#sol17 March 26 A slice of Standardized tests… (You knew this post was coming…)

Slice of LIfe


 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!


“I know what the PSSAs really stand for! “Pretty Stupid School Assessments!”

I can’t help but laugh, but I try to hold it together. After all, I’m having a small group teaching some test taking strategies. I shall not let my personal bias show. I shall not let my personal bias show. I shall not let my personal bias show.

Last week my test prep copies arrived, and I stacked them on my desk. I had ordered them because I want to make sure my students have an idea of what kinds of questions they will get on their standardized test, but the sight of them on my desk has caused me and them a fair amount of stress.


“What are those, Ms. Feinberg?” Students have asked with a grimace on their face.

One of my girls pretended to try to to sneak them off of my desk and into the trash.

When I look at them they seem to mock me. “Think of all the things you haven’t taught yet.” 

I’m supposed to understand that testing is a part of academic life. So, I tell my students that they will be taking tests for much of their academic life, and it’s good to just get used to it. After I say that aloud, I can’t believe myself.  In a recent post on ditchthattexbook.com, Sir Ken Robinson says, “Don’t think someone is the system. You are the system,”

Cornelius Minor at TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion last week said, “Systems don’t change because we know about them. They change because we disrupt them. To not be a thing is to be complicit. You have to be anti-the thing.”  Now, Cornelius wanted us to look at systems in our classrooms that create unequal outcomes… he told us to look at our “Realm of influence, not our larger realm of concern. But, his point is still on my mind today. Standardized tests are in my realm of concern, but I’m not sure they are in my realm of influence. Or are they?

I tell my students, “You can do this. You’ve got this. You’ve learned so much this year!” and I look over at the pile of practice packets, and It mocks me. “Think of all the things you haven’t taught yet.” 

This week, I want to  dive deeper into the nonfiction work we have started. We have just started to scrape the surface of the idea of not believing everything we read. We are using Jennifer Serravallo’s strategy from The Reading Strategy Book, page 245:  Perspective, Position, Power. I don’t think we’ll have time for this important work though. We need to practice Text Dependent Analysis, and closely reading multiple choice questions.

I’m supposed to understand that standardized testing is part of academic life. But, my students are 11 and 12.

I’m supposed to understand how lucky we have it. And, we have it lucky. My district still has art, and music. We are encouraged to work towards big understandings, and test prep isn’t really this huge, mandated thing. It’s just me, wanting to give my students a little bit of a reminder and practice so they feel less stressed about the tests. But I’m not proud of myself when I do it. There are schools, I know, where test prep is all year. Where the time spent on preparing for the tests takes so much away from real learning. But just because I have it better, does that mean I have to be okay with it?

I’m supposed to concede that we need standardized tests. That it’s how we do things. Problem is, I don’t think we need these tests. I think there are better, more authentic, less costly (in money, time, and social justice) ways to assess learning.

I’m supposed to agree that we get good data, that we need the data. That it’s how we do things. Problem isI think there are better, more authentic, less costly kinds of data.

I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut. That’s how we do things. Problem is, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. I have a hard time with doing things just because that’s how we do things. 

Lucy Calkins asked us last Saturday, “What would you teach with just one (year/month/day) left?”

With just one year left, I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t teach. I wouldn’t spend even one minute on standardized tests.




16 thoughts on “#sol17 March 26 A slice of Standardized tests… (You knew this post was coming…)

  1. We have PARCC testing a week after returning from Spring Break. I do my best to be a test cheerleader for my students, but I think they see it’s just a facade. I’ll be happy when the testing is finished and we can get back to real learning.

  2. I agree! There are so many things that I’d rather be doing and which I think are more beneficial to my students than the state assessments. We just completed ours and upon completion one of my students stated, “I’m free!” which is exactly how I felt.

  3. Yes, we have ELA testing this week in NYS. It is so hard to know how to prepare for question styles that are top secret. I tell my students to just try their best Then, we move on.

  4. Amen, sista! We are getting ready for our school to take tests after spring break. The tension in the building will be real.

  5. I think your perspective says a lot. You know what your students need and are giving that to them. Forgive yourself for sneaking in some test prep -unfortunately it is a fact of life. The good work you’ve done all year will serve your students well.

  6. Love love love this post for its honesty in dealing with an unfortunate part of education these days. I keep telling my younger teammates that the pendulum will swing back, but I keep waiting for that to happen. In the meantime, real learning that real teachers know makes a real difference gets pushed to the side so we can play the test-scores-are-important-to-my-job game. Sad.

    Thanks for the reminder to do our best and focus on the learning and the students rather than the tests. I love your ending – so powerful to consider what that one last year, month, day would be like. Definitely not test prep – projects, creating, collaborating, and connecting, for my kids.

  7. Yes! Oh how so many of us can relate. I’ve actually been thinking about how I’m going to have to change my teaching this week as our FOCUS is supposed to be on “test prep” as my 5th graders begin their standardized testing next week and it continues through May. Boo! It depresses me that we can’t do our “fun” stuff. I also hate the stress it causes some of my students AND the “WEIGHT” it has. Oh I could go on and on.. Thanks for sharing your post.

  8. Amen, sister! Every word, thought, and issue you described are all things I wrestle with. We start the PARCC (or, CCRAP when spelled backwards, as my daughter pointed out) when we get back from spring break next week. What do I want my kids to know? That one test doesn’t measure their brilliance. They are not quantifiable. They each have strengths. Than you for worrying this. It shows me that I’m far from alone.

  9. We spend two days prepping for the test – I refuse to give up the real learning that we focus on the rest of the year for testing season. Thanks for sharing your thinking today – we feel the same way!

  10. “Think of all the things you haven’t taught them yet.” This is what causes me stress around test time. A few years ago, 100% of our students opted out of the state test. Needless to say, the state was NOT happy and put us on an improvement plan. I guess they figured that we were trying to hide something. It couldn’t possibly be the stupidity of the test, could it?

  11. Yep, yep, yep. Last year my son took the state test for second language learners. Guess when his school got the results?

    Twelve. Months. Later.

    How the HELL is that going to help ANYONE? I’m still fuming. Yet “the system” requires that he achieve a certain score on the test to be considered for exiting the program. Luckily, since I am indeed part of the system, I happen to know I can both opt him out of the test and withdraw him from the program when I see fit.

    The Ken Robinson quote makes me very uncomfortable, which I guess is the point. I don’t know any teachers who feel these tests are worth all the teaching time abandoned for them, yet we all feel we have to participate, have to put on a happy face about it for the students. What is that about? I think the pushback is what Jennifer said above–if we as teachers resist the test, we’ll be accused of hiding our failures.

  12. Amen again and again! You wrote exactly what I’m thinking and feeling. Thank you for Cornelius’ words and all of the “supposed to” be statements. My kids start testing next week. I spent two weeks to prep them. And I won’t lie, it was not fun. I did it because they have to take this test and I want them to not show what they can do. I do not want them to feel defeated in school. The trouble is this is school. I don’t know the answer. But you posed the questions so beautifully.

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