If you know me, you know that I abhor standardized testing. You'll also know, then, that this has not been my year. I like to refer to this as the year of tests. Or the year of suck. Either one fits.
Indiana's standardized test, the ISTEP, has always been given in the fall. This year, however, they've made the move to switch testing to spring. What this means for this year is that to have an appropriate amount of time between tests, students took the ISTEP this fall, and they are now taking it again in the spring. My school system has also incorporated another standardized test, one which the kids take four times throughout the year. Basically, I feel like all I have done this year is test. And teach to the tests, which frustrates me. It's not why I became a teacher and the trend toward high stakes testing kills me (thanks No Child Left Behind!). I am also frustrated by the fact that, somehow, I'm supposed to give two hours worth of test without so much as a bathroom break. In case you're wondering, this is my own personal pregnant lady hell.
Today I want to say something positive about testing, though. More about my students, actually. One of my biggest frustrations is the writing prompt on the ISTEPs. Every year, I spend countless hours teaching the kids how to write essays, and every year, the prompt is so convoluted that everything I've taught the kids goes out the window. EVERY YEAR. When I looked at the prompt this year, I knew it'd be more than the same. Instead of giving kids one question to answer, they listed off several questions to guide thinking. Unfortunately, this rarely guides thinking, and instead, makes kids feel like they need to just answer all the questions in one paragraph. Instead of five pargraphs, like I've taught them. If they ask me during the test how many paragraphs to write, I cannot tell them. I cannot even tell them to think of what we do in class. I can only say, "That's up to you." Trust me, the urge to develop a cough that sounds an awful lot like THESIS STATEMENT is overwhelming.
Yesterday, though, as I walked around the room toward the end of the prompt, I saw that of my 25 testing students, only five did not write five paragraphs. The rest? Perfect five paragraph essays? Did I want to hug them? YES. Sure, they didn't have good thesis statements, and some of them had misspelled words, but my students listened and applied. Afterward, several of them proudly told me how much they wrote and again, I wanted to hug them. Despite this, I know the Language Arts scores will still probably be lower than I'd like (they always are), but in the end, my kids made me proud yesterday.