Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thoughts on State Testing

Well, it's almost August, and soon, my principal will walk down the hall to hand me my test scores. This one piece of paper will tell if I'm an effective educator or not. Someday soon, my paycheck may even be correlated with the results. I'm actually a fan of testing -- just not with all the hoopla that accompanies it.

I don't believe one measure of learning should determine my pay or my status as an educator. I do believe my job is to teach and assess the written curriculum. I also believe it's my job to adjust instruction based on assessment data - that's called differentiated instruction. The classroom should be a place students are free to explore and make mistakes. It should be a safe place where students want to learn. 

Last year was my first year back in the classroom after spending six years as a "Teacher on Special Assignment."  My primary job title was to increase test scores. Well, I'm back in the classroom and that title now belongs to someone else. I got a chance to put into practice what I'd been sharing in professional development trainings -- to put my money where my mouth was.

It was very much like being a first year teacher all over again. At the beginning of the year, I reviewed my students' state test scores from the previous year. Let's just say, on paper, it looked like they had a long way to go. 

I didn't say much about the M.A.P. test to my students, but it was in the back of mind each week as I planned and adjusted lessons. I also made sure my supervisors knew my starting data. 

I say "on paper" because I had a wonderful class of motivated learners. I believe willpower is half the battle, and my students were definitely strong-willed children. I told them how smart they were and showed them data on weekly assessments and benchmarks to prove it. About six weeks before the test, I joined in my school's M.A.P. kick-off/celebration. 

The first thing I asked my students was, "How many times have you heard me mention the M.A.P. test?" The responses were, "Hardly ever." 

That's when I took the time to remind them of the expectations on our weekly assessments. I correlated those expectations to the M.A.P. and told them I had been preparing them for this test since the first day of school -- the test would merely assess 4th grade curriculum and most of them were much higher so they had nothing to worry about. 

I realize I'll be compared with other 4th grade teachers in the district and in the state -- regardless of where my students started. I also know I did the best I could. Sure, I'll make adjustments to my instruction based on the data, but regardless of scores, I formed relationships with my 4th graders that will last a lifetime.

Last year was one of my all-time favorite years. It will always be one of my favorite classes - regardless of the end result.

I'm ready for my principal to hand me my test scores -- I just hope a pink slip doesn't accompany it. ;)

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