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Classroom Climate Change

Pencilquestion-blogIf you view the onset of testing season as a threat to the literacy-learning culture you’ve worked to build for the past several months— you’re not alone.

Julianne Harmatz describes a recent testing experience in her blog The Power of Assessments:

“I try to reassure them. I tell them reading is not about speed. Reading is thinking and thinking takes time. I say, “Don’t worry about this.  Go back to your book,” hoping they forget the entire experience. When I found out I had to do this assessment I was irritated because of the time taken away from instruction. After testing them, I am more disturbed by their reactions to the assessment.”

In our Assessment Story Project, Casey, a high school teacher from a suburban school, expresses a similar concern: “The results of these tests do little to drive my instruction and usually just depress my students, many of whom already label themselves as ‘stupid,’ even though that’s definitely not the case!”

Several respondents echoed this sentiment. Given the emotional toll testing takes on students, it makes sense that many teachers try to prepare their students for success. But as Susie, a middle school teacher from a struggling school, explains, even that route is fraught. “Standardized tests assume that teachers as well as students know the game.  And there IS a game to taking the tests.  Students who are versed in how to play the game have an enormous advantage.”

And at the end of the day, literacy educators are frustrated by the fact that they and their students have to play a game at all.

This story, from an elementary school teacher who wished to remain anonymous, paints the picture well:

“Recently, we had a student our principal identified as having reading trouble because of two consecutive extremely low MAP scores. Yet, in class, this student tended to perform well above the norm and to engage in all the appropriate learning behaviors independently. The intervention team started looking for standardized interventions to implement, despite the student’s clear signs of success. What we came to find out is that the student knew that, if he showed improvement, he would receive an incentive; he purposely tanked the first MAP to ensure that the second would be better, and on the second he performed lower than capacity to continue to guarantee that the incentive would be easy to earn.

This isn’t an uncommon story. What can we do to turn it around? Share your stories!