On April 7th, I presented at the 2012 Harvard Student Research Conference, presenting a paper on disproportionality in ethnic groups severed under the EBD category. While there I had the honor and privilege to hear Dr. Eleanor Duckworth speak as the Keynote Address. Dr. Duckworth is the former student and translator of Jean Piaget. Dr. Duckworth spoke on the importance of teaching students to learn and not memorize and for students to embrace knowledge. She also talked about how teachers should never be complacent—teach to the potential and future of your students, not to the proficiency of a test.
Dr. Duckworth read us a letter entitled “A test you need to fail” by Ruth Dandrea. While reading the letter, Dr. Duckworth became overwhelmed with emotion as a reaction to the reality of the letter. The letter has a wonderful part:
“Here we spent the year reading books and emulating great writers, constructing leads that would make everyone want to read our work, developing a voice that would engage our readers, using our imaginations to make our work unique and important, and, most of all, being honest. And none of that matters. All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit. You can compose a “Gettysburg Address” for the 21st century on the apportioned lines in your test booklet, but if you’ve provided only one fact from the text you read in preparation, then you will earn only half credit. In your constructed response—no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is—if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.” Read the letter and watch a recording of the Keynote Address.
While at the CEC convention, I was submersed in fellowship and an environment that was powerful and uplifting for a first year teacher and one who aims to one day become a policy maker to help make every day better for students with disabilities. I learned new teaching strategies, and got the latest and greatest on policy development straight from the Office of Special Education in the Department of Education. I returned to school primed and motivated to save the world all over again. To reference an earlier post, I felt as though I had a new and improved cape that I wear proudly even today.
Two days after I returned to school, I had to begin administering the state standardized test, CRCT, to my students. I proctored the modified test to my one sixth grader and as I watched him struggle through the test, even though he had read aloud and took the modified test with lower level questions; I felt enraged, frustrated, and sad. I looked at him stare at the floor as he tried to understand what I read to him to answer a question he was not expecting.
I reflected on how at the beginning of the year, he could barely read a paragraph without shutting down. Now we read whole Dr. Suess and Arthur books and last week he even checked out his first chapter book! He has made so much progress this year not only in reading, but across the board. We came from not being able to subtract with regrouping to multiplying fractions! He may not have mastered these skills, but he is able to work through them without shutting down and will do his best.
I realized that no matter how well my students perform on the test that they have made major accomplishments this year in academics and behavior. I get emotional myself every time I listen to the speech (I play it now when I need motivation) or read the article after a long hard day. My job is to teach my students to learn how to learn and to love knowledge and to become the best person they can.
I offer this tid bit for all of you who struggle with testing, just as I have, “If they give you lined paper, write the other way.” -William Carlos Williams.