Many of you right now are in the middle of the annual string of testing that takes nearly six weeks out of the last two months of the traditional school year. There’s test prep, test drills, bubbling exercises for younger students and finally the testing itself. This testing mania, driven by federal mandates, is the biggest challenge to finding the joy of teaching and learning in our classrooms.
Barbara Kerr, California Educator, April 2007
A few weeks ago we took the CSTs, our year-end standardized extravaganza. Judging by the released questions and the rubric, the Geometry CST was an extremely fair measure of what my students learned. Students also came back and claimed they felt well-prepared, which may or may not mean anything come next fall when we get our scores and I find out exactly what kind of teacher I was this year.
I take this thing seriously, a fact which left alone would lead the anti-NCLB coalition to believe my classroom is something it’s not. So, in order to set the record straight:
What we did:
- I checked the framework online, which gives a conceptual breakdown of the test, at the start of the year and at intervals throughout. I knew early on that California hangs the course heavily on proofs so I made sure to give that section (which, in the textbook, carries the same weight as any other) extra attention.
- Whenever I wondered if I was doing proper justice to a concept — perhaps going too short on depth, too narrow on breadth, stopping with the easy problem set — I checked the released questions to see what the state of California wanted me to do.
- As a matter of daily routine I’d toss a released question or two up on the board — ones that corresponded to whatever we were working on. I’d walk around as they wrote down answers and update a tally (“Twelve right, four wrong so far.”) every few students.
This strategy a) made test prep a matter of organic, ongoing review, b) familiarized my students with the form of the CST, c) saw them investing in it daily, which made it that much tougher for them to bubble in “FART” come game-day, and d) eliminated Barbara Kerr’s frequent waking nightmare of classrooms poring feverishly over huge packets in the week preceding the test.
What We Didn’t:
- Teach to the test, insofar as “teaching to the test” implies an artificial/schematic means of gaming our scores. (The test does assess Geometry, however, which I am in the business of teaching. So.)
- Crush spirits.
- Make children cry. (Except for this one time but that was a totally different thing.)
- Script curriculum.
- Skimp even a little on investigations, self-directed learning, all-school treasure hunts, or show and tell.
Not for nothing, this year, the year I took assessment the most seriously, a year which saw me building satisfying lessons while accommodating my state’s insistence on results, was the first year I found art in the science of teaching and felt worthy of the label “professional,” one declared antithetical to standardized testing by so many.