“Test Prep”

This post has been marinating in my mind for awhile now. I made myself promise it to you last week to make sure I would actually write it. I need to write it. Then Saturday came…and went in a lazy-busy way that is perfect for Saturdays, but not so perfect for remembering to blog. Which brings us to now. And TEST PREP.

When I first entered the field, test prep was almost a taboo term. Almost. We didn’t want to teach to the test, we wanted to teach to students’ needs. It seems we’ve shifted our focus a little, almost believing that the need is to pass the test. And in some ways it is. Here in Indiana, our third graders will take the first ever IREAD test. If they don’t pass, they’ll take it again at a later date. If they don’t pass the second time, then they must be retained. Now that “must be” is filled with conversation, but the basic gist is pass the IREAD or retake third grade.

I understand the high stakes of these tests.

Also, here in Indiana (and I’m sure other places too), teacher pay is soon to be linked to the performance of students on standardized tests. All teachers will be evaluated on the results of standardized tests.

I understand the high stakes of these tests.

My own children, who have been told and told and told not to worry about the tests are anxious — and only one actually takes a state test this year! But the others are tested..by computers and teachers and other ways to show if they are “on track” and “prepared to succeed” on future standardized tests. My daughter complains of stomach aches, and I have to wonder if it is because of the emphasis on test prep.

I understand the high stakes of these tests.

But…(You knew it was coming, right?)

I understand more than the high stakes of standardized tests. So I’m willing to shoulder the “test prep,” and wrap strong arms around workshop teaching.

I understand children learn at different rates. I understand some years they are sponges and grow and develop at warp speeds, while other years there may not be as much growth.

I understand there are influences on the results of standardized tests other than if a child knows the information. Wording of questions matter. Personal lives matter. Health matters.

I understand there isn’t a silver bullet to prepare to face standardized tests. Although there are many gimmicks and people and websites that promise, guarantee even, that if you use their materials your students will perform well on standardized tests, I know this isn’t the truth.

I understand we’re working with children, not objects. Children who are finding themselves and developing understandings. I understand my job is to foster a love of learning. To encourage and inspire children to take risks and figure things out and muck around a little in the mess of learning.

Most importantly, I understand the child matters more than a score on a test.

And so I approach test prep from this stance. I want children to face that test, with confidence and hope and a warrior’s spirit. I want them to know they know the things they need to succeed. I want them to be bold and trust themselves. I want them to believe they are the kinds of people who perform well on tests.

This happens through workshop teaching — not gimmicks or drill and practice worksheets. When students have time to write and read in authentic ways, on topics of their interest and choosing, then they develop the skills they need to succeed on standardized tests.

This week, my involvement in test prep is to help young writers realize all they know about writing — and to believe this is more than enough for them to be successful on a standardized test. We will make charts about the things we know as writers, and students will claim strategies for themselves. They’ll practice using craft and conventions. They’ll smile about the things they can do. This is our focus…the things they can do — not the ways they are falling short. And they will face the test feeling encouraged and loved.

Avi said it best —

If you want to teach me to write, first you must love me.