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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

March Madness

March MadnessAsk any 3rd-8th-grade teacher about “March Mad­ness” and there is a good chance you won’t hear much about bas­ket­ball. You may, how­ev­er, get an ear­ful about a top­ic that is about as near and dear to our hearts as stand­ing out­side for 25 min­utes of recess in bone-chill­ing, zero-degree weath­er. In Min­neso­ta, the acronym is MCA. In Texas it’s STAAR. A whole slate of states call it PARCC (ten in all, includ­ing Col­orado, Delaware, Dis­trict of Colum­bia, Illi­nois, Louisiana, Mary­land New Jer­seyNew Mex­i­co, New York and Rhode Island).

Teach­ers are deemed win­ners or losers because of it (some have even gone to prison). Kids get phys­i­cal­ly ill because of it. Par­ents don’t seem to under­stand it. News­pa­pers have a field day with it and per­haps most trou­bling of all, leg­is­la­tors who don’t seem to know much about edu­ca­tion make all the rules about it.

Test­ing. March Mad­ness fol­lowed by a month-long exten­sion of what is about as fun­ny as a lame April Fool’s prank. That’s how the top­ic of test­ing feels for many teach­ers like myself. “You have got to be kid­ding!” is a phrase that is often used in con­junc­tion with the pres­sure most of us teach­ers feel to prep the kids and make sure they per­form.

Grow­ing up in the great state of Iowa, I am no stranger to #2 pen­cils and fill­ing in bub­bles. After all, the ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) was the first stan­dard­ized test to arrive on the scene way back in 1935. These days, how­ev­er, we’re faced with hours, days, and weeks of eye-strain­ing, pos­ture-break­ing, stuck-to-the-chair, online test­ing. Can we even be sure we’re mea­sur­ing math and read­ing skills rather than a kid’s abil­i­ty to use a mouse and scroll tab cor­rect­ly?

Recent­ly, some­one asked me if I thought there was any mer­it to these tests. There was a hint that maybe my poor atti­tude about high stakes test­ing is direct­ly relat­ed to the fact that my school’s pro­fi­cien­cy rate on the read­ing test is an unim­pres­sive 41.3% (more than 20% low­er than our dis­trict aver­age). Could I be a bit biased about the val­ue of the tests because my stu­dents sim­ply aren’t able to show what they know or that they know much? Am I just mak­ing excus­es for my stu­dents because of their demo­graph­ics (more than 70% free/reduced lunch, almost 50% non-native Eng­lish speak­ers, about 90% stu­dents of col­or)?

I strug­gled to find the words to express my feel­ings and share the real  sto­ry. If only the gen­er­al pub­lic and all those unin­formed leg­is­la­tors could spend a day in Room 123! They would see how bril­liant my kids are. I have the list of all those qual­i­ties that can’t be mea­sured by a test com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry. I believe in the wis­dom offered up by that list. Kind­ness, empa­thy, cre­ativ­i­ty, musi­cal tal­ent, per­se­ver­ance, pos­i­tiv­i­ty, etc. My stu­dents live and breathe that stuff every sin­gle day.

In lieu of host­ing all those folks in my class­room (lim­it­ed space that already con­tains 32 lit­tle peo­ple), I decid­ed to ask my kids to share their “com­plete­ly hon­est, total­ly true, and very thought­ful thoughts and feel­ings about MCA test­ing.” I wasn’t pre­pared for their respons­es. Some made me smile, oth­ers brought tears, a few shocked me and all made me proud to teach such capa­ble learn­ers. The spread­sheet of test scores may not back me up, but their words will.  Then again, maybe I am biased. I’ll let you be the judge.

From kid #1:

I think some­times I just can’t do some things. I think on MCAs some­times I just press on things that I don’t even know. I think I will need a walk around the school. I think some­times it’s so qui­et and I think when it’s the MCAs I’m bored. I think I just want to go some­where. I think I’m not even doing my best. I feel mad like I can’t do some things. I feel bad if I get bad grades. I feel hot in there [com­put­er lab]. I feel like MCAs are not even good for you. I feel like I just want to sleep. I feel like MCAs are horet [hor­rid]. I feel not so hap­py. I feel like I just want to make things feil on the grow [fall on the ground].

From kid #2:

I feel weird doing the MCA because I’m so stressed out that I’m going to fail and I don’t want to fail. Some­times I’m ner­vous because I have to think a lot and it hurts my stom­ach. I feel like I’m going to throw up but I don’t. When I feel ner­vous my head hurts and I most of the time wish I was some­where else or some­one else.

From kid #3:

Hon­est­ly I’m not real­ly wor­ried at all because I have been doing Read The­o­ry a lot. I’m just hap­py for the MCAs and try­ing to stay pos­i­tive that I’m gonna do great. Relax and try my best. And try to give evi­dence and reread and use what I know. I’m gonna try to do the MCA prac­tice about 2 times a week to under­stand things and know how to do things when MCAs don’t have instruc­tions.

From kid #4:

I think that the MCA test has a big impact on me because it’s like I’m car­ry­ing the weight of the world on my back all week. I am so so stressed out because of this test. It’s mak­ing my head spin around like a ride at the state fair!

From kid #5:

Try not to be fast. Take it slow. Think hard. Con­cen­trate. Know what you’re doing. Reread it. Do what you can. Think what the teacher told you. Nev­er give up. Read. Keep read­ing. Read more. Think what you’re doing. Answer ques­tions. Learn new words.

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