Tag Archives: state assessment

Faith in the Classroom

Almost every week we find ourselves in about the same place.

Four rows from the front of the auditorium, stage left.

My wife and I are fortunate to have found the type of church that when the sermon is over, we’re glad we went because the message spoke to us. It is almost always exactly what we needed, at exactly the right time.

It’s after the three songs are sung, the offering is made, and the pastor begins that I get out my phone.

Not to check Facebook or Instagram, but instead to try and keep up with the thoughts running through my head. Whatever ideas surface are jotted down.

This usually doesn’t happen immediately after the sermon begins, but after some time thinking about, well, what I’m thinking about as I try to keep listening to the message from the stage.

It’s the only time this happens during the week.

Perhaps because I get so little time to think about what’s going on in my little head.

I’ve read about listening to God’s message.

I’m no evangelist.

I don’t hold signs on your neighborhood corner. In fact I’m careful to not put others in uncomfortable positions because of my faith – I’m convinced that’s not the intent of faith.

In class I recognize that I teach in a public school and so faith doesn’t come up in conversation – as it shouldn’t.

Instead I hold it close like a great hand of poker.

When anxiety hits teachers and students alike, when those around me worry about what might be coming in the days, weeks, or months ahead, I turn to my faith. I know that I’m not alone in battling the often overwhelming feeling of panic. I have some help.

I also remind myself that what’s ahead these next few months as we get ever closer to the SOLs has been achieved before.

This isn’t my first year, this isn’t my first rodeo.

Call it an act of faith, or call it my attempt at keeping anxiety at bay. It’s what I do as the weather warms and the calendar reminds me that while summer is closer, so is this year’s testing.

And if I knew the magic involved in getting every student to be awesome, every day of every year, I would share it right here with anyone who would take a moment to read it.

However I’m not a magician and I don’t have that kind of skill level or knowledge. In fact there are many days in which the awesomeness doesn’t happen. However what I do have is a bit of time at the front.

I place value in the side conversations about interesting facts. I believe in listening to a child’s story.

I know it’s important to remind students that no challenge is too great, no obstacle too overwhelming.

I place faith in the fact that while there are days in which my lessons are followed and completed without compromise, there are also days in which there’s real value in getting off track and sharing a funny story.

Here’s why.

The success in my class doesn’t come from repeatedly and consistently presenting an endless of amount of information. It doesn’t come from a barrage of facts that must be memorized.

Some teachers do exactly that, but I believe that doing so eliminates the fact that we’re in an endeavor involving human beings who want nothing more than to be happy and feel valued.

Instead I believe that if my students prove successful on a state assessment, it’s because they believed they could be and I played a part in reminding them that they had the ability within themselves to overcome. I have faith that my incessant desire to have them understand their abilities will in the end prove successful in a world of naysayers.

It will prove valuable far after they leave my classroom.

And that’s something I believe in wholeheartedly.

3rd Graders’ Test Anxiety: Taking Rigor Beyond Necessity

broken pencil

Rigor was a word thrown around my district a few years ago as the word or phrase of the year. The phrase that would catapult my district toward greater things — apparently.


Well I don’t know the reality of catapulting into greatness, but I can speak toward how it makes teachers feel.

It isn’t reassuring. In fact it comes across to me as prescriptive of issues someone determined to be important because of research found at the top of the latest pile of hot topics.

When your students are already facing the challenges that a Title 1 school experiences, hearing that the bar will be raised yet again is the rug being pulled out from under us.

I’m already counseling my students through family issues that would make you cry. I’m calling up parents whose telephone numbers are no longer in service. I’m feeling like it’s all on my already.

And now you want to raise the bar.

When one already has high expectations of his students, hearing that someone else is going to define the type of rigor that should be introduced is paramount to being told I have no clue. I’ve had parents claim my expectations are too high and get downright upset with me, so I think I’ve got a little clue about expectations.

When someone, somewhere wants to redefine rigor I wonder if they’ve visited the classroom recently – because it isn’t naptime and finger painting. Those options ended with the memory of those of us who were educated well before state assessments. Now it’s test taking strategies and analyzing word problems. It’s determining author’s purpose and having the type of background knowledge often missing from students’ lives in which making ends meet is the priority – they don’t take a trip to the ocean to better understand the ecology of dunes and how seagrasses will disrupt erosion.

That’s a whole different conversation. The same conversation in which students don’t know what you’re talking about when you ask them if they’ve gone downtown to see the skyscrapers – about 20 miles to the North from my school.

So when rigor and relevance was plastered on the subject of welcome back emails some time back, it was one more phrase thrown at us mere days before students arrive in our classroom.

Teachers, and I believe most other humans would also fit into this category, do not enjoy being labeled as experts when they’ve just been trained in a newly acquired skill. The necessity for being the expert was reiterated when we were informed that it would be part of our evaluation criteria for the year.

Each year we’re expected to be experts as a result of the “excellent” training that occurred one quick morning of teacher work week by folks we have often never met. This is the same week when we’re, to be honest, a bit distracted. Teachers are in fact much more interested in knowing our students’ names and getting that very important first week planned just so. We want nothing more than to organize our room to be as welcoming as one can make a sterile classroom that, in my case, had been around for well over half a century.

Every teacher that surrounds me in both my grade or in those that are a year below or above is more interested in understanding their new students’ challenges, any specific disabilities and accompanying Individual Education Plans, and as a result trying to make them comfortable that first day of school. We are already at the copier, creating our databases of home telephone numbers, and labeling folders or assignment pads in hopes of starting the year off on a good note.

Yes, great timing to introduce a buzzword.

Rigor. Perhaps they threw in the alliteration of relevance too because, well, it sounded good. Rigor and relevance. It’s still a blur to me as most back to school weeks are every year.

Fast forward a full half a year later when rigor also became the buzzword the Commonwealth of Virginia used as the new “improved” SOLs were unveiled to us.

Unveiled not a year or two prior so we could prepare our students – way too rationale.

Unveiled instead a few months before my students were to take them. Yes, a few short months. Did I mention that little to no resources accompanied this emphasis on making the assessments more rigorous? More rationality.

I am hoping this begins to describe to you why many teachers are more, not less, anxious as the years pass by. There’s little rhyme or reason except for the reality that there’s almost never any rhyme or reason. Makes sense?

Not to me.

Fast forward to this year.

This year I’m offered a new perspective. One through the eyes of a third grader.

When I thought that the SOLs might be intimidating to 5th graders I failed to realize how they seem to 3rd graders.

My memories of my own 3rd grade year of school are slim, no question.  I remember the halls and I have a brief memory of the nurse’s office when she applied some spray to my skinned knee that felt as if fire was intended to be a healing agent.

What my memories don’t entail are state assessments or the time spent preparing for them. Unfortunately my third graders know all too well about SOLs after today.

Today they took their first SOL. I won’t comment on their performance because I’m not allowed to and, well, I have no idea. We’ve only taken Part One allowing my students to go home and fret about what tomorrow entails. After tomorrow I may know more, I may not. I expect I’ll know immediately if they don’t do as well as I have tried to prepare them.

What I do know is that seeing an eight or nine year old worry about, no, stress about, a state exam is just plain unhealthy. It’s well beyond necessary.

It’s just plain unhealthy.

I know legislators are human beings. I’ve seen them on the news much like you have and I hear that they don’t always play nice with each other.

My father-in-law is constantly involved in local issues in his district that demand constituents’ involvement, so I know that real people are interested in accomplishing real things in our state and national legislative houses.

But they’ve gone terribly wrong on the notion that we have to assess students who are still learning to play nice themselves. Students who worry more and play less. Students who hurt more than most of us can imagine. Now my students have to worry about a state assessment that asks questions that would make adults nervous.

I mentioned that they’re about eight years old right?

The state assessment in which my students achieved high marks for knowing how to read and write was what I considered tough, but fair. They were assessed on mathematical competency and scientific inquiry that required the type of skills necessary for what I envision necessary as they progress into middle school.

This however has changed dramatically.

Rigor was the guise under which reading was intertwined with mathematics and when rewording questions to be answers that demand test-takers to sort through questions has become something downright cruel.

Here’s a great one…

TEI test itemThere are now what’s called TEI (Technology Enhanced Items) questions that ask students to determine when more than one answer might be correct. I’ve included a sample above.
If I remember correctly, my university Math Logic Class (I still believe is quite the odd name for a class) determines that the problem above has 15 possible combinations – there will be at least one so that removes the 16th option which is none are correct. Follow?
Therefore, a student has a one in 15 chance of getting this problem correct, before using strategies to begin eliminating incorrect options.
One in fifteen? Really? Seriously!?
This is rigor. This is third grade.
This, in my opinion, is ridiculous.
I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences on what your state or district is expecting of your students. I’m hopeful someone, somewhere with some clout is asking a legislator to take the same assessment given to a 3rd grader.
I’d be very interested in knowing their final score.