(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)
Like many of you who are classroom teachers, we are in the midst of “state testing season.” Or at least, we are entering round one (round two comes in May with Math). This week, my sixth grade students will be diving into the state reading assessment in two two-hour blocks.
There was a time, years back, where I did very little to prep them, feeling that “teaching to the test” was against everything I believed in as an educator. I changed my mind over time as I realized they needed more overt help in navigating the test. I could not ignore the data showing how much my students were struggling and how glaring some of the weaknesses were.
I felt guilty about not helping them.
So, yes, I now teach strategies all year — good, solid reading and writing strategies, I hope — with an eye towards the state testing, which will be undergoing change in the years ahead with PARCC. I still feel a bit odd about teaching a lesson with overt references to our MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the kids groan when I mention MCAS. But I’ve come to realize that this is now part of my job. I don’t drill and kill about it. I teach strategies for approaching unknown reading passages and questions. I frame these lessons in a real way — these are the strategies that readers use all the time. I am just making them more visible. I hope.
Yesterday, we did a review of literary terms, partly as a way to lodge some ideas into their heads and partly to connect these terms to the novels we have been reading all year. Still, I have to admit: the timing of that review was designed to align with this week’s testing.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that, even with all of my intellectual defenses outlined above, that this is bad teaching and is still something I don’t believe in, as something that won’t help my students become stronger readers and better writers and more engaged citizens of the world. I walk away from these kinds of lessons with tinges of guilt that I just can’t shake — a different kind of guilt than I felt in the early years after looking at test scores and realizing my silent protest was hurting my students. On any day of the week, I’d rather have them be writing what they want to write, and being creative in a variety of ways with media, technology and words. That is why I got into teaching in the first place.
And so, I still feel guilty about the strategic moves into teaching for the test, even though our scores have gotten better over the years and I now pour over data to see where weaknesses might still exist, and I wish I could in good conscious return to my days of silent refusal, to focus on teaching for learning, not teaching for testing. But I fear those days are now gone.
Peace (in the silent protest),