On Testing and Reconciliation

I’m not against standardized testing.

Standardized testing makes me want to curse.

I can’t reconcile these things in my brain.


Starting this week, my amazingly talented 8th graders will be tested. They’ll answer multiple choice questions; they’ll construct responses to short stories and maybe even a recipe or two (that’s right there were recipes on the last two PSSAs). The information that the tests give me will sort of help their teachers next year to know what they know, and it will sort of help teachers in the state of Pennsylvania to see where our kids strengths and weaknesses lay, and that’s not a bad thing.

But, if you only look at what the tests say about you . . . you being: teachers, public, parents, and most importantly my students—If you only look at whatever that test says about you, you miss it the point.

My kids read. Probably more than you do. I’m just saying . . . they have favorite authors. Some of them have read their favorite 300 page novel upwards of four times, and they’re fourteen people. When they hear a line they love in their book, it’s not uncommon for them to write it on a post-it, whisper is to a friend, or write it on a facebook wall.

Sometimes my kids don’t read a book that is “just right” for them. Sometimes they read a really easy book, because they love the familiar call of friendship in Charlotte’s Web when they read,

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

And sometimes they reach up to read Pride and Prejudice and they misinterpret and get confused, but somehow they fall for the language and the grown up love story they’re dying to call their own.

And yet, these same kids might mess up the PSSA this year; they might take the PSSA the same week they have to put that Charlotte’s Web quote to work and be a friend in a crazy tough situation. Or better yet, their first love story could end minutes before they take the reading part of this test. My kids . . . aren’t test scores . . . they’re my kids . . . and I’ll fight you for them.

I’ll fight you for every ounce of their self-worth that you steal from them when you send them a result that says “Basic”, because not one student in my room is “Basic”; it’s not possible.

At the end of the day, statistically, I think I usually have about ten kids that will end up basic and the rest will pass with proficient or advanced. I don’t care. I want them to be good test takers; I want them to know all the skills; I want them to kick butt on this test. But if they don’t (and even if they do), I want them to know multiple choice and constructed response questions are a lame way to talk about literature (if you can call a prompt literature), a lame way to talk about life. What really matters to me is that they’re reading and living and taking from these books things that will work for their life, their dreams, their heart.

Dear students,
I like using these tests to learn about you.
I know you better than these tests.
I don’t care or need to reconcile this in my heart.

5 replies on “On Testing and Reconciliation”

Sooo glad you posted about this. It was well put. My thoughts are with you and your kiddos this week- you guys will make it through!!!

As we find out more about the evaluation process here in MI, we know that our effectiveness as a teacher will be based on how a 10/11 year old does on a standardized test on a random day of their life.

I will and want to fight it. But to what end? I want to prove my effectiveness. I want to be a great teacher, maybe I am. But tonight, as I performed (embarassed myself) at a talent show for our school, and I was congratulated by my students.

Who cares what anyone, beyond the 70 students I see daily, think?

I hear you Dan; sometimes the days on end of testing kill me. But as long as we’re there for the kids . . . we’ve got this thing. Great to hear from you!

This spoke to my heart. My sixth graders in Canada began their standardized testing regime this week. I feel exactly as you do. I was wondering if you would consider letting me share this with the staff at my school.
Thank you so much for posting the truth.

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