testing madness

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 (so.so. 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. 

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