Freestyle Week: Just Getting To The Test Is A Challenge [Common CorrrUGH]

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This week, I’m writing blog posts based on people’s submissions to my Facebook page right here. My second one is based on online friend Theresa DeVore’s suggested title, “How can we keep our compassion in this era of high stakes accountability? When told to make sure test scores are raised but in the classroom students are not motivated. I have had to personally remind myself that I teach children and not to become frustrated or angry at them.” Let’s go …

On normal days, I teach my more difficult class starting at 8am sharp.

OK, that’s not exactly true. It’s more that I start telling them to sit down, take out a pencil or something to write with, open up a notebook, get them to start the “Do Now,” wait for the daily pledge of allegiance and morning announcements to finish, and THEN get started.

Yet, that’s what I’m doing. The first few students trickle in with shuffling feet, a few outbursts, and the unwrapping of a few sandwiches from the delis across the street. I’d rather not choose between them having breakfast in my class so they could function properly or not having breakfast so they could disrupt everyone else’s learning.

I didn’t sign up for this, either. At least not explicitly.

Today’s New York State ELA test broke from our traditional schedule, letting me proctor 18 English Language Learners, many of whom I teach or have known from different school activities. Unlike my usual mornings, the lack of sound is deafening to an 80s baby used to a little din in his ear. The ELA test hung over their nervous heads for the first twenty minutes of the period. A little after the morning announcements, some administrators came to reassure them.

They left. The students looked at me. I looked at them. One of them blurted, “Now I’m even MORE nervous.”

While I’m not at liberty to discuss the proceedings of the ELA test, I can tell you that, afterwards, kids wondered why the hell they even came to school. They got that it was an important part of their promotional criteria, and they remembered how to write so they didn’t blame their teachers in the slightest. They did, however, feel like they could have given a better shot at passing the test. A couple of people even brought the idea of a portfolio for a final evaluation.

A few nodded. Does this make kids smarter than the test makers?

Because, really, one might make the case that math depends on fluency, meaning getting it right and getting it quick, whatever “it” is. However, reading and writing don’t have the same limitations in real life. There might be “deadlines,” but nothing like the 135 or so minutes we give students to finish an essay in response to a speech or a piece of literature they’re given. How does anyone “get” anything they’ve read when only given a few minutes to read it?

Then again, on testing days, the attendance rate is almost perfect in a school where it’s already 94% and above on most days. The fact that some of our students even make it to school on time encourages me to put my best foot forward, even when it feels like they’d rather stay outside, away from the rules, the uniforms, the tests, and the grades that, to others, often become reflections of the student as a person instead of the student as an academic performer.

These thoughts run through my mind while pacing back and forth not as math teacher, but as proctor for an exam I otherwise can’t stand. Some finished. Some didn’t. All of them became kids again shortly after I took the last booklet from the students in front of me. The mix of angst and prayer remained during their stadium-loud discussion about how they felt they did on the test with each other. After this is all over, I’ll tell them this doesn’t mean a thing about how much they’re worth, but it might be too late for them.

I observed their discussions from the front of the room, thinking this Common Core stuff is a lot more complex than the A, B, C, D answer sheet they’re given.

Mr. Vilson, whose got more of these to go …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

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