Testing, Testing, Testing I

It’s testing season in my face-to-face teaching world – the first of several testing seasons.  As I mentioned, Wednesday was PSAT day.  And tomorrow, if you’re reading this post “live,” tenth-graders will be taking the PLAN, a test whose answer sheets require quite a bit of advance work.  Since I knew that would happen either Friday or Monday, I’d prepared “just in case” – so I wasn’t surprised or upset when the announcement came Friday morning.

(Well, maybe just a tiny bit upset.  We’re a Google Apps for Education district, with a beautiful calendar  … on which the PLAN pre-coding never appeared.  That was – a bit annoying? A tiny bit frustrating? Completely expectable?)

Unlike a lot of tests, the PLAN and the PSAT seem designed to give students and their families useful information: possible career suggestions from the PLAN, guidance about what to work on before the “real” college admission tests from the PSAT.

Is that why school people complain about them? Because the results belong to someone else? Because we can’t use them to sort and label students?

To be fair, I heard no complaints on Friday from colleagues – Ms. X, Mr. Y, etc. – who  had not thought about the PLAN pre-administration.  I can imagine their complaints and ire,  I can remember bitter complaints from prior years and prior schools, and I did hear plenty after the PSAT.  But it “just so happened” that I didn’t see Ms. X  or Mr. Y on Friday.

Even at lunch, where I had an enjoyable conversation over shared food with a positive-minded colleague, I managed to avoid Ms. X and Mr. Y.

I wasn’t sad about that.

Meanwhile, my Latin I students enjoyed some extra preparation time for their projects, the ones I described in Thursday’s post.  And I enjoyed watching them take real ownership of a “derivative sorting” assignment they might have ignored or rushed through in prior weeks.

But my colleagues’ reactions to testing season got me thinking about labels we typically don’t use in schools – perhaps because it’s more comfortable to label “those people” (the “bad and lazy” ones, the “mean and thoughtless” ones, the “spoiled and entitled” ones) than to label our own behaviors and attitudes.  The labels I was thinking about are proactive and reactive.

After that first round of testing, I think I talked with four or five different people about how much better it is to be proactive than reactive.  We named no names, but we all agreed that “some teachers” really need to be proactive.

Wow!  Need.  That’s a loaded word, isn’t it?  And we talked about need recently, too.

Of course, it’s much easier to confess others’ sins than to confront your own. I need to remember that!

Debbie had made a great point in her comment on last Tuesday’s post:

when I work with clients I often have them identify how they want to be told that they are getting off track and reverting back to old habits.
Some people want to be told point blank; others want little nudges or visual cues. Some people don’t want to be told at all so we work on that, helping them find a way to let other people help them “see” what is happening.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say, ‘Um, Ms X, I overheard what you just said. You asked me to tell you if I saw you getting off track. Remember to focus on the intention”…. and Ms X says, “Oh thank-you for catching that and reminding me of what I really want from/for these students.”

Getting off track … and noticing, and getting back on track.  A powerful, important set of lessons – but lessons that factory-model schools rarely teach.  We’re too busy labeling and categorizing , it seems, to help our students – or our colleagues – learn to help themselves.  And we even object to taking time away from teaching for things like the PSAT and the PLAN that might, in fact, provide that kind of help.

How can we change the paradigm so that every set of assessment results becomes helpful information, not a hurtful label?

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Published in: on October 22, 2012 at 10:03 am  Comments (4)  

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  1. Figuring out how people WANT to be reminded if they’re off track — now that is just what I need. In fact, I’m going to the people who are specially assigned to keep an eye on/give advice on kids with particular issues, and asking them how to help O. to help herself. Almost literally everything distracts her, and I would love to help her find a way to re-focus without drawing attention to her. How rarely we ask ourselves “How would this student like to be helped?” and focus on “How can we help/change this student?” (Obviously, it’s good that we want to help the student! But not in ways that will embarrass or irritate her or just not help her at all.) I’ll let you know what they suggest. (Also, I’d like to remind myself that “everything distracts her” can also be phrased as “she has a lively interest in everything around her”!) When I asked O. directly, she said “I could just stop doing it,” which told me that she doesn’t have much self-awareness about this issue.

    (A little anecdote: I was doing some complicated change-ringing in a group, and one person had difficulty with one recurring pattern. I would smile at her when she negotiated that pattern, thinking I was being encouraging. Afterwards I mentioned it to her, and she said, “Yes, and I really wanted to smack you for that!”)

  2. Ann…. isn’t that fascinating??!!! A “smack” in response to an encouraging smile.
    I think that there are a lot of people who don’t know how they would want to be reminded. They know what they don’t want but have not really thought about what they DO want and thus have never talked to people about it.
    What wonderful skills we can teach our children: self-awareness, pro-activeness, empowerment.

  3. […] Yesterday’s post sparked some great conversations!  Thank you, friends and faithful readers, for questioning, challenging, sharpening, deepening, and, yes, testing my thoughts! […]

  4. […] than from sophomores themselves. In fact, due to the pre-administration work they’d done on Friday, tenth-graders were back in class a bit early.  Exhausted from testing, hyper from testing, but […]


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