Slice of Life Day 25: Testing…Hmm Imagine If…

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During the month of March I am blogging daily with others in the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Thank you  TaraAnnaDana, Stacey,   Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. You can read more slices here.

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California has given schools this year to gear up for the Core, so our actual, it-counts-test, starts next year. This year we take a practice test. The pressure was lifted. Teachers got to teach all year to the standards without thinking of test prep.

Last week our school received a set of tablets and a portable wifi system. Our students, class by class will take turns taking a part of the test.

Monday I pulled out our iPads and partnered up like readers. I was admittedly resentful of the time taken away from other pursuits but they had to know what they would be facing.  They sat down side by side and started the ELA practice test. With iPads for half the classroom, we do a lot of partner work, so they were used to sitting working together on one iPad and thinking. My goal was to get them used to navigating the tools and the structure of the test.

Up until today, I have not done one test passage, nor spent one minute on strategies for testing. I have spent all of our time together growing ways to access their critical thinking skills in reading and writing. They are all not at grade level no matter how you assess them — some are above, some are below.  They are all growing as readers and writers, but at their own rate. With all this in mind, I was worried about their reaction to this test. Would they freak out, be overwhelmed, give up? Would they be able to negotiate the technology?

Today I saw my students sit side by side completely engaged in the task. They wanted to know what they would be facing. They read side by side, taking notes. When they got to the questions, they debated their choices. I heard things like, “no this has to prove that, see it says… look at this part…” and “no it says right here paragraph-s, that means more than one” and “I think we should flag this one and come back to it because I’m not sure” and “look the timer says we’re on track.” (I didn’t even know there was a timer!)

What made me happy (if you can imagine happy  and test prep going together) was that they were not overwhelmed. The troubles and the strengths I see in these students every day were there, but they were doing their best. They did not give up.

They were calm, focused, and using strategies as naturally as breathing.  One student said, “wouldn’t it be great if we could do this with partners in the real test?”

I thought that isn’t such a bad idea. What my students were doing was reading, discussing possible answers, analyzing their thinking, coming to agreement, justifying their responses. Like readers were working together so no one dominated the answers. They were working it out, thinking it through. They were doing Common Core work. All weren’t at the same level in their thinking that was clear, so if students were to work together like this … I know this is crazy talk but what if…

I am proud of them. They are hard working, can do students. If we could take this “low-stakes” approach to the “real” test it wouldn’t be so bad. Call me crazy.

15 thoughts on “Slice of Life Day 25: Testing…Hmm Imagine If…

  1. There are so many “what ifs” in testing. I think we have to keep asking that question if we’re going to survive as a society and continue to do real work, as you have done throughout this year. In my opinion, test prep has to be stealthy. It has to take place naturally, like everything else – you said it best: “I have spent all of our time together growing ways to access their critical thinking skills in reading and writing.”

    • It is a dance we do with our students, ourselves and the powers that be. So difficult and in the end, I believe the only way we will survive is by teaching what matters most. Thanks for your comment.

    • Read yours! I get it. I think there is a cycle of testing over the years as we get to know how the test goes. When we know too much about the test, the test prep plays a bigger role in our teaching. When you know less, as I do now about the Common Core test, you can’t go there as readily. Hang in there we’re all right there with you.

  2. Hmmm, makes me think that good teaching all year long leads to confident students willing to work at problem solving. Your kids have a leg up on those who are pushing the panic button because they don’t know what to do. Clearly you have taught your kids well.

    • My students are products of not just my teaching, but the five years prior. Their work is a credit to all their teachers at my school. Pushing panic buttons is easy to do. Trying not to!

  3. I agree, test prep should be low key and low stress. To do otherwise is counter-productive. And if they have the tools and strategies to read and think– tools you have nurtured all year– I believe they will not disappear on the day of the test. The problem lies in the test itself. If it is reasonable, asks questions in a way students understand, requires them to read text at their grade level, I could go on… then it will measure what they truly know. But I don’t believe that is how the tests are designed. I am anxious to see for myself. I am glad you got to see their natural approach, what a clear reminder of the most effective test prep.

    • Reasonable is the key word here. I feel like our ignorance of the actual test and results of the test is bliss. We just teach to what we understand the standards to be. Watching them felt like watching them take tests of the past, which made me think they will be alright in this messy highly imperfect system we are a part of. I also believe students’ stance in this work not only reflected this year’s teaching, but prior years of teaching them to read and think.

  4. It sounds like you were able to take a much more balanced approach this year with the lowering of the stakes. I’m quite jealous. In the past, I’ve not pressured myself or my students with excessive test prep, but the last few years, I’ve been expected to do more and more, even though my students did well. I like how your students were using what they’ve learned to navigate a new challenge.

    • This new “unknown” test has been a liberation from the days of test prep laced questions on day one of the school year. I fear as we know more about this test we will go back to our old ways, but for now it is a relief for all.

  5. It sounds like quite a positive outlook for you & your students, Julieanne. Since we no standardized testing, I really cannot speak to the experience so many of you have, but students who return say that the problem-solving, questioning, etc. that we do all the time prepared them for whatever they face in other schools. It seems that your strategy of those things helped your students feel very comfortable in this situation. Sounds terrific!

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