The Uncertainty of Success With Tests

Yesterday, after a grueling two periods with my more rambunctious class, the after-lunch crowd, I walked down to the auditorium, looked at one of my colleagues and said, “Just a couple more days left, right?” We got the news from our principal: the ELA and math pass / fail marks for the state tests had come out, and our percentage of students who met promotional criteria went up.  I also found out that, based on NYC promotional criteria, I only have three students who didn’t meet promotional criteria, which means that the rest of my students absolutely did. With two of those three being constantly absent and the third possibly in need of services, I should feel some sort of validation that everything I did to switch my teaching worked.

I’m technically supposed to be excited. Yet, I … I don’t know.

Obviously, I’m disappointed for those students who didn’t meet the criteria. I know the teacher wisdom is to be happy with just one, but I rarely ever am. I want 100%, as unattainable as it seems. I was hoping the two truant students had somehow found themselves back in my class consistently. I hoped the other student would have somehow clicked with the way I taught, but that didn’t happen either.

I’m supposed to be happy with just three students not meeting promotional criteria. I’m not.

Then there’s the actual test. An anti-tester / pro-whole child type like me feels odd exclaiming how great a teacher I am based on a measure I don’t particularly like or embrace. If anything, it makes me wonder how I can make my own assessments much more significant than the standardized exams. What does my sigh of relief of having so many of my students pass an arbitrary requirement actually do for student learning? If we can’t bypass the language of teaching to the test, or having that cold, wet blanket of “the big test” draped over our backs whenever we try to experiment, then what am I really in this for?

Worse off, what do I actually learn from having this many students pass? Sure, I can say definitively that the students I had this year did better than the students from last year. Yet, how do I know what I did worked? How do I know if New York City and State significantly moved the scale scores or the actual promotional criteria for my eighth graders? What if their measurements were based on just the multiple choice section when I focused so much of my pedagogy on open-ended questions? What if they included open-ended responses, but the questions didn’t read well?

On days like these, I’m left with more questions than answers. Yet, I’m still teaching them now as if they’re going to high school. That’s gotta count for something.

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