The imposing clouds known as the ELA and Math tests have been moving in since September. If you watch the TV show “V,” you are familiar with the image of the visitors’ ship settling atop New York City and hanging there as an ominous sign of the new world order. That’s the best way I can describe the tests.
We are in full fledged testing mode now (invaded, you might say), and we will be for another…16 days! It’s flowing all the way down to the children from the top. Every morning, after we dutifully pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, our principal assumes the public address system to remind the kids that the ELA test is ___ days away, and the math test is ___ days away.
At grade meetings, our supervisors are telling us to sell the tests, sell the solid blocks of reading, sell the notion of getting a 3 or a 4. And in turn, pretty much all of us teachers feel we’re selling something much different: our souls.
The day’s routine is now dominated by test prep. I cut my kids a break by refusing to use those words, fearful of bringing up memories of treacherous experiences gone by. I call our test prep “3 / 4 prep.” What does this say about me, that I so unabashedly submit myself to these monstruous forces?
Any regular reader of this blog – and even some irregular ones – knows where I stand on the tests. Aside from preparation taking away from the precious moments of discovery that intuitively drive children, the scores, despite what they’re led to believe, really mean diddly squat to the child, who becomes a pawn in the political game that determines funding and support for the school. The poor saps have no concept of the greater picture here, and are made to believe their promotion, and thereby their whole life, rests on their performance on the tests. Well, this simply isn’t true, at least in my experience.
All this being said, you’d think my students were plodding through willy-nilly, tuning me out at every opportunity, and positively dreading the first day of the ELA test. My first inkling of these typical responses not being applicable to this group was, oh, about six weeks ago, when I offered them the choice of doing shared reading or 3/4 prep. Miraculously, they voted overwhelmingly for 3/4 prep.
I don’t know what it is that’s causing them find this all so enjoyable. My colleagues and I all agree the students love the structure – each partnership has folders, packets of articles, explicit instruction, and “rush of paper.” The repetition: “read the directions, scan the passage, look over the questions” gives them a sense of empowerment.
My hangup is that they are investing themselves so much in the “unit” that, over the course of their lives, means the least. I don’t force the pressure down their throats. They feel it enough. My push is this: I’m giving you strategies to be successful, and you know what to do. On the day of the test, you’re going to come in and use those strategies, and you’re going to do your best. I encourage them to get 3s and 4s, but I stop short of demanding them or placing unrealistic expectations on them. I do what I’m asked, but I do it my way.
And I guess because I do, the kids buy it. Yet, I’m always left with the same lament: “If only these kids knew what they were missing.” It kills me that when they reflect on their elementary years, they’ll undoubtedly put the tests high atop their list of memories. And when they do, will they see any benefit for having done well on the tests? Conversely, will they see any consequences for not having done well?
Those in the know universally deride testing cultures as anathema to students’ true success and development. Yet, they seem to be here to stay, with teacher merit pay not far behind. That’ll only increase the pressure on teachers, who will thereby ride the students even harder.
I say, give it a rest. No one’s life is going to end over a 2. No one is going to become President off of a 4. Numbers: that’s all those grades are. And sadly, it’s all the kids are, too.