Tuesday, September 30, 2014

These Tests

Today we administered a school-wide writing prompt to students in grades nine through eleven. Students have roughly ninety minutes to read the passages and write to the prompt. My district has mandated three such practices prior to the spring assessment that will be administered state wide. Students in tenth grade must pass the test in order to graduate from high school in the state of Florida. For the first time such standardized tests will count as up to thirty percent of a students' final grade for English.

I serve the students in my class. I serve their parents and my community. While I would love to protest the test, to walk out of my double-wide portable, to walk down the three cement steps leading to the door, to walk in the street that even now construction vehicles travel as they renovate our campus, while I might enjoy that moment,  that fist-in-the-face, forget it protest, that would not serve the twenty-six students sitting in my classroom. Walking out or opting out on  students would not help them. Lee County attempted  to opt out of state required tests but rescinded their vote just days later. While I do believe we must fight against the misuse of standardized tests, we must take that fight off of our campuses and out of our classrooms.

It feels like a lose-lose situation some days. I could rave about the narrowing of the curriculum. I could rant about how the misuse of tests creates a "working class" of citizens in our state who have not educational opportunities beyond a test they cannot pass. I could wax vitriolic,  but I won't. Not today.

I am committed to the twenty-six students sitting in my room during testing. Today, I can manage to frame the situation as a learning experience.

So today, I wrote. I got a copy of the passages and the prompt. After I read the testing script aloud (in my best imitation of Professor McGonagall because our shared laughter released a lot of tension), after I circulated and made sure students had gotten started, I too wrote.

I annotated the passages--judicial opinions no less. I made note of the mode required by the prompt. I planned. I charted. I wrote and wrote.  I cited textual evidence. I embedded direct quotations. I used parenthetical references. I worked hard during my writing time. I spent an hour and ten minutes of the ninety we were given writing and revising. 

I emailed my essay to district personnel and asked for it to be scored with the rubric the district provided. If I get it in a timely fashion, the feedback will be useful. We do not have anchor papers. We have never used this rubric as a faculty.

As a teacher, if I am to do right by the twenty-six students in my room  and the fifty-two parents behind them, then I need to learn as much as I can as fast as I can. As a citizen, if I am to do right by the children in my state,  I need to engage in the political process. I need to vote.I need to speak up. Outside of the school day, I need to write letters, call law makers, share resources.

I need to invite people in power into my classroom and get their eyes on students. (Is that even allowed? Surely a school board member or the members who serve from our district would be welcome on our campus. We'll see. I'll have to ask.) As a parent educator I keep thinking that the glass could be half full. I imagine that if law makers knew more about students, classrooms, teaching, learning, assessments and testing they may revise current policies and practices. Of course, that likely depends on the businesses in which they have personally invested. Charter schools are big business in my state. The issues are complex much more so than I want to address today.

These tests may have been created during the eleventh hour. These tests may be a money-making machine for those in power. These tests may damage public education. These tests may guarantee a working class for the service industry in my state. These tests may be used for despicable purposes under the guise of good intentions. These tests may limit the freedoms of those recently achieving citizenship. These tests may be unfair. These tests may punish those at lower socioeconomic levels. These tests may do all of that and more.

No matter now. No matter at this instructional moment. I must show students how to succeed on the assessments others demand.  To do any less would be akin to saying students can't. That is not a judgment I am ever willing to make.

Slice of Life is hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Head over to serve 
up a slice from your day or help yourself to seconds.


  1. Lee Ann, I hated reading your Slice, especially after I just wrote mine about my workshop presentation with Tara. Yesterday I worked on a video remembering and reflecting on my experience in Finland, with their educational system. And here you are trying hard to stay positive in an unbearable situation. I wish there was something I could do, beside feel for you.

  2. Oh, so sad. Think of the time and resources we are spending on this type of dreary stuff that turns our kids off to reading and writing.

  3. You did the right thing. You're fighting this "battle" in the classroom, next to your students. And, you wrote. Bravo to you.

  4. Beautifully written. Love your empathic gesture here - "in my best imitation of Professor McGonagall because our shared laughter released a lot of tension." I think you are fighting the right and good fight! And doing it well. Thank you for this!

  5. I too am so concerned with over testing and losing our focus on working towards our goals. I love that you not only teach but also model how to handle adversity. I suspect that is what your students will remember.

  6. Lee Ann, when I work with teachers I like to take talk of testing out of the equation because it creates such ill will among participants. Testing started out for the right reason-to inform instruction but through overemphasis it has become a word that causes distress. Keep on doing right by your learners.

  7. Wow, what a powerful paper, You are such a good teacher..perhaps great!, but, of course....I'm the Mom :-)