven work we are doing in our classroom. So I work to help them connect the work they are doing every day with what they will see on these tests.
But my goal for these children in my care is that they are readers. That they are writers. That they are questioners. I want them to be independent learners who have passions and curiosities that drive them along with the skills to keep moving forward, with or without me.
If you want to know what my students are capable of doing, come on in our classroom. Listen to them discuss poems by Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers, and Margarita Engle. Listen to them explain how they figured out the largest product they could make multiplying a 2-digit number by a 1-digit number, not using any digit more than once. Listen to them detail the research they are doing about why only boys got to go to school in ancient Greece. Read the brochures they are creating about how to become an astronaut, why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, how starfish defend themselves, what makes cheetahs and falcons so fast, how basketball and soccer got started, and more.
My students are third graders. This is their first year of state mandated testing. I know they will be doing this again and again for many years to come. I understand test taking is a skill they must have if they are going to be successful in a system that is already working against them. (My students are English language learners, students of color, many living in difficult socio-economic situations. Our educational system is not designed for them. Their success has to come in spite of that, unfortunately.)
But they are children. They are people. They are so much more than any test scores.