Test prep in my third-grade class has been extremely stressful. First of all, I’ve never taught “test prep” before, not least of all to kids who have never taken “THE TEST” before. I’m convinced my co-teacher and I don’t know what we’re doing and if (when?) the children do poorly, it will be our fault for not adequately preparing them. Second of all, I went to this Teacher Center workshop where I was shamefully reminded that my students are eight years old. They are eight years old and I have spent the last four weeks being impatient with them because they don’t understand how to bubble the bubbles correctly or aren’t following our test-taking tips (“we just taught you to circle the genre in the directions and that answer choice is directly from the passage”).
When by mid-May it’s all over, I’m not sure what we’ll do. We have other units left to cover, of course, but I fear the kids will be mentally checked out of school for the year now that it will no longer be on THE TEST, and as teachers we’ll be looking ahead to next year.
Recently I met with my principal to discuss what grade I’d like to teach next year. After many, many hours of soul-searching I had listed second grade as my first choice on my preference sheet, but there may not be an opening, so I then spent many, many hours agonizing over whether I’d rather move to first grade or stay in third. My principal asked me to be “completely honest” about my reservations in third grade.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve never done test prep before, and I’ve never had a class like this before, so getting this class through test prep has been…”
He finished the sentence for me. “Get me out of third grade?”
Bingo! I have not enjoyed doing test prep — what teacher does, really? — but I also do not believe, as some teachers do, that a solid curriculum is enough to prepare eight-year-olds to take their first standardized test without any additional “test-taking” support. One of the highest readers in my class has committed a bubbling error on every single practice test we’ve taken. Another one of my highest readers has raised her hand during practice tests to ask to see a dictionary.
Then there’s Marco, an IEP student who’s reading below grade level (not dramatically, but still), whose main issue with THE TEST is just plain stress. During countless practice sessions, I’ve turned around to find Marco with tears streaming down his face, shaking his paper at me in frustration. Because Marco’s IEP grants him modified promotional criteria, there’s little danger that he’ll have to repeat third grade even if he does fail the test (which — fingers crossed! — probably won’t happen anyway). But Marco doesn’t know that, and he’s starting to crack under the pressure of day after day of reading test passages that are just a little too hard for him.
I’ve been working on some coping strategies with him, like: If a question is getting really hard, just turn your paper over for a few seconds and take some deep breaths before you go back and read it again. But the other day, I saw Marco’s fists starting to clench in anger. When I got there, before I could even say a word, Marco looked up at me, waved his paper in my direction and angrily blurted: “And I ain’t taking no deep breaths!”
Oh, THE TEST. My wish for my students who are about to take them: May your pencil points stay unbroken, your bladders empty and your minds calm!