Saturday, March 3, 2012

State mandated testing used for Good! Not Evil!

Greetings oh fellow mathematicians.

It's another epic Saturday night, complete with Sandwich King, Restaurant Impossible, Worst Cooks in America, and other DVR culinary delights on Food Network. Granted, I did rent Cowboys vs. Aliens on Redbox, but the hubby doesn't want to watch it, so I guess it will keep until morning. Or I'll pay a whopping extra $1.50 for another day. 

We are a week out from spring break in my district, and after our lovely Snow Day on Wednesday, us teachers have been scrambling to decide whether to cram in the current unit, or carry it over break, or make it into another full week. The things students never think about... how snow days REALLY mess with a unit. Especially those that have been timed out nearly to the second, and now we are down a whopping 75 minutes x 60 seconds... AHHHH!!!  

Alas, in the preparations for completing said unit, I was lucky enough to work with an open-minded colleague to branch into the territory of flex grouping. It takes a lot of guts to open up and share students mid-year. Considering how fiercely independent most educators are, to open up your classroom, share students, and be willing not only to cross-teach, but to share strategies and embrace the interconnectedness that comes from real teaming, is really powerful. It is nearly impossible not to become a better teacher, from the experience of sharing students and truly collaborating on content.

I can only imagine what it must feel like, being sorted into groups, if the intent is not explained. I was quite clear with my students, that we sorted students based on their performance on a particular strand of the state test, and that our goal is to push everyone into a higher bracket, from wherever they are. 

Students are surprisingly receptive to understanding that it is OKAY to not be the same as everyone else, when it comes to prior knowledge and ability level, and speed of acquiring new skills, for a particular unit. I have not had a single complaint from a student or parent, that said that it was a bad idea, to try to reach each individual student in a speed and content difficulty, appropriate to their skills. 

Would you want to compete in a marathon with runners far surpassing your own personal preparations and speed and age/gender? Would you want to be last in "their" class, or "best" compared to your own personal "best"? Don't we all, in the end, want to feel we are pushing ourselves, past our own prior expectations? And to feel we are doing the best with what we were given to work with? And to know we tried our best?

So here we are, half way complete with testing season, and I am surprisingly optimistic as to the benefits of multiple testing indicators in a current year. My team has embraced the goal of improving student retention and skills, and to show growth from winter to spring on all measurable indicators. We are already beating last year's data by 5 percent (comparing this year's February, to last year's April data). So by spring, we hope to double that growth. As professionals, shouldn't the goal of any SMART goal, or other goal, be to continually look for improvement, and to absorb what has worked, and ditch what hasn't worked? In that capacity, we are in a win-win situation. 

I am not sure how many other districts, states or countries can say the same. 

So my question, to my wonderful readers, is... what have you tried that has worked? or hasn't worked? Do you have a coworker who is holding you back? Are you getting push-back from somewhere else? Is your funding being cut? And in the long run, what are you willing and able to do about it? Because... let me tell you... having embraced the data, and used it for GOOD, versus EVIL, and as a TOOL, I have found many benefits to seek out the greater good, in the long run, than any evil repercussions resulting from "over-testing".

So is testing "real, or not real?" as Peeta Mellark says in Mockingjay, testing is as REAL as you make it! Do you embrace testing as a tool for change? Or as a punitive device? Because your students are watching you. And your attitude and integrity will make all the difference as to how they take the tests, and interpret the results of said tests, and how they feel about the results. 

Shouldn't the end goal be, that they tried their best, and they look for areas to improve? Because if it's not, then what's the point to going to school at all? Why don't we just go into the work force at age 14, if we're not going to even try to become better people? And learn from our mistakes... Hmmmm..... 

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