A bunch of smart, talkative, and engaging eight and nine year olds at my school have already figured out that the high-stakes testing gurus in Harrisburg don’t really know what they are doing!
Working as a Reading Specialist this year, I teach many different grades. I really dislike standardized, high-stakes testing, and I despise test prep disguised as teaching. With my third-graders (who will take the test for the first time this year), I am conflicted about this because I know many of their parents want them to take the PSSAs (Pennsylvania’s state test) because it is currently used in Philadelphia for admissions to magnet schools. I hate boring kids with mind-numbing test prep, I never want to make them anxious or scared about the test, but I do not think it is right for them to be completely blindsided by the idiocies of the test. So, what to do?
These third graders love writing, so I decided just to show them the released narrative writing prompt and have some fun with it. They enjoyed the picture of the house, thought the prompt would be fun, and went to work writing some pretty good adventure stories. The prompt told them to “Write a story for your teacher about an adventure you could have visiting a friend at this house. Make sure your story has a beginning, middle, and end.”
We used an authentic writing process: pre-writing, using word walls, having peers and teachers read ideas, etc…. They came up with great adventures and had fun. However, they soon started to ask me about how this might appear on the PSSAs. Here is how our conversation went:
Will we have to write a story like this for PSSSAs?
Something like this, but not exactly the same.
When will we find out how we did?
Not until Summer. (quizzical looks)
Will we get the grade on our stories back?
No, you will get a score on your whole test, but you can’t see how they graded it or what your score on one story was.
Are you and Ms. W. (their homeroom teacher) reading it and marking it?
No, the state hires people to grade it. (more quizzical looks)
But it says write a story for your teacher, you and Mrs. W. are our teachers.
It does say that, but we will never get to see it.
That’s stupid! They lied.
Yes it is, and yes they did.
But when it is all over, we can take our story home to read to our parents, right?
Sorry kids, no one in this school or classroom will ever see these stories again after we send them away!
Well that’s just dumb! (really loud and exasperated by this point).
Obviously, I have no good answers for these bright, enthusiastic kids, so I told them what I knew to be true:
You know what I have figured out boys and girls? Everyone in this room is smarter than the people in Harrisburg who make us take these tests.
They laughed and got ready for the rest of their day.
Read more about the many stupidities of the high-stakes testing industry: