It’s that time of year again. If you are a parent or a teacher, the dreaded testing week is upon us. I fall into both of the above categories and I hate this whole testing thing as a mom and a teacher. This is my soapbox, so consider yourself warned.
Let’s Talk Circumstances
Most of my teaching career has been in at-risk classrooms. The students and their families have high poverty rates, high transiency rates and are learning English as a second language. Many are here illegally and have fears and traumas they are sorting through – the magnitude of which most of us have never experienced. Many don’t know where their next meal will come from on long weekends and holidays. In these cases, the fact that they are in school and making progress is pretty darn amazing. But they are. And the teachers in these schools are among the best I’ve ever worked with. You see, in these schools, with these students, a teacher cannot simply say “Turn to page 113 and read the first section” because they can’t read it … yet. You can’t have them go online at home and complete their iReady assignment – they don’t have computers or internet. But yet, the teachers roll up their sleeves and find ways to make learning concrete, memorable and fun. The kids learn in spite of their circumstances. But… these schools typically have low test scores and are labeled as failing schools. I don’t know about you, but when a child learns in the worst of circumstances, the teachers dig in and find ways to help them learn, and the staff as a whole works together to make sure the emotional, physical and developmental needs are met for each student so that they can learn, I call that a WINNING school. But… according to the standardized test scores, that is not how they will be viewed.
Now Let’s Dig Into Differentiation
I have also taught in more affluent schools. In these settings, the students have everything stacked in their favor. They have parents who provide for their needs, schools that have endless resources and a rockin’ PTA. They have access to tutors, learning experiences and clubs and opportunities to explore their varied interests. But guess what? No matter how privileged they are, they all learn differently. I have had students who are so incredibly bright, creative and interesting. But – you guessed it, they score average to below average on the standardized tests. These assessments only measure one type of thinking, on 1-2 given days, and yet make huge assumptions on each student based on their performance. For my creative, out-of-the box thinkers, good luck. My test anxiety kids, and the kids who have a headache on testing day, have a wiggly tooth, or had their feelings hurt by a classmate right before the test – good luck. The irony is, teachers are required to show differentiation in their teaching, however the tests are just, well, standard.
So Let’s Put This in Perspective
If you are a parent or a teacher, you may feel like you have no control in these testing situations. And realistically, we have very little control over it. But, what you can control is how your child or student feels about testing. Reassure them of their strengths. Remind them that these tests only measure a tiny part of them and let them know that you see their efforts, their progress and their value, no matter what they score on their tests. Love them unconditionally and allow them to blossom in their own time and in their own way – they all do eventually, and their self-esteem is far more valuable than a silly test score that will mean absolutely nothing in 20 years.
End of my soapbox.
Go hug your student, child. Their smile is where you’ll find the real magic.