Recently I posted this to the Cooperative Catalyst Blog, where I find myself blogging more often these days–I have no time to do both right here at the end of the school year. It generated a ton more conversation and controversy than I ever would have possibly envisioned. See the comments at Joy in Standardized Tests.
Much of the conversation in response to this weeks’ blog posts has centered around joy in learning and joy in school. Here’s my story of this past week.
I am my school’s testing coordinator. This is my first year doing it and we are doing all of our state tests online. I am coordinating 10 tests–4 for 3rd and 5th grade and 2 for fourth grade. I decided we were going to take them in ways that MADE SENSE and that took as little time as possible. I decided I wasn’t going to scare teachers to death about talking to kids, answering questions and supporting them. (Our central office coordinator has good sense–she told us early that what the state requires is that every child has the opportunity to “test well” in an environment that supports that and that folks don’t cheat. I repeated that to my teachers and told them I trusted them to follow the rules they already know from past years–they are all experienced at this state testing rigamarole!) I was NOT going to model this testing as a “do or die” situation. I was going to be calm and assure kids they were going to be fine.
I set up a schedule and approved it with teachers, so they had control and some time to work on the subjects over which they felt less secure. We started with subjects with which the kids would feel really successful. If kids hadn’t been taking tests in small groups all year, we didn’t set up those artificial situations this time. Most kids are taking the tests in the lab with their class, as they have been working all year.
I started several weeks ago telling kids about brain gym exercises they could do, sharing success stories from my own experiences. I gave them strategies for relaxing, for narrowing down choices on a multiple choice test, and answered their questions as to what would happen if they didn’t pass. I kept reassuring them this test was simply for the state to let them show what they knew, so it wasn’t going to decide their classes next year, or whether they would “pass their grade.” I work with kids in all grades 3-5, so I know what I was telling the kids I work with was spreading among most of the kids in those tested grades.
I shared with kids a story of last year. I was proctoring in a 3rd grade online testing situation, and the computers went down. The teacher and I made eye contact–not knowing how long we’d have to stall. The testing coordinator came in and calmly told us they would get the computers back up as soon as possible and we just needed to be patient. So, knowing we couldn’t let the kids talk to each other, or leave the room as a group, I started teaching them brain exercises–a couple of tricks I had learned form a great PE teacher, Pam Walker. We spent a few minute doing these, with me talking about how it calms them down, gets their brain working to the max, and within a few minutes, the computers were ready for them to log back in and continue. Those kids did GREAT on that test, and kids heard me when I told them these exercises really work!
(This year, when that teacher came to the lab with her kids, she handed me a copy of some brain gym exercises she had gotten from the web. Knowing she wouldn’t have me in there this year, she came prepared to do her own version of pumping up those kids with brain gym work!)
So, I’ve had the joy each day of testing to see each child go into the labs, to smile at them to tell them how great I know they are going to do, and I have been the one, in the middle of the test, when they ask to take a break or get a drink of water, or go to the bathroom, to be able to smile at them and say how proud I am of them for being such a good learner, or how well I just know they are going to do, or how smart I know they are. I get to touch their shoulder and give them a friendly “You can do it” smile. I get to reassure them someone believes in them and I see their taller stance as they re-enter the testing room. I get to be another person (besides their teacher) who says in many ways, “I believe in you.”
It’s been an awesome week. I have felt so great being able to pump kids up and see their smiles as they re-enter a testing room. Teachers AND kids are talking about how they are not feeling the stress this year as in years past. Our scores are coming back and they are good–we have LOTS of advanced passes, and high pass rates.
Are our scores perfect? No. Do we still have work to do? Yes. But, kids and teachers are saying it doesn’t feel like they are taking an SOL test. They have had practice doing this, they know their stuff, and they are doing it in familiar surroundings with knowledge and comfort.
Kids are smiling and feeling okay about their testing. Teachers are feeling proud of their work this year, as their kids ARE showing what they know. Our tech folks have done a GREAT job setting this up for success and tech glitches have been few and far between. One of them sits with me each day to support me, just in case, and those folks, too, smile at the kids and ooze calmness.
Do I think multiple choice tests are the best way for kids to show what they know? Of course not. Do I think they need to take over our lives? Of course not. Do I think they can be one piece of what we do? Sure. Do I think kids can handle them? Of course–it all depends on the adults around them.
While this may sound like it’s all about what I do with the kids, it’s really all of my teachers–they model belief in their kids. They teach well. They work hard all year and reward hard work in their classrooms. They are simply reaping the rewards of their dedication and care. . .and I get to help!
I have had fun this past week helping teachers be calm and helping kids be calm. I have had several kids walk out of the testing room to go to the bathroom and give ME a thumbs up sign!
And I’m not kidding, I have seen MOST kids smile beginning the test AND ending it.
Joy is often in how you approach a task.