What the Tests Don’t Show

I have a student this year that I am in awe of. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is a true testament to growth-mindset. She is my go-to person for most tech questions. She is the rare 5th-grader who uses technology in meaningful ways in her spare time. My student, L, is a role model to both students and adults.

pexels-photo-733856.jpegYes, I realize I’m waxing on about L and here’s why. L has run our school’s daily news all year – which is a news broadcast. She films, edits, and most recently, been in front of the camera. When I’m having issues with a computer/tablet she’s the first person I consult and she usually has the solution. She uses her phone as if it were a mini computer: downloading Google Classroom, working on assignments at home, using Raz-Kids, and other programs to help her succeed. She has helped her family to download and set up educational apps (on their phones) to help them be connected to Class Dojo and learn a new language. She ‘texts’ me via Google Hangouts (her school account) to ask school-related questions or just tell me that she’ll be out the next day.

I’m sure you’re thinking that’s impressive for a 5th-grader, but not swoon-worthy. THIS is where her story begins to show how amazing she is. If we only look at her statistics – test scores, socioeconomic status, home language, etc – we would miss everything!

L is a second (maybe third) language learner. Her family speaks a dialect from the Oaxaca region in Mexico and Spanish. She qualifies for free/reduced lunch.  She was hit by a car last year while riding her bike (no helmet) and still suffers from some brain swelling which has impacted her memory, vision (not drastically), and headaches. She continues to go to the doctor for her injuries. L has an IEP for learning differences. The IEP was in place before the accident. See, you’re impressed now, aren’t you?

So, while some tests can help guide us, they don’t measure the most important things about our students. They don’t tell their stories and it’s those stories that truly help us connect with our students and serve their needs. Without the personal relationships we build with our students, how could we ever build them up? How could we see their potential and set them on a path to success? How could we do our jobs? If only the test-crazy people would understand that a child is so much more than a silly test.

State Test & Slime: Perfect Pairing

img_0003.jpgSlime. A craze that is still going strong in my classroom. While many teachers find it the bane of their existence; I do not. Okay, fidget spinners might be the new bane of our existence. I don’t ban the slime, or fidget spinners, mainly because my students seem to understand that each has a time and place. My students, for the most part, have found a balance between work and slime.

This past week, my students began taking the state test. Again, I didn’t ban slime, nor did I encourage it. It’s just a ‘thing’ that exists in the classroom. As I was monitoring the students, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: while taking the test they were playing with slime. Let me be clear. It’s not all students, in fact, it’s about 5 or so and they were completely focused on their tasks.

IMG_0006One student kept the slime in her container, read, and simply played with it by dipping her finger in and out of the slime. She gets a bit nervous because she wants to do well. I believe it helped relieve some anxiety. I took a quick picture and texted it to her mom (our school’s secretary). We just giggled.

Meanwhile, a few other students had it on their tables, off to the side. They poked at it, rolled it, and kneaded it all while focusing on the test.

So if you’ve banned slime in your classroom, you may want to rethink it. Of course, there have been times where I had to confiscate slime because someone was focused on playing with it rather than working. However, if it helps calm students, why not let them play?

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So. Over. Testing.

portrayal-89189_1280Without a doubt! I have 16 days left in the school year and I need to finish 1 state test and START and complete 2 district ‘Benchmarks’. THEN if one of the district benchmarks is below a certain level I have to administer an additional assessment. Can we say, “Overkill”? If I’m feeling this way, I can’t image how over these assessments my students are.

Now add on to that the end of the year hubbub. And being 5th grade we have a few more hubbubby things to do than some other grades – tour the middle school and my personal favorite (seriously, no sarcasm here) the puberty video (boys and girls are separated). AND we are trying to finish the last 5 scenes of our movie.

I will hand it to my students, they tried super hard on all the tests thus far. Today we began the 5th-grade science test. It’s so outdated that it doesn’t align to the NGSS. And it’s on paper (we have been taking all tests online). AND, as one student so cleaverly put it, “Why did they give us all the answers?” Yeah, he was referring to the A, B, C, D choice he had.

I waited until today, only because someone asked, to break it to them that this was NOT the end of tests. It was at that point that they were officially So. Over. Testing. I felt for them. I mean 16 days. We should be wrapping things up, finding the joy in our year, ending it with fun, but instead our education system gives students a final ‘Hurrah’ with testing, testing, and more testing.

When the Common Core State Standards arrived, I was hopeful. It was to be the beginning of deep and meaningful learning and the end of high-stakes testing. I think the message got lost along the way. Fortunately, San Diego Unified SD has rethought the current testing trend. Hopefully, more school districts will follow suit.

Real World Vs. Standardized Tests

Today began our Second Trimester Benchmark Assessments. Fortunately, I am in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom. This means that my students are able to take the assessment online. My students work online daily, so this is no big deal – or so I thought.

The students had 1 open ended question to answer. As I was checking them, I noticed that two boys, who sat next to each other, had the same wording for their answer. My immediate thought was, “Oh great, they cheated.” That wasn’t really the case.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Enokson

When I spoke with them, I asked why they both had the same answer. One boy, honestly answered, “We were helping each other.”

And that’s when it hit me. With or without Common Core, we still have a disconnect between how students learn, and how we ‘record’ their knowledge.

Common Core has students working and collaborating together. Common Core encourages students to problem solve in groups, using technology to assist them.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Laurie Sullivan

And then what do we do? We (not just my district) then decide that in order to show us their knowledge, they are to take a test, on their own – in isolation. I’m sure I’m not the only one that sees this disconnect.

How is it that we expect ALL students to do well when we teach, and they learn, in one way; then have them take a test in isolation? No wonder my students thought nothing of helping each other on the Benchmark Assessment, it’s what they do daily.

Here’s a crazy idea: Let’s ditch the tests altogether. Yup, class tests, district assessments, state, national, PARCC, and SBAC. As a nation we need to focus on learning, problem solving skills, collaboration, and teamwork. THESE are the skills that employers are looking for, not can someone take a test on their own.

What employers want








Credit: Dr. Beverly Young, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Academic #ccttcd2014

Testing – 5th Grade Review

Sadly, testing is a part of our teaching lives. I could go on about the Testing Craze, but this is not the reason for this post. So, whether I like it or not, my students will be testing very shortly, like in 2 weeks shortly. In order to help them prepare, I have used a template of the game Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The template was created by Mark E. Damon. I am in no way taking credit for his hard work.

So tomorrow, my 5th graders will review some Language Arts concepts — questions came from CA Test Release Questions. So if you’re a 5th grade teacher in CA preparing for the CST, feel free to use in your classroom!

Millionaire review 1

Who Wants to be a Millionaire