Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What a Test Score Won't Reveal.. the Story of a Learner

I've been thinking a lot lately (oh no! run, she's been thinking again, and that usually leads to a long ramble..run while you still can! ) about how much of learning is about student/teacher relationships and other factors that do not get revealed with a #2 pencil on a multiple choice test.  Yes, pedagogy and teaching strategies are critical when kids are regularly attending school and participating; they allow us to push students to higher levels of thinking and creating. Without positive student-teacher relationships, however, kids may not even be physically and mentally present enough to  learn. As kids get older, do they show up to class or even school if they feel like their teachers don't care or  have respect for them? Maybe, but I doubt that they learn much in class.  Even younger students "check out" and even "act sick" to avoid school when they feel marginalized or misunderstood.
Ok, so all of this is a no-brainer to those of us committed to empowering and inspiring learners each day. What's my point? The point is that we are being held accountable for a complicated and often messy learning journey where we give our blood sweat and tears to help our students, by a number on a test; a test that takes a snapshot of a blurred brief moment will determine whether we are good teachers. And with tales of impending merit pay schemes, I am worried that basing pay on test scores will be yet another impetus for good teachers to flee education. It will also be another reason for cheating and all kinds of issues that take the focus away from what we want: students who are competent to meet the challenges of a complex world.   Although I agree that we can use some help in improving teacher training, both preservice and continued professional development, basing our pay on test scores misses a key point: the impact we make and the learning that takes place in a school year may not make its debut appearance during a stressful session of bubbling in dots on an answer sheet. 

Does a single set of standardized test scores truly tell the story of any kid? Does it tell anything meaningful and productive about the current teacher or even those in the grades prior where testing did not occur?  Does the score reflect the value of what we have done all year?
Does it reveal:
  • that Johnny has been homeless and for the first time this year he feels safe only during the day because he trusts his teacher at school?
  • that for all of kindergarten and 1st grade, the teachers who had that special needs child who didn't "qualify for any help" spent countless hours on their own researching and learning about how to help her, and even more hours keeping her and the class safe and engaged in learning?
  • that Sean's teacher spent hours each day trying to help him focus as his mom was getting chemo all during his days in kindergarten?
  • that parents and teachers often come together as partners in kids' education only to be blocked by school policies that necessitate years of failure before kids are deemed "in need" of extra help?
  • that in one school year a student made more than two years of growth, even though the test shows that he is still below grade level because he was not feeling well that week?
I could go on and on, but that's where I ask you to chime in share your stories. What does a test score leave out of the story?  How can we raise our united voices as teachers and stop this nonsensical belief that test scores tell the entire story?


George Couros said...

I really believe in what you wrote, especially talking about how each person's needs and circumstances need to be accounted for. It is essential that we look at the whole child and not a number. Just think of us as adults; do we ever appreciate being treated as a "number"? Why would we EVER do that to kids.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks George for taking the time to comment. Sometimes a test score does not capture that magic of a child believing in himself and working hard to improve. It might take years to show up on paper. You are right, as adults we don't want to be a "number"; kids deserve consideration and respect so that they can blossom.

Reading Countess said...

Amen, sister! I couldn't agree with you more. Here are just a FEW success stories never told on a didactic Q and A test:
1. A fifth grader is FINALLY diagnosed with dyslexia THIS week (after failing the state tests year after excrutiating year). The bright spot? She is reading more than she ever has, loving it...AND passed the reading test (and yes, I am her teacher) this year...first time ever.
2. An at-risk student who is identified as a potential failure but receives no intervention because she scored too high on the benchmark is commended on her state test...first time ever. But the bright spot? She is reading more than ever and enjoying it for the first time in her life.
3. A twin brother has struggled every year while his brother has no issues with reading. He is commended on the state test. The bright spot? His self esteem is through the roof, and he didn't need a state test to tell him that he has grown as a reader.
4. A girl enters public school for the first time after being in private school since kinder. She is years behind in her schooling, and all bets are on that she will fail. She passes. The bright spot? She came to Meet the Teacher with a bad attitude about reading. We made a bet that if she didn't like reading by the end of the year, that I would pay her 20 bucks. I get to save my money.
The stories go on and on. Yes, they all did well on the state test. But the results were in well before the scores were mailed to my principals. I see it in their eyes and in their book choices. They are readers.
And no amount of bubbling made them readers.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Thanks so much for sharing your stories. Congratulations to you for doing such a wonderful job with your students, igniting their love for reading. It is valuable to point out that some scores will validate what we already know about kids who have made great growth. I appreciate your insights and "real stories." I think true ed reform will happen when we personalize and not standardize this whole thing we call learning.

Paul Bogush said...

I walked into the "computer lab" section of our library the other day to find a single book left behind:

"How to get Better Test Scores on Standardized Tests"

Published by of course, The Perfection Learning Corporation.