It's that time of year again! The time of year when school becomes a place of stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. Yes folks, its everyone's favorite time of year -- standardized test time!
For two weeks every year learning stops in my library. What is usually a vibrant, busy, joyous space is transformed into a testing center. For two weeks I test students on their math and language arts abilities. For two weeks my library is shut to down to all other students. For two weeks there is no computer access. For two weeks I don't get to answer students questions, teach technology or do the job I love. For two weeks I am a slave to a standardized test.
Standardized tests are supposed to evaluate how well our students are doing in math, language arts and science. These days the tests are used not only to determine how well students are doing but also how well their teachers are doing. Test scores can now determine if a teacher has a job next year or not.
This is insane! How does one test made by a for-profit corporation determine the fate of so many people? A test where we don't even know who is making up the questions? A "group of teachers," they say. Has anyone ever met that "group of teachers"? Also who grades these tests? Are they teachers, admins, people extensive knowledge of the topic? No one seems to know... (after posting this a friend turned me on to this blog post about test graders it is scary stuff)
It is disheartening that these tests do not test the whole child but instead what he or she knows about very specific items in math, language arts and science. Social Studies, PE, Health, Art, Music, Foreign Language, Technology, Library Skills, Home Economics, etc. for some reason are not considered important subjects in the world of standardized tests resulting in a huge decline in the offering of classes in these areas of study in today's schools.
So here's a news flash -- am a horrible test taker. Throughout school I had tutors, stayed after school every day and worked really hard but I could not do it. My brain does not work that way. I don't have a test takers brain. I didn't even break 1000 on my SAT scores. If you looked at my standardized test scores in school I would be seen as a total failure. But somehow I pulled off a double major in college, was on the dean's list, have my masters degree and am now one class away from having my supervisory certification. I am certified as an Elementary School Teacher, a Middle and High School Social Studies Teacher and a School Librarian, but I can't master a standardized test.
I left school "college and career ready" but if you looked at my scores on a standardized test you would not think that.
My 9 year old son is an amazing athlete, speaker, avid reader and smart at so many different things. The other day he asked me the if he failed his NJASK test last year. I wondered why he was asking -- he told me he he is being pulled out of his social studies class (which he loves and does well in) to go for test prep. He did not fail the NJASK last year in language arts but he came close. He is not a big writer. He technically answers the questions but does so briefly without elaborating like the test wants and because of this he is now being penalized. Don't get me wrong, I am totally in favor of the district giving him extra help to prepare for the exam but when my 9 year old son asks if he is a failure because he did not answer the questions the way the standardized test wants it breaks my heart.
We are a society that values out of the box, creative thinking but we don't test that way.
I am all for measuring student achievement. I believe we must, but I do not believe a standardized test does that. It does not measure the whole child. It does not provide a clear picture of what a student has learned throughout the year. It doesn't accurately represent how he or she has grown as a writer, artist, etc. I am not sure what the best measure is. I am a huge fan of e-portfolios but if there is another tool out there I am up for that too.
In the next few weeks I will watch as my students get sick in class because of how nervous they are. I will see our teachers stressed because they can only control what goes on in their own classrooms and not what happens at home. Our administrators will be nervous because test scores directly affect school funding and much more. Parents will be upset because they see their children so worried about something that is no real predictor of success later in life.
I love my job. I love my students. I love my teachers and I love being an educator but for two weeks every year I am heartsick because this is not what I signed up for. My students are not learning, my teachers are not teaching and my admins are not getting a chance to lead the school. All we are doing is praying we don't fail some standardized test.
P.S. I recently read an amazing blog post by my friend Tony Sinanis on his take on standardized testing. It is well work a read http://leadingmotivatedlearners.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-will-this-help.html
I could not do my job without my amazing parent volunteers! I am so lucky to have a group of loyal parents who come when they can to help shelve books and organize the library.
Without them I know that I would never be able to have enough time to do some of cool things I do in the library. Every year all the librarians in the district get together to thank all of the parents in the district by throwing a volunteer tea for them. It is coming up next week and I can not wait! I am hosting it in my library this year and am excited to show off some of the amazing artwork that my students have designed.
I am also very much looking forward to our first ever Cupcake Decorating Fundraiser.
Elisabeth Antoine has been one of my parent volunteers for the last three years. She is also an amazing artist (check out her website) and pastry chef and has just published 6 books on making and decorating different sweets. Elisabeth approached me recently with the idea of doing a Cupcake Decorating Fundraiser for the Library. She will supply the cupcake and all the materials to decorate it and the students will learn how to make their own owl cupcake. I can't wait,it is next Thursday and is going to be some much fun!!
I love my parent volunteers! My library would not be what it is without them.
Here is a link to the flyer about the Cupcake Decorating Fundraiser
It all started with a post on Edmodo the free social learning network that we use at SOMS.
The library has an Edmodo group that all the students at SOMS can join. It is the one place where 6th,7th and 8th graders can talk about books, school and life in general.
Most of the time it is me starting discussions about different books or technology topics but students are allowed to post "notes" to the group. A few days ago a student posted a note saying, "Happy Poetry Month."
To be honest, I have been so busy that I forgot to do something about it. That first post led to students starting to post their favorite poems by their favorite authors like Shel Silverstein. But quickly my library group has become a place for students to post their own poems. Poems that blow me away with their creativity, raw emotions and at times humor. I did nothing to make this happen but allow them a place to post their poems.
Edmodo made this happen. Without it I and the over 200 students and staff in the group would not get to see these poems by our students. Without it I would not get to read the amazingly supportive comments by other students. Without Edmodo I would not get to see a student who barely talks in class write profound, heart touching poetry, see a student who is constantly in trouble write funny, creative poems or a special education child who struggles in school open up.
Thank you, Edmodo -- learning certainly does happen there! All you need to do is step back and give the students the place to make it happen.
Here are a few of the amazing poems:
Watched the waves crash on the shore,
and you watched the seagulls fly and sore,
Waded in the water up to your hips,
let a smooth stone brush your finger tips,
Went along with the water and its tide,
nature was the only thing on your side,
Then I found you and all words didn't sound the same,
ever since I was here, ever since I came,
and now you and I are the best of friends,
we'll stay with each other right 'till the end.
Turn the pages, take a look,
there's dragons and bad guys running amok.
Prancing horses, running by
eagles flying in the sky
Witches laughing all around,
snakes slithering on the ground.
Foxes chased by a hound.
Lions roar, lions pounce,
rescued by a tiny mouse.
Nights are here to save the day,
cows in fields just sleep away.
A zoo of animals just come and look.
But all these creatures run amok,
when i open up a story book.
Don't cry Just try!!!!
we sometimes wish to stand in the rain
and wish for all our pains to fade away.
Some wish and wish till they couldn't speak.
Some wishes come alive but some......
You can't just wish sometimes
You sometimes have to run after what you want.
Like hunting for a box of treasure.......
you love them
you hate them
you share them
you keep them
you dare them
Oh how that word rings mellifluously
Something that is part of your life
That is so refreshing and liquidy
That you can drink during hot times
Untouched, it's like a sheet of glass
Reflects the sunlight like a mirror
Unless if someone throws a rock and SPLASH!
Ripples spread out, never getting nearer
Water is very wet, yet it's smooth
It's colorless, transparent and clear
Sometimes it gets sucked out of food
Only when you're not eating it here (Earth)
Water comes in many different forms
It flows wherever it can with liberation
Sometimes, water is very forlorn
Yet, it provides some contribution
Life, to everything and everyone
Destruction, to everything and everyone
Water is water
There's a Needle in my Foot
There's a needle in my foot
I don't know where it is,
There's a thorn in my arm
I'm getting really pissed.
There's a pin in my ear
I don't know where it's from,
There's a stinger in my leg
and I'm not having fun.
That's all it takes to awaken the birds
For the sun to fill the air
This little shine,
This little sparkle,
Will the Sun even dare
To bring morning and to fill the sky till there’s nothing left to share
To awaken the people,
To bring the morning,
Is a hard burden it must bare
But it will bring the morning and it will fill the air
Because that’s how life works
And we all must do our share
Elissa Malespina is the Middle School Teacher Librarian in Somerville and a Presenter, Author and much more. The views are my own. Find my full resume above.