Be the change, reflection, students, testing

Testing Makes Me Feel Like a Bad Teacher

image from icanread

I know I should not care, I should go on my day like it is nothing, but the truth is; standardized testing makes me feel like a bad teacher.  It shouldn’t be a big deal but anyone who has had their students sit through a MAP test will tell you; printing out that report and seeing whether the students met their projected growth score is downright anxiety producing.

Once the test is over then we stand with the repercussions; scores that were not met because the kid was having a bad day, scores that were not met because they rushed, scores that were not met because they didn’t get that one question.  And yes, scores that were not met because I didn’t do my job well enough.  The problem is; I don’t know which category a score fits into.  I can certainly take a guess but that is all it would be; a guess.  So I base my teacher performance on a score that supposedly tells me everything without really teling me much.

I take their scores and try to let them be a guide merely, forget that they will go on with the students to middle school, forget that these scores will determine where on the data wall they sit.  Forget that as much as we pretend they don’t matter, that these scores will usually mean more to their future education than any of my feedback or summative assessment ever will.  And it makes me feel like a bad teacher.
I cannot protect my students from what I fight against; the standardization of their intellect.  The standardization of their knowledge, their creativity  and their aptitude.  I cannot protect them from being labeled due to test scores.  I can only do so much within my classroom to shield them from the test obsessed education policy that seems to be driving us.  I can downplay the test but the educational system does not let me downplay the result anymore.  So I feel like a bad teacher.
I became a teacher to make a difference, not to feel bad about the tests I have to put my students through in order that someone will believe me when I say that they grew as a reader, that they grew in their math knowledge, that they grew in their intellect.  Apparently my word is not enough anymore, perhaps it never has been, now the data is what guides us.  And the data makes me feel like a bad teacher.
education reform, students, testing

So I Asked My Students Their Thoughts on Standardized Testing

I seem to keep opening Pandora’s infamous box when it comes to the thoughts of my students.  Spurred on by discussion in my every day about the ever increasing role standardized testing plays in our lives, I finally had the aha moment of asking my students how they felt about it.  Armed with an article from Time For Kids that discusses the new wave of computerized testing, I asked my students how they felt.  First they discussed and then they blogged, and boy, am I glad I asked. 

We think we know how testing effects kids, and we do know part of it, but some of their answers surprised even me.  Many of my students don’t get what it is they are being tested for.  Many of my students, who otherwise love technology, hate being tested on the computer.  They hate the strain on their eyes.  They hate feeling that everyone can see their screen.  They hate knowing that others have finished while they lumber on.  They hate not being able to go back and check their answers.  They kept asking me what will be on the test and when I said that I wasn’t quite sure because we are not privy to that information, they thought I was lying.  Why would I not be able to tell them what they would be tested on?  That didn’t make any sense to them or to me.  

But here are their words for you to read, and if you feel like it, please leave them a comment on our Kidblog.  It would mean the world to them.

I asked, “What Are your thoughts on testing?” 

Buddy wrote:
I actually have mixed feelings about this, and here they are. Doing tests on the computer is better because technology makes learning easier for me. I’m not happy about doing tests because it takes too long. Sometimes if I answer enough  questions correctly, I have to answer questions about what a passage from something means. Yes, answering what a certain passage means is easy. Would it be that easy if it were in French or Spanish? I like doing tests on paper because everyone gets the same test. It doesn’t bring you up to a level where it’s in a foreign language. In 2014 tests will all be on the computer. If the class doesn’t get good scores on the test, then the teacher could get fired. If your class dislikes you and they always go home every day and say to their parents “My teacher was so unfair today” then you could get fired for no reason. If your class just does a bad job on the tests because they don’t like you you could get fired. When you will do your test, it might affect your teacher’s job. I like doing tests on paper because it doesn’t hurt my eyes after a while, unlike when I do tests on the computer for an hour and a half. Usually I get headaches and my eyes hurt. The thing that bothers me is that someday everything will be replaced by technology. Someday your written tests that you do today could be valuable and put in museums someday. How do you feel about that?

Cecilie wrote:
They think when they test us that is all we know wrong we know things that they are not testing us.  So they think that we don’t know anything when they are the ones having us test stuff we do not know. It is there fault we are getting bad scores.

Amber wrote:
I don’t and it makes me kind of nervous.  My class read a article about we having to do more tests in middle school for next year.  They will be harder as the year goes along.  Also, the computer can glitch, but paper can’t.  I feel like I can do more on paper.

Megan wrote:
I am not a fan of computer tests, like, at all.  I get so nervous taking tests on computers, I am always shivering before them.  In my opinion they don’t show what you know, because the tests don’t have everything.  So pretend that somebody is like a genius in pan balances, it might not be on it and they got a low score, they might of gotten a higher score if it was on the test.  We have had MAP test (on the computer) and WKCE tests (on paper)  I feel like I can take my time on the WKCE because I don’t know who is finished or not.  Also I really like the privacy folders on the WKCE, they make me feel less panicked and it seems like a regular test.  Now in the MAP test a totally feel panicked!  I am usually one of the last people taking it, and I can see who is done and who isn’t.  The people that are done are reading books or playing on the computer, and there is no privacy folders for me to not see that.  When I am one of the last people taking the test I feel panicked and rushed.  I also hate the MAP test because I can’t go back to check my answers.  I bet that the new computerized test would be a ton like the MAP, school in the 2014 would be horrifying!

Graham wrote:

1. Sometimes they don’t ask you the things that you are learning in school
2. People sometimes get tired or worried so they just guess
3. They can get really, really boring for most people, so they don’t pay attention
Standardized testing is one of the things I look forward not to doing.

Please go to their blogs and read their thoughts, as always, I am baffled that we leave students out of this debate.  Ask you students how they feel and give them their voice back.  

being a teacher, testing

The Real Crisis in Education

You can’t miss it, the headlines, the politicians, the self-proclaimed experts all screaming from the rooftops, “There is a crisis in education!”  So they answer it with more testing, more cuts, more rigor, more strenuous measures.  Out with the old, in with the new.  The crisis is the civil rights issue of our time some say.  This crisis will determine America’s future say others.  This crisis of education can be our undoing, and yes they are right, the crisis is here, it is now, and we must take action.

image from icanread

But wait, their crisis is not what is the problem.  Their crisis of low test scores and America’s ranking in the world is not really what will be our undoing.  The real crisis is how we are losing veteran teachers, how people with years of experience are quitting the field they love because they no longer can teach in a creative manner.  In every district across the United States veteran teachers are being blamed for the education crisis.  They are being told their methods are outdated, their methods are not teaching to the test, and by the way, they are also much too expensive.

The travesty that is losing all of these knowledge experts is what will be our educational undoing.  All of those years of experience, of knowing what works, of being able to reach children, is walking out the door with our veterans.  Those people that teachers like me reach out to when we are stumped, they are quitting in droves, sick of the testing, sick of beng the bad guy, sick of being told how to teach so that test scores can’t improve.  And I can’t say I don’t blame them.

The state of education is indeed one of crisis and I wonder when will we as a society realize that being knowledgeable is an asset, not a detriment.  That teaching in a manner that encourages creative problem-solving, hands-on learning, and that is influenced by the teacher is a great thing.  That assessing students in a way that reflects how they will be assessed in their future lives makes more sense.  That teacher worth cannot be measured by a multiple choice test taken by a tired ten year old.  And that having an experienced teacher who still loves what they do is one of the best educational investments we can make.

students, testing

Just Put Them In A Small Room; Why State Test Accommodations Don’t Solve the Problem

It is fall here in beautiful state of Wisconsin and for teachers that means one thing; WKCE is here or the state’s accountability test. This lovely little test will take hours and days from some grades out of our learning to once and for all prove what students know or do not know.  So as I pondered this year’s test last night (that’s what happens when one is up at 3 AM), I also thought of the test accommodations that we are allowed to provide and just how ridiculous they are.  Read on to see what I mean:

Accommodation:  Small group setting.
Premise:  Big rooms and more students provide more anxiety and thus taking the student and placing them either in one-on-one setting or a small group will relieve that anxiety.
Debunked:  Most often the anxiety the student is experiencing does not come from the setting.  In fact, I would argue that most of the time the classroom is the preferred setting if it is for anxiety purposes,  after all, this is the room that should be a safe-haven for students in a community they know.  Not so in the case of a random conference room or even small closet.  Some then argue the small group setting is for the quiet so the student in question can think better, except that doesn’t hold up either since students are absolutely not allowed to make any noise during the test.  In a “perfect” test environment the only thing you should hear is the rustling of pencils writing, that’s it.

Accommodation:  Read the instructions aloud.
Premise:  Student who struggle with reading will know what to do.
Debunked:  Students who struggle with reading are not going to get much help from someone reading the instructions when they cannot proceed to fully read and comprehend the actual problems.  While math problems are also allowed to be read aloud in some cases, it still boils down to comprehension.  Chances are if that student has this accommodation they have had other accommodations in the classroom to be successful learners, none of which are allowed during the test.  But read it aloud, that we will do so you have more time to sit and ponder what you do not know or do not understand.

Accommodation:  Extended time.
Premise:  Students that process more slowly or have anxiety should be allowed unlimited time.
Debunked:  I love this one.  Nothing like giving a frustrated student as much time as they want to take the test that they are frustrated by.  I still think most of my students that have been given this accommodation end up taking the least amount of time.  Not all but most.  If you do not understand the test or the question unlimited time will most often do nothing for you.  That is like being presented with a test in French except you don’t speak the language, but hey, you have unlimited time to figure it out!

Accommodation:  Break the test up.
Premise:  For students who cannot focus for long periods of time you can spread the test out.
Debunked:  Again, why continue to torture a child by prolonging the frustration.  When a child is not successful on the test it seldom has anything to do with how long they can focus but rather the content itself.  When no other help is offered such as breaking the problems apart (that is not allowed) how are we really helping?

So in the end, we sit with accommodations that do nothing to solve the problem; the test itself.  We speak often of tests and how destructive they can be to students, and yet, we band-aid the harm of the test by trying to set up better accommodations.  In the end, they change very little; the test itself flies in the face of how we instruct and how children work through problems.  The test will therefore never be an accurate measure of how much a child actually knows within a learning community but only a measure of who can focus the longest and regurgitate facts.  And is that really worth testing?

assessment, testing

Give Me More Data – When Students Are Just Numbers

All night my mind has been spinning after watching this video posted first by Alfie Kohn and then discussed by Larry Ferlazzo.  You see, my district just started using MAP testing this year so the conversation shown makes me wonder if I will be that teacher having that conversation.  I wonder whether I will have to share a student’s weakness with them to get them to score higher, achieve more, and I shudder at the thought.

MAP testing provides a nifty number, hopefully one above 200 and also above whatever number I have been told the student should score above.  And that to me is once again part of the problem; it is a number.  An arbitrary number at best that changes when a student has a bad day, doesn’t concentrate or simply does not take this formal assessment seriously.  This is evident in the video when the teacher asks the students what they think happened since their score went down.  But even more so, that number is just a number, sure it breaks down into percentiles so I can compare my students locally and nationally.  And yes, it breaks down into strands, but what in the world does that all mean?  What does that number tell me that i can bring back into the classroom and teach those kids better?

Unfortunately having moved to MAP testing means I am no longer expected to assess my students face-to-face who score above a certain Rigby level, the MAP testing does the job for me, so no sub time is given to do so.  And yet, those assessment conversations are the conversations we need to have.  Those conversations are what should be shaping my teaching because I can weed out whether a student is simply having a bad day, whether there is confusion in the directions, or whether it is a true assessment that can be used to set goas.  Apparently, though, a computer can do this better than I can.  The computer is more efficient than me and apparently more trustworthy in its assessment.  And yet I squeeze in the face-to-face assessments when I can, sub or not sub, because I need to hear my students read, I need to hear them discuss questions, I need to watch them problem solve in math.  If I don’t see those things, I am not able to teach them well.

So I still meet with my students; not to discuss their weaknesses as is favored in the video but rather highlight what they are secure in and where they are developing.  Language matters.  I don’t sugarcoat the truth but I do choose my words carefully.  I use the data as yet another piece of data but wonder why we are so data-obsessed in the first place?  Why don’t we just use the data we have already in a better way?  Why the need for more numbers to crunch, more numbers to graph?  Is that all students should be reduced to; numbers?  I don’t know what MAP testing will do to my teaching next year, I will have to withhold my judgment, but after watching the video, I am scared.

achievement, being a teacher, students, testing

So This Is How A Teacher Breakdown Starts

My students are doing their spring assessments as we prepare to wrap up the year and send them on their way.  An innocent computer check-in that takes less than an hour, nothing to be worried abot really.  The kids know it is not a big deal, to do their best, that this is only a snapshot of their skills on that particular day, at that particular time.

And yet….the dread is rising in me.  How will they do?  How will they feel about the test?  Will the test know that they are excited about the talent show results?  That they are hungry?  That they have had a high intensity day and their brains may be just a little zonked?  Of course it won’t, and why should it, the test doesn’t care one iota about my students.  

But I do and that is my problem.  With every point they gain or lose, my anxiety soars.  How will it affect me as a teacher if a child lost 4 points, whatever that means.  What did I do wrong since they didn’t make momentous gains on this test while in class they have blown me away with their increased participation, their inferences, and their overall depth of knowledge?  Why can’t the test understand that all of these kids have grown, whether they wanted to or not?  Why can’t the test prove that?

So I take a deep breath and let the results stand.  The tests are done, the points have been given and I am trying to piece together what I need to change.  What I need to salvage, what I need to challenge myself in.  And I breathe a little more, realizing that much like I told my students, I also need to believe that this is just a snapshot.  This is just a moment in their life, this moment in time where they are performing at this set level.  That this does not determine their future success, their future growth, or even their future.  Perhaps it will determine mine, but that I need to worry about another day.