The end of the school year comes with rituals.
Prize-giving, leavers dinners, writing reports and end of year tests.
Even though I know that standardised tests aren’t completely accurate at measuring students learning growth, there’s something reassuring – dare I say gratifying – in seeing those numbers going up. It backs up your judgements and observations of kids learning. It’s a pat on the back that says hey yes your programmes are working or perhaps you need to tweak this area. Most of my students had some good gains this year in reading. Nevertheless, I found myself beating myself over a few results that hadn’t gone as well as I expected.
And there was one particular whose result I was eager to see.
Over the last few months I’ve been working with an RLit (A resource teacher of literacy) to help a student improve in literacy. On paper it should be easy, the child is diligent, has a highly supportive family and gets 20 minutes 1 on 1 with me a day. I’ve been doing running records with this child on a regular basis and seen improvements in inference, decoding and finding information.
But there had been no movement at all.
To say I was disheartened would be an understatement.
All that effort by both the student and myself had not a single bit of movement.
Fortunately I had appointment with the RLit that afternoon to talk me down off the ledge so to speak.
My Rlit reminded me that often it takes a while for the intensive work to show up in standardised tests like asstles and PAT. Moreover when faced with stressful testing situations low-achieving students will often resort into old habits of using background knowledge to answer questions rather than comprehension strategies they have been taught. I was also reminded that are so many variables that kids take in with them to tests. They might not have slept well that night, had a fight with their friend, are hungry or, dare I say it, are just sick of taking tests.
As the RLit and I went through a couple of the test questions to look for instructional points, we laughed that if it took us, two highly educated adults, a good couple of minutes to skim and scan for the correct information how hard it must be for kids who have trouble with reading.
However bad I felt about the result I know how much worse it is for students. Putting in effort and not seeing numbers go is hard enough. Living through the inevitable post-test comparison that happens as results come in are so much harder.
I left my RLit with an action plan. Areas to work on with the kid including some test-taking strategies and some re-affirming that there had been progress on other measures.
And it is those other measures that we often lose track of that make a real difference.
More than anything I want my student to leave my class with a love of reading. Even for high-achieving students it seems like a huge waste if kids leave school with a hatred of reading. For some kids in my class just reading a book from cover to cover for the first time ever might be their big achievement. Striking a balance between that short term gain that show up on test scores and the more long-term end goal of developing happy well-adjusted adults.
Our educational system loves to deal in absolutes.
Right or wrong.
Above standard or below.
As I watched a video of my 2 year old nephew on Facebook this weekend I was reminded that progress isn’t always linear and easily measurable. He started taking his first few steps this time last year and is pretty confident but he still falls over on his butt every now and again.
At what point do I say with certainty he can or can’t walk?
Does a test score determine our fate?