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Yet, We Test

Scantron[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where this post originally appeared.]

A while ago, I made a proclamation (in my head, anyway) that I’d move the direction of my blog away from railing against that which was not in my control. What was the point? At any rate, my students this year are too young to take the tests that in many ways define grades 3-8, so it wasn’t really on my mind much. In fact, I not so quietly gloated to my colleagues the last few weeks that, “I’m glad not to be dealing with this anymore.”

But today, I feel the need to pontificate just a little. The testing bubble burst this week when my students had to sit for three separate sessions of the state English proficiency exam. Since I have a bridge class, I had to deal with the logistical aggravation of the arrangement, including switched and missed preps as well as figuring out where to keep the students who weren’t testing in a given session. This was a nuisance but something I could manage.

My students had to deal with a much more potent and demoralizing aggravation.

Most of my students enjoy reading. Even though some of them are reading two years below level, they still like books. But those are books, vividly illustrated on topics that excite them and that they can choose.

They haven’t yet begun to fully understand the ways they struggle to read. Their experience taking the test this week may have given them an idea, though. That’s sad.

The rules of the test are written out clearly in boldface and italics, so the proctor essentially reads a script and the kids are left to their own listening — and writing, and reading — devices. The result was this: despite the great social and academic gains my students have made this year, they still wound up bruised and battered by the end of day three of testing.

Several faces looked back at me from the tiny desks, big pencils in small hands, silently pleading for some kind of assistance in completing the tests’ tasks. They could see their classmates managing to put answers down, and they looked from them to me as if to say, “Why can’t I do that?” One or two students raised their hands and said, “I don’t know what to do.” All I could do was silently point them back to the test. As they struggled furiously to sound out words they didn’t know using letters they couldn’t remember, they went looking for the alphabet chart (which, by rule, was covered). They looked at me with watery eyes. They were powerless and so was I. Their academic world as they’ve known it since September was turned askew with no apparent reason other than me saying, “Just do the best you can do.” What do words like that mean when you feel the best you can do is not very good at all?

Yet, we test.

I discussed these issues with a colleague who is in a similar boat as far as testing students with material that is out of their league. She agreed it’s heartbreaking to sit through.

Yet, we test.

I know in my mind my students can not, nor should they ever be, judged based on their ability to perform on a test like the one they took this week. It’s foreign to them, and inappropriate, too. And, as I truly believe, it’s just not right to boil everything down to one or two days and designate a year as a failure or success in such a way. The whole process is too damning, too nerve-wracking, too unfair to the children.

Yet still, we test.


1 Comment:

  • 1 Edu Girl
    · May 30, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Brought a tear to my eye as well. This is a case where the system is broken. Those children should not have been put onto a position of taking a level inappropriate test. But as long as society demands this kind of testing, for everyone, all you can do is be there to pick up the pieces. I suspect they will remember that test and the ill feelings for quite a while.