Standardized Tests, Open House, and My Students’ Actual Progress

My students started their SBAC standardized tests last week.

I have third and fourth graders, so for three of my kiddos, it was their first time taking the tests. The interface has been updated since last year, so my fourth-grader needed a refresher. Plus, I’m a scribe for one student with motor challenges. There’s a lot to manage in Testland. We did practice tests together on my touch screen laptop and made a fun activity out of it. We practiced accessing the accommodations–the pop-out ASL videos are accessed via a drop-down menu. We talked about trying our best, making best guesses, and pausing to stretch and blink.

When test day came, each student selected a novel or graphic novel to read when they were done, and we descended upon the computer lab.

When my scribe-ee finished and we arrived at the “submit test” screen, she looked at me and asked if she could go back and check all her answers. All 36 of them. She had already tried her best. She had attempted to solve problems on math content she’d never seen before. She knew the test was hard. I asked her why she wanted to check the answers. She sad, What if I didn’t do good? I think I am a little bit wrong.

Plus 10 points for knowing when you’re wrong. Self-awareness is a good skill that many adults don’t have.

Plus 10 hugs for that self-awareness making you feel like you’re not enough.

You see, this kiddo, like most of my students over the past seven years, arrived with some big gaps. She was in third grade, performing single-digit addition. She’d never seen subtraction before. Now, at the end of fourth grade, she can read, write, compose, decompose, order, and compare numbers through 1,000. She can add and subtract three-digit numbers with regrouping, without using manipulatives (although we definitely started with them). She has flexible number sense and can play a variety of number games I use in the classroom that utilize 10-frames and 100-boards and base-10 blocks and chips. She can tell time. She can do one-step word problems in addition and subtraction.

She loves math. She works slowly, but when she finishes her work, she looks at me and says, It’s not a race, and I am smart. My brain is big! All of those things are 100% accurate.

And after her standardized math test, she looked deflated. So I reminded her that she’s done a lot of really good math in class. And I asked, What’s more important, do you think? All the math we do every day, that you love and can do and feel good about, or a test we take once in May that makes you feel rotten?

She said, The computer test?

This is not how we hold children and teachers “accountable” for learning and teaching.

Last night we had our spring open house for the elementary department. We worked long and hard getting ready to display and show our work to our families and friends. All five of my students’ parents came to the open house. They were so.excited. all day. All week, even. We showed how we went from reading Frog and Toad in the fall, only discussing two characters and one problem at a time, to reading Charlotte’s Web and discussing multiple characters and problems within a larger plot arc, and connecting our lives to the story. We had a bulletin board comparing non-fiction reading and historical fiction reading from our Native American unit. We shared videos of our poetry projects and our music video.

My students were all smiles, all hugs, all jumping skipping dancing in the halls, waiting checking texting parents. The energy was palpable. My little math kiddo? Her grandpa came and she nearly fell over with excitement. She was so tired from running around and showing her work to her dad and her grandpa and her mom and her sister (who attends a different school) and her friends’ parents and the other teachers and the principal that she reached that giddy manic run in circles level of exhaustion by the end of the night, like a toddler who just keeps walking so she doesn’t fall asleep. We are reading C-H-A-R-L-O-T-T-E-S W-E-B and my favorite character is C-H-A-R-L-O-T-T-E because she is a good friend. She take care of pig W-I-L-B-U-R. We have four chapter left. Then watch movie eat popcorn compare book and movie. Ms Danielle sign story funny. T-E-M-T-O-N rat funny greedy funny Ms Danielle sign funny! But my favorite spider sweet!

After the second trimester, I was feeling frustrated and dejected. I had not accomplished the things I set out to accomplish with my students. Their growth seemed small compared to what I thought it should be, we were in the mid-winter slumps, and I was feeling scrutinized by the people around me. The principal came down to talk to me, and started the conversation by saying she’d seen my students’ (standards-based) report cards and progress notes. They’ve had some really wonderful growth this year. They’re readers, Danielle. I see Ponyo with a book wherever she goes. And they’re all building wonderful relationships with others in the building. And they’ve really made some good progress in math. I hope you see that.

This growth took a lot of work over three years of sweat and tears ( many tears…most of them mine). But there are kids who’ve made two years of progress in a year-and-a-half. And one girl who has grown from needing intensive behavior intervention and weekly de-escalation to basic behavioral reminders like a typical third-grader. And a shy student who used to only whisper who nailed the role of (signing) Olaf in our Christmas play of Frozen this December. And a little boy whose dad died two years ago who told me he was fine one day, and I finally really believed him. And a student who used to be the only kid in his school with hearing aids who now has friends with hearing aids and cochlear implants. I’m not saying this to toot my horn, or to say what a great teacher I am for turning these kids around. (But the fact is, I am a damn fine teacher; the headline-makers and book-deal-getters are the unorthodox teachers who love their students and also raise their test scores.) Because today, I am exhausted and possibly even more excited for summer than my students are.

So we’ve made some progress.

So after we hit [submit] on that pointless math test, I looked at my student and blew the biggest, wettest, tonguey-est raspberry I could muster. And I said, THAT’S how much you need to worry about the computer test. Your brain is more important to me. And your brain has lots of math in it. 



  1. My students take standardized testing seriously, too. Even now that they’re done, They’re worried about what their scores will be, and if they are smart enough to “pass.” Everyday at least one comes to see me to say he or she doesn’t know if they did well, and will they still be allowed to attend their mainstream classes, and every day I’m struggling to find another way to try to get them to forget about the test and ignore the scores when they do come, because it’s the work effort they show everyday that matters. I’ve yet to get the message through in a way they are willing to believe.


    1. It’s hard. Most teachers I know–perhaps every teacher I know–is knowledgeable of each student’s academic levels and mastery of the content. I can tell you before the test how each of my students will score. I know which of my students will score Below Basic, Basic, or Proficient. The idea that these tests hold us accountable is absurd. The idea that these tests hold our students accountable is… I don’t even think there is a word in English to convey the level of absurdity to that idea.

      I attended primary and secondary school from 1990 through 2003. I was bubble-tested from 1993 through 2001, I believe. I took those tests seriously; my parents posted our score reports on the refrigerator, and I truly believed–for a long time–that they were an honest reflection of my value as a learner and as a person. I took my ACT just as seriously. And this was in the early days of testing madness. I cannot imagine the level of pressure students feel right now.

      It took us years as Deaf educators to get the state to offer more-appropriate (though still frustratingly limited) accommodations on the K-3 Reading Indicator probes. We still do not have any accommodations for the ELL probes. Our state does not have an opt-out policy, though I watch the opt-out movement closely. My peers in the public schools are so frustrated by the climate, that even when they try to create a pre-testing environment that is relaxed and caring, the testing proctor will bark at their children prior to the test about how important and serious the scores are.

      This culture is damaging an entire generation of our children, and it’s seeping into our Least Restrictive Environments. Our safe spaces are feeling less safe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our school requires basic students to be pushed into the mainstream. One of my previously self-contained students scored that last year and was so proud to go into an unmodified class! She’s terrified that she will have to drop it if she doesn’t score well enough and no amount of reassurance will get her to believe that her good grades are what is keeping her in those classes, not any test score. I have a feeling it will take weeks to build their confidence levels back up again. We looked for opt out loop holes in my school, but my state requires cognitive deficiency to opt out; none of my dhh kids qualified.


      2. Cognitive impairment is required for the alternative assessment here, too. And while parents can opt their children out of the regular test (as is happening in New York, etc.), Idaho does not have such a policy on the books, and teachers are expected to convince parents out of that decision (according to the SDE website).

        As far as your school requiring basic students to be pushed mainstream, that hardly sounds like honoring Special Ed law, following and IEP, and deciding LRE on an individualized basis. Heaven help your admin if a parent files a due process compliant :-/


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