Saturday, September 8, 2012

How Testing Affects Kids (and Teachers)

This week we had to give our students our beginning of the year standardized assessments. Here in PA we are one of many schools using the 4Sight tests to assess our students, predict how well they will do on the PSSAs (our state tests), and determine where we need to provide more intensive instruction.

(I'll add my snarky aside here - this year we're all graphing our scores and getting prizes if we do better. Yippeeeee!)

I'm all for using assessments to help me learn what my students need to be successful, but this week was a perfect example of how testing negatively impacts all students.

After a great first five days of school, Wednesday and Thursday morning our school ran a two hour delay schedule to take the reading and the math test. On both days I took my students who needed a small group testing accommodations to a different location while a specialist came to my classroom to proctor my students who did not. On both days we had to sit quietly, in one spot, for just about two hours as students completed the test. The first affect? While I didn't see tears from my small group like some did, I could see the frustration and hopelessness on my kids' faces. Heads' down. Sad looks. Loud sighs. They worked so hard, but you could just see defeat on many faces. So much for having a growth mindset - right now some of my kids are feeling, despite my efforts to tell them it's just a pretest and we will all grow and learn throughout the year, that they are stupid and they will never do well on these tests.

But these testing days did more than just affect my students' mindset, it impacted their behavior as well. Now, some of you who are reading this will say that it wasn't really the test, and unfortunately I need to get used to the fact that my week one honeymoon is over. I vehemently disagree. My kids were awesome on Tuesday, and they even managed to keep it together on Wednesday afternoon. But sitting for two hours and being out of our routine twice just threw them for a loop. They all put out so much effort and energy trying to pick the right bubbles and stay quietly in their seats that they had nothing left to give me on Friday. It didn't help that all of the technology I tried to use didn't work either! But the fact of the matter is that I pretty much lost 2.5 days of instruction due to standardized testing this week. 2.5 out of 4.

For What???

(Another aside - I know this next statement is not going to show the growth mindset I'm trying so hard to have, but I'm writing it anyway.)

It is a fact that some of my students are not currently going to be able to meet the standards being measured on this test. That is why they have legal documents stating that they are working towards different goals and require accommodations. Forcing these kids to take these assessments that give me no usable information to guide my classroom instruction simply steals valuable instructional time and creates a fixed mindset and feelings of hopelessness in many of my kids.

When I try to advocate for my students, these are some of the responses I get:

"They have to get used to it. They aren't going to get to take the PSSAs on a lower reading level." Yeah I know, but perhaps if they took assessments on their levels I could get some usable data for instruction in my classroom. And I really don't think that the "practicing for the PSSAs statement is valid at any time.

"But we're required to show how they are progressing on the grade level standards." This is about the dumbest requirement I have ever heard. Wouldn't making progress on their goals demonstrate that they are making progress towards grade level standards?

"Unfortunately this is education. You're just going to have to deal with it." <sigh> Do I? Do I really have to just deal with it? Is that an answer that we should settle for in education?

Maybe I don't have the choice as to whether or not I give these assessments, but I recognize how they negatively impact all of my students and my opportunity to provide a positive learning environment for them. You can bet your booty that after recharging this weekend we're all going to have a fresh start, and I'm going to make the most of the time I have between now and the next test to help my students learn and grow at their levels and to gather a ton of evidence to prove to them and their parents that they can be successful.

No matter what those dumb tests say.

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