My students and I have just survived the CSTs (California Standards Test). My twenty-five fourth graders endured four days of testing - two days of Language Arts and two days of Math.
When I was an elementary school student, I didn’t like taking the standardized tests. As an elementary school teacher, I don’t like administering the standardized tests. I wish someone, with some power in the way our schools run, would realize the inconsistencies involved in these tests. I spend all year teaching the tested subjects, as well as Social Studies and Science, yet by only testing these two particular subjects we have given our students the message that those are the most important subjects. (Not that I’m suggesting our students need additional testing).
I have spent many hours in professional development, being advised on how to teach to the “whole student.” I am well aware that my students have different backgrounds - academic, cultural, religious, socio-economic, and I do my best to teach in the most varied way possible. Which is why we cut up tortillas when studying equivalent fractions, go shopping with grocery store ads when discussing the addition and rounding of decimals, will complete a Mad Lib when practicing the parts of speech, rub balloons on our hair to demonstrate static electricity, and play multiplication volleyball. I am praised for the ways I allow my students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of a concept. However, after all my year-long efforts, it comes down to how well my kids take a multiple choice test.
And let’s be honest - some kids don’t test well. They freeze, tense up, lose focus, and just don’t function as well as they could. Sitting silently, for about an hour and a half, no movement and no sounds allowed, is in direct opposition to how my class normally functions and how my students’ bodies need to behave.
Some of my students just don’t care. They haven’t yet made the connection that what they are doing now, as nine and ten-year-olds, is important. They haven’t yet mastered the concept of self-pride and doing your best on something because it is a representation of you.
But that’s the most frustrating part. These tests are not just a reflection of my students. They are a reflection on my school and my teaching. An unfair reflection, but a reflection nonetheless. Today’s society has gotten quick to point the finger at “least effective teachers.” Where is the finger-pointing for least effective parents? I provided "brain food" (a.k.a. healthy snacks) for my students during each day of testing, knowing that some of them will come to school without eating breakfast. I encouraged my students to go to bed by 9:30 the nights before testing, knowing that wouldn’t be the case in all their homes. And then there are my students who are shuttling between homes, students whose parents are in the process of separation and/or divorce, students whose parents are remarrying and are inheriting brothers and sisters. There is no way to compare a student’s academic behavior from one year to the next and insist that all factors remain consistent. Factors don’t remain consistent. We are human beings and things change. Lives change.
The Los Angeles Times can print what they want about me; I know I do my job with a passion that not all teachers share. My administrator may consider my previous years’ scores lackluster, but I know that I am educating children; children not robots. Children who are not being suspended for fighting like they were last year. Young ladies and gentlemen who are working on areas of self-control and self-respect.
But that’s who I am. That’s how I’ll teach. And that’s how my students will learn.