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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  • pwcrabtree



    Your blog resonated with me for several reasons.  First, I completely relate to the craziness of school during those last few days… oh wait! I have 9 more days! My elementary sweeties checked out right after the pools opened on Memorial Day.  We are all ready for some relaxation and rejuvenation yet we still have much learning to do.

    What really caught my attention was your disappointment with yourself in regards to the three students who did not pass their state tests.  In my county I must deliver an assessment in 6th grade for art and I must also create a SMARTR goal that I collect data and meet in the course of the year for our teacher evaluation.  I will not know how my students did on their 6th grade assessment until the beginning of next year, which is a little unnerving… but I did complete my end of year reflection for my SMARTR goal just this week. 

    In a class of 25 students, I had 3 students not improve by 10 points or more and I had 4 students who did not meet my goal that all students would reach a score of 70% on our color theory assessment.  I see my students every other week for an 80 minute block of art. This winter was brutal and I missed many classes with this group. 
    Most students made leaps and bounds passing with 80% or better and a gain of 20+ points!  However, my students who did not pass were my ESOL and my special ed students. 

    Mid-year they all had made good progress but then slipped after missing so many snow days.  My lessons included working with partners, 4 corner activities, practice mixing colors, creating color schemes, and a culminating project that allowed them to mix their own palettes and create a concentric shape painting using color schemes.  The assessments were delivered using SMART technology Senteo clickers and all questions were read aloud.  However, some students still did not meet my goals (which I set for myself) for my evaluation SMARTR goal.  If this were my formative year, I would be placed on a conditional contract as this standard (goal) counts for 40% of my evaluation.

    I am a perfectionist who takes pride in my work with my students. I want them all to succeed.  I work hard to reach all students in a variety of ways. Yet, I failed some of my learners.  I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around the fact that wasn’t able to reach all of my learners through the variety of activities that I offered.   Also, there is the fact that I am giving a TEST to my 4th graders in ART- 3X a year. 

    How do I instill the love of learning and a love of art in my students when I feel that data and test scores are more relevant than the time I spend with them to help them create, express, and connect with the world around them?