Clearly it's been a while since my last blog post. I could come up with all sorts of creative excuses as to why, but really (apart from a small mishap with my 1st attempt at posting on this topic) what it comes down to is that I've dropped the ball. Some might say it's because I don't have any accountability for whether or not this blog succeeds. Perhaps I would blog more if I knew it was part of some proverbial grade for my life. Probably not.
How often in life have you found yourself looking back affectionately on all the times you had to take some type of assessment? Never? No fond memories of filling in bubbles or timed math tests? Weird. I know I have mentioned alternative types of assessment and the fact that I'm not as concerned about the scores my students get on their tests as I am about whether they leave my class with a sense of purpose - somehow trying, in their own way, to make a positive impact in this world. However, I also value my job. I know I have to do some iota of rule-following if I plan to continuing to make a living working with students on a daily basis. What this means is that I have to subject my students to common assessments once in a while. While I may believe that there are better ways to glean information about students than to give them a paper and pencil test - it's pretty much the most commonly accepted way to figure out what students have and have not learned.
So, to this end, I have developed some pretty strong feelings about how students should and shouldn't be tested in elementary school (specifically in the primary grades).
1. I will test only what is to be assessed. Seems obvious right? Not so. Students are routinely failed on tests because of one specific reason: the child couldn't read it. If you wanted to see how well someone could fix your car, would you have them write a 2 page, double spaced paper? No. The answer is definitely no. You probably couldn't care less about the person's paper-writing abilities. You'd want to see if the individual could fix your car. For this reason, I will continue to read test questions out loud (for students who need it) in the areas of Math, Science, and Social Studies. I'm not testing their reading skills (I assess their reading separately) - I'm testing their content knowledge and ability to problem solve. In primary school, many students are still learning to read. The change happens in upper elementary grades when students are expected to do more reading to learn.
2. I will ensure that students understand the format of the test itself AND each question. With so many ways to format questions, it's no wonder students get confused about what they need to do - getting answers wrong simply because they didn't know how to answer appropriately. Multiple choice, true/false, fill in the bubble, short answer, fill in the blank, matching, multiple answers, essay, dropdown menus, multiple correct answers, file uploads, attachments, etc. For students - knowing the information is only half the battle. They also need us to teach them the strategies of how to communicate the information.
3. I will make sure students understand what success looks and sounds like. Rubrics, 184, B-, Fail, 75%, Ace, S+, 4... none of those grades mean anything out of context to a student who has no prior experience with aforementioned grading scales. Telling a child "you got a 60% on this test" probably sounds pretty awesome to a student who has only dealt with a standards based grading system where "4" was the highest grade you could get.
4. I will not give more questions than necessary. Seriously test-makers. Just stop. If you can assess using 8 questions instead of 30. Do it. What is the point of redundancy? Remember that time you enjoyed taking long tests? Right. Me neither.
I may not be able to make change with standardized testing companies, but I'll do everything I can to make a difference in my classroom. If you'd like to check out a great summary on the problems with standardized testing you should Google: "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Standardized Testing." I'd post a link here, but this blog is attached to my student website and the video isn't appropriate for student ears.
My name is Carrie Gaffney. Someone once asked me a question that remains in the back of my mind and helps to shape my life: "How will you be remarkable?" I am continuously trying to discover new ways to answer that question.