This week, I simultaneously loved and hated my job. My week ended by dinner and one Moscow Mule at 4:30 with my girls and in bed by 8:15 and falling asleep reading (the only thing that kept me awake was I kept dropping my kindle) waiting for my husband to get home to at least say hi to him. That is a true indication of my exhausted week. All the teachers out there know exactly what I am talking about.
See, my students began the SBAC test this week. My third graders this week took the math test and math performance test (2 different tests) This test is unlike any other test I have ever seen before. There is short answers, long answers, moving numbers, underlining, highlighting, crossing out, making bigger etc. This is just the computer skills that 8 year olds need. I know that people think that kids are computer savvy now. They are not. They know how to play games and manipulate characters in a game. They need to be taught not only how to word process, that is really just the beginning. They also need to have good eye hand coordination for the skills needed above.
Students also need the maturity to be able to do this on the test without letting these computer skills get in the way of answers. For example, there is a cross out feature where student can cross out the answers they don’t think are right. Are the students using that tool correctly or just playing? Students can also change the font..again, has this just become a toy. Are they bored with the test, so they are bolding all of the words and changing font just because they can and their brains have had too much? Now for the longer answers..think about just the typing alone. Now these are 8 year olds..they are hunting and pecking. Try doing that from what is in your brain, because even though they can have scrap paper, you know that for longer answers no one is writing it down. So, they need to hold the word in their brain, search for letters and hope they can remember what they were typing.
Students need to know all of this even before they know the answer. They need to have these skills down in order to process the questions. So let’s talk about the questions. The days of what is 5 x 7 is gone. There are no multiple choice questions, at least on math. Every problem needed to worked out. Kids went through 5 pages of scrap paper (which had to be shredded). The math test was 34 examples. After 90 minutes my entire class was still taking it. Yup. 8 year olds at a computer for 90 minutes. I had told them to take care of themselves. I told them if they needed to stretch, do it. Many started to stand and work from standing (they do this during regular class time too). I cut them off after 2 hours. I still had many not done. The performance task was much shorter for my class taking about 60 minutes and everyone finished.
How do we prepare for this beast of a test? What do we do? I start in September. This test has definitely upped my game. We get on the computer. Just typing documents is not enough. We now do slides; we import pictures, we change font, we center words, we copy and paste etc. We do activities on google slides with creating pictures that require mouse skills. We type and we type and we type. We type from our heads, we type from rough drafts. We use different programs (google docs, google slides, book creator, Padlet, Kidblog) so students can figure out how to manipulate words if the program is different. At age 8, we are the first line for this kind of test. It is my job to get them comfortable with using the computer. I don’t want computer skills to be a stumbling block for the test. Right before the test, we go over a practice test, just so they can see the computer skills needed.
For the knowledge, we read, we read, we read. I read, we discuss. We write, we write, and we write. We do low floor high ceiling math problems. We discuss growth mindset over and over again. We work on our grit and perseverance. This test takes a lot of grit. We have math projects where the deeper you look the more answer you will find. We blog with each other and realize that in order for people to be able to read our writing, we need to have spelling correct and capital letters and periods. We have strong opinions about our books, but in order to convey them, we need to show evidence from the text. We work through things that are hard and seem impossible at first. We develop confidence. We learn to control our breathing and practice mindfulness.
I did a test prep unit in April, before April vacation. Then I stopped talking about the test. I wanted them to be prepared for the types of questions asked, but I didn’t want them to be scared. I never told them the exact day were going to test. Inspired by my third grade niece who was scared and anxious for the test because of the unknown, my students had no idea until they walked in that day and saw computers on their desk. Then there was no time to be scared. I shared the letter with them, gave them a pep talk, watched Carrie Underwood’s video Champion and then..
I lied to my students. I told them that this test was fun and for many of them it did become fun. They liked the figuring out part. I told them that they are taught way beyond this test. They were to show “those testing people” just how much they knew. My students bought it. Hook, line and sinker. They worked..oh boy did they work.
Every single one of my students gave it their all. My heart broke when one of my students asked if she go to the closet where the math manipulatives are (students are allowed whenever we are doing math work to use whatever they need) and I had to say no. But, she asked. She knew that manipulatives make her a better math student and the fact that I had to say no brought tears to my eyes, for real.
Next week, I will give the English Language Arts portion of the test. Another monster. Again, I will wish that the people who created these tests would come into my room and tell me that this is the best use of my time. Can’t you just trust teachers to do their job? Can’t you trust administrators to make sure teachers are doing their job? Is it really worth all of this? I guess an important question is, have the people behind this test taken it? Have they seen children take it?
I am lucky. Very lucky. After 30 years, this test doesn’t define me as an educator. Whatever the scores my students get will not impact me because I was lucky to see what the test will never measure. I saw 8 year olds digging in and working as hard as they could. I saw 8 year olds stick with something for over 90 minutes. I saw 8 years completely confident that they “showed those testing people” and that is the absolute true meaning of success for me.