December 12, 2012

More than a Test Score?

 After taking our district's winter standardized tests last week, I had been working on a post about how I get my students all pumped up for our trimester-ly testing in math and reading--you know, the chants, the goal setting, etc.  But today I am in a bit of a funk and testing is the reason why, so that post is on hold for now as I'm experiencing a bit of a teacher-wallow tonight.  Let me back up--we take MAP tests (Measure of Academic Progress--or is it proficiency? who can keep the acronyms straight!) three times a year in math and reading.  The tests are taken on the computer and generate a score, a percentile, and growth targets for winter and spring testing for each student in each subject area.

Our elaborate goal-setting sheets
My district is crazy data-driven, as I know they are all coming to be, and place a lot of weight (read: pressure) on these tests...I'm talking tons of goal setting time, reflecting on the goals, poring over data in fancy schmancy data analysis programs, etc.   We talk about our grade level and classroom's scores at our evaluations (although they are not TECHNICALLY part of them...yet...) and reflect on the students  progress like crazy.  This all means, you guessed it, that the pressure is on like whoa.  When I proctor MAP, I walk around the room sneaking peeks at the kids' questions and responses on their computers, growing more and more nauseous every time I see a kid answer a question wrong.  When they raise their hand to let me know they have finished and that their score is displayed on their computer screen, as I'm walking over to check their score, I am pretty much 100% of the time terrified that they didn't make their growth target or worse--went down a few points.  The kids feel the pressure for sure, but I'm positive that I feel it more.  

We took our Math and Reading MAP tests last week.  My kids did great overall, especially in reading.  We celebrated our growth, recognized our hard work, and were feeling pretty great.  Then today I looked more closely at the data from my math class.  We use a guided math structure in our building and are lucky enough to have a support teacher help out with guided groups a few days a week.  I have 4 groups--an approaching group, a bubble group, and two on/on+ groups.  After trying to cram an entire 90min Everyday Math lesson into 30 minutes, I typically meet with my approaching group every day, then check in with my on groups to answer questions, check work on their independent tasks, etc.  My support teacher meets with my bubble group MWF for a full 25 minutes, then that group is on their own Tuesdays and Thursdays when I don't have the support.  
Goal Setting, Goal Setting, Goal Setting!

I thought this structure was working well for the most part--the kids are doing great on classroom assessments, the high kids who see me very little did AWESOME on MAP and are clearly making growth with the support they are getting, and my approaching group showed some big gains.  However, when I looked closely at specific scores, kids, and growth targets this afternoon, I realized that 6/7 kids in that bubble group made very little growth on their MAP tests.  Crap.

The more closely I looked at the numbers and the more I thought about these kids this afternoon, the more my heart sank.  While my support teacher is great and is a certified teacher, the fact is that she isn't there everyday to work with that group and isn't in the room when I teach the shared lesson for Math so that she can reinforce it verbatim in guided groups.  It's not her fault these kids didn't make growth.  But for me right now I can't escape this awful feeling:

It's all my fault.

Anyone else feel like that?  I sure do.  It's my fault that these kids didn't make more growth--I didn't check in on them enough, I didn't make enough time for them...I just feel rotten tonight.  Last year at my old school, I remember telling friends that I truly felt my administrators believed that if my kids didn't make growth that it would be 100% my fault.  It was awful.  I just want to be clear that I am not getting that message AT ALL this year from my administrators and teammates.  But how can I not feel like that when the data is there in black and white??  

After feeling like an awful teacher and bad person this afternoon--I know, I know, I'm not!--I am thinking about testing.  When did testing become this crazy powerful force?  It's hard to escape the feeling that my worth as a teacher is nothing more than a test score--even though I KNOW my principal doesn't believe that.  Don't get me wrong--testing and accountability and progress monitoring are SO IMPORTANT.  Our testing gives us such valuable data about our kids.  And this particular situation with my kiddos opened my eyes to an issue in my math structure that I can and will correct now, halfway through the year, which is awesome.  It's just so defeating sometimes to think, "Man, I was working SO HARD to make kids A, B, C, and D make did I miss these kids..."
There are just times I look at situations like this or think about how I'm feeling about testing--how much I worry and how many times I go over their scores and growth--and I have to wonder if there's a better way.  My college ed professor had a bumper sticker on her car that said "My Child is More than a Test Score."  I KNOW my kids are more than data points.  They are children.  This test does not measure the joy they experienced as they solved that super tricky math problem or the way they shot up their hand to share a deep thought during our class read aloud.  My kids are more than test scores.  But am I?  Are we as teachers nothing more than our test scores? 

Anyways...I am trying to come up with a coherent closing thought, but needless to say it's been a long day...

Would love to hear your thoughts about testing in general...
Do you get as wrapped up in test scores as me?  

NOTE:  I am 100% NOT writing this post to get affirmations of "You are a good teacher!"  or "Testing sucks!"  Just getting out my thoughts and feelings and looking to hear some of your thoughts too.


  1. Hi Amy,
    I have the same gripes about testing as you--and I'm in a very similar boat, where my lowest students are being met with 3x a week by a push-in teacher. Timing doesn't allow me to meet with them a 4th time during the week, so their growth is really in her hands. Which would be okay, if it wasn't classified as MY scores!

    Last year, my state posted our teacher data reports online and in the newspaper, which showed how well my students faired a few years in a row (mind you it was data from about 4 years ago and on my 4th grade scores--I had been teaching 5th for the last two years!!!) It felt awful to have that information published because there are so many other factors that lead to student success. Luckily, the union fought and the information was taken down.

    The whole situation made me think about my instruction, the deliverance, and the homework I assigned. I began holding students accountable for their learning and I made sure it all had meaning and purpose--the kids knew what I was teaching and why.

    Just know that it's not all your fault--there are circumstances beyond your control. Not everything in the classroom needs to revolve around testing--and they are still kids :)

    ps: you can email me if you want to chat more about this :)

  2. Oh I hear you!! I have 4th and 5th grade this year but they weren't placed properly. I have students as low as kindergarten level in BOTH grades...and I'm supposed to teach a dual curriculum AND get all of their interventions in myself (my sneaky principal did not put me on the request list for a student teacher for January even though she said she did >:( ) and we're more or less threatened all the time about these test scores.

    It bothers me immensely that we put so much focus on TESTS. Yes, they help me guide instruction and YES, they do have their place. However, putting your worth (or mine or anyone else's) on TEST SCORES is the dumbest thing to happen in education. It is beyond pointless. With that, every teacher in my school would have had "unsatisfactory" last year because collectively our scores went down in May. (We attributed it to relatively zero winter and the kids had spring fever in MARCH and thus were done by the time the tests were given and they all did really poorly.)

    Honestly, I laugh about it. Why? Because I know it is absolutely ludicrous. I can't do anything about half the students I have who never touch a book if they aren't at school. I also can't do anything about parents who talk the talk but never follow through. PARENTS should have some of the accountability we do in my inner city district....then I guarantee that every child would be reaching those goals.


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